RDC Carpentry Instructors Continue to Build Their Skills

RDC Timber Framing Structure

During the week of September 12, 2016, instructors from the Red Deer College Carpentry Department had a chance to try their hand at a unique style of construction as part of a group professional development project. The six RDC instructors, who have over two centuries worth of carpentry experience between them, had the opportunity to become the students as they learned about timber framing and created a structure for J.J. Collett Natural Area near Morningside, AB.

“This was a great team building experience, as all of the faculty in our department were involved,” says Jim Thomson, Carpentry instructor at RDC. “Plus, we got to learn techniques that were new to us, and we also used new tools and technology that we’ll be able to share with our students.”

Timber framing is a traditional practice that has recently experienced a revival (maybe you’ve seen an episode of Timber Kings?), especially in British Columbia, and is a unique way of building, giving the finished product a particularly rustic look. Timber framing uses joinery and pegging to secure large pieces of lumber into one another; in the past this had been a laborious task using simple tools to carve the mortise: holes in the beams where the additional wood pieces could be joined.

Though familiar with contemporary carpentry practices, timber framing is not a style that RDC instructors teach or practice regularly. For this project, they brought in additional help to lead the team and pass along knowledge on timber framing practices. Daniel Iseli-Otto, who is currently enrolled in RDC’s Carpentry apprentice program, became the instructor for his instructors as he led the crew through the tasks. Daniel previously completed a timber framing program at College of the Rockies, and he has experience working in the trade in Golden, B.C.

“It was very interesting working with the instructors at RDC because I had a group of extremely willing and experienced guys who really worked hard to reach the week's goal. Without their previous experience and desire to be involved, we may not have gotten the project done” he says.

The project took five (long) days from start to finish, and it gave the instructors the opportunity to learn new skills, use different tools and practice with different software to complete the project. All pieces of the timber frame project were built in RDC’s Carpentry shop and transported to the site for installation. In forming the pieces, the instructors utilized tools they would normally never have a chance to use in daily operations or instruction, such as a 16” circular saw – double the size of the ones they would normally use – and a chain mortiser that is used to cut squares in the beam for connecting the timber pieces.

The Carpentry instructors were also exposed to Sketch Up, technology that transitions from reading the blueprint to creating the blueprint. This allowed the instructors some hands-on experience with this program that could be utilized on many projects, outside of timber framing. Jim Thomson noted the group’s exposure to Sketch Up got them interested in using it beyond this project, and Iseli-Otto was glad to see the instructors gain a firm understanding of the program. “My favourite part was working with the computer drafting program and seeing people not only understand how to use aspects of the program, but go even further and actually jump ahead one or two steps.”

The timber frame shelter is already being utilized on the trail system as a resting point for weary hikers and to protect them from the elements. The 635 acres of Aspen Parkland is used by numerous groups and individuals throughout all seasons. President of the J.J. Collett Board of Directors, Jack Surbey notes that the completion of timber frame shelter was a job well-done and the structure looks good on the trail.

This team project was made possible through RDC’s professional development funding and showcased the instructors’ aspiration to continuously hone their craft and learn new skills - sometimes from their own students. This project gave them the opportunity to give something back to the community as well as create a stronger department connection. Jim Thomson stated it was a fun and rewarding project for the department. “Although we work together on a daily basis, this was actually the first complete project that the six of us have built ‘beginning to end’ as a group.” 

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