As a boy, John Van Bruggen had a passion that just wouldn?t let go: Legos and Lincoln Logs and building.
?I always found myself trying to build something somehow,? said Van Brug?gen, owner of Clydesdale Frames Co, in South Hutch?in?son, a timber framing house-building company.
His first job, the summer he was 16, was working on a framing crew, carrying boards. He loved the job and the idea of spending summers outside and ?not flipping burgers.?
The Pittsburgh, Pa., native came to Kansas to attend Sterling College and graduated with a business degree. While there, he continued to frame houses during his summer break. After college, he moved to the Dallas, Texas, where he worked three days a week ?swinging a hammer? while he tried to find a job.
Van Bruggen did land a job, wearing a suit and a tie. That lasted about a month.
?I hated wearing a suit and tie and working in an office, and the heat,? he recalled. On a day off work, he went to see the movie ?Backdraft? and was inspired to become a firefighter. He moved back to Kansas to fulfill that ambition, but during his off days, he continued to work construction jobs.
One of those jobs was building his own timber frame house on Clydesdale Street, which served as the inspiration for naming his company.
He started Clydesdale Framin?g in 1999, and left the Hutchinson Fire Depart?ment in 2002 to pursue his business full time. He has seven employees.
Over the past 16 years he?s built 140 timber-frame houses throughout the Midwest ? Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas ? and as far away as Montana and Virginia.
As a general rule, his territory lies within 12 hours of South Hutchinson. But when a customer pursues him, he may relax that rule, as he did for the Montana and Virginia projects.
Timber-frame houses differ from stick-frame houses in that the framework is exposed, not hidden behind sheetrock. Timber frames, which use less lumber than stick construction, are also designed so the posts transfer the loads and stresses of the frame to the foundation.
?The frame bears the weight of everything and provides the shape of the house,? Van Bruggen said.
In stick-frame houses, the proliferation of studs transfers the load uniformly to the foundation. Because there are more studs used to disperse and distribute the load, the wood often is inferior to the solid beams that make up timber frames, Van Bruggen said.
Timber frames are fastened together using wooden joinery, whereas stick frames use metal nails and screws, he added. Pine, white oak and Douglas fir are the most commonly used woods for timber frames.
Van Bruggen gets his oak timber from mills in Ohio, and the Douglas fir from Idaho.
Pine is used most frequently, though, because of its strength-to-weight ratio, Van Bruggen said. ?That?s important. What?s the strength of the piece in relationship to its weight?? he said.
Clients for timber-frame construction usually fall into three groups, Van Bruggen said. First, is the white-collar, golf club group that?s looking for something that differentiates their house from their neighbor?s.
Second, is the blue-collar worker who ?made good and appreciates the craftsmanship it takes to build a house that way.? And third, are the environmentally conscious people who are looking for houses that offer sustainability and longevity.
Every timber-frame house Clydesdale Frames builds is custom-designed. Three-dimensional designs are generated by a computer, with roofs added to the sketches. ?The roof drives the timber design, and that will drive the design of the frames to support that structure,? Van Bruggen said.
The timber-frame drawing will tell Van Bruggen the volume of timber needed for that particular design. He then orders the timber from the sawmill. It takes three to four weeks to get the lumber from the mill, and three to four weeks to pre-build the frame. The frame can be raised in two to three days.
At Clydesdale Frames, the work starts with a crew that fits and joins the lumber. Then the wood is sanded, and finally, boiled linseed oil is applied for protection.
After the frame is delivered and raised at the construction site, the portion of the structure that forms the exterior of the house is enclosed with structural insulated panels (SIPs).
In a timber frame, the insulation between posts is uninterrupted, as opposed to stick frames, where series of studs are installed along the length of the walls. That results in more efficient insulation for timber frame houses, Van Bruggen said.
The cost of building a custom stick house may range from $150 to $200 per square foot. A timber frame, with its hand-built process, may add 25 percent to that cost.
?There is something to be said for hand-cut, traditionally built houses that are going to stand for a thousand years,? Van Bruggen said. ?You need knowledge of stick frame houses construction with a blend of cabinet-making skills and the precision that takes. We?re really building furniture, only it?s big.
?People are attracted to what they see. They are amazed by the geometry and complexity and craftsmanship it takes to do that,? he said.
by Fred Solis