In 2002, Colton Allen had already been framing with his father, Tim, for nearly a decade. After many years spent on similar large, multifamily projects, though, the duo was looking for a new challenge and noticed a need in the marketplace for custom timber framers. The problem? They knew nothing about the process.
So, the Allens bought some how-to books and drew on their expertise in high-production framing to create a new, proprietary method for building high-end custom homes with timber frames, trusses, entries, decks, and rafters. SwiftSure Timberworks was born. The company recently completed work on the Cederroth Guest House, a timber-frame residence in Ashland, Oregon, that showcases what the SwiftSure process can deliver. Here’s a breakdown of the process.
Step 1: Vision
In 2011, a new client came to the Allens’ office with a photograph. He dropped it on the conference table and asked Tim and Colton to replicate the building in the picture—a large, English-style timber-frame structure. Colton, who does most of the company’s design work, set off researching the style’s nuances and subtleties. He designed a three-bay, four-truss timber frame with four bents, three of which were based on a 14th-century English arched brace truss. Next, Colton sent his preliminary drawings to the client’s architect, who started designing the house around the frame. In accordance with the client’s requests, the exterior walls of the house were to be twelve inches thick and made from a mixture of clay and straw. Colton and the architect went back and forth with modifications, and when the client requested a loft, they added two dormers. A large timber deck came later in the process.
Step 2: Ordering the Timber
It’s rare that any construction project goes exactly as planned, and the Cederroth Guest House was no exception. “We knew we would learn a lot from this project because it was the most timber-intensive one we’ve ever worked on,” Tim says. A typical SwiftSure project spans 4,000 square feet with 8,000–10,000 board feet of timber. The Cederroth Guest House is just 900 square feet but has 15,000 board feet of timber throughout its two-story frame and loft.
The Allens specified thicker timbers to make the Cederroth project stout and massive in appearance. Next, they placed an order for the large amount of timber and specified a finishing process known as radio-frequency kiln drying. This method dries timber to its core and diminishes warping and other irregularities. Radio-frequency kiln drying takes several weeks, and any mistakes in the order (or during cutting and assembly) can cause costly delays. The Allens finalized their order and waited for the timber to arrive.
Step 3: Navigating the Unexpected
Soon after the project architect completed the architectural and structural plans, the owner asked the Allens to make a number of changes. The complex project became even more elaborate. The client was concerned that the steeply pitched roof wouldn’t leave enough headroom above the deck, so Colton came up with a curving eave. Also, the architect’s original design specified a metal roof, but when the client mentioned that he had always intended to have a slate roof, Colton reengineered his timber-frame design for the new material, adding thousands of pounds to its capacity but solving the problem with the use of internal steel. With those changes complete, the project was ready to proceed again.
Step 4: Preassembly
Colton finished his 3-D model, which he then used to generate shop drawings. Unlike some timber framers, SwiftSure provides its crew on the shop floor with a shop drawing for every single piece of a project. The drawings contain all the information needed to cut and prepare each piece for installation. “We do literally everything that can be done off-site in our shop,” Colton says. “Every bolt
hole that can be drilled, every screw hole that can be premade—if it can be done in the shop, it should be done in the shop.” This process helps the company reduce labor expenses while staying on schedule. Next, the Allens and their crew precut and preassembled the four main timber bents and pre-treated and prefinished all the interior timber.
Step 5: On-site Construction
Soon after cutting the timber, SwiftSure moved to the Ashland site to assemble the main interior timber frame. Next, its crew returned to the shop to precut a large timber-frame deck that now wraps around two-thirds of the house. Then, they precut roof elements, curved boards, and details. Finally they used a propane torch to apply an ancient Japanese finish to all the exterior timberwork. The process exposes the timber’s grain pattern once the wood is cleaned and oiled.
A general contractor came on-site to oversee construction, after which the Allens returned to finish the stairs, railings, and other touches. The complex building was finished and occupied in the spring of 2012. The Allens say the project shows what they’re capable of. “We’re not afraid to try anything new or different or unusual,” Tim says. “If it’s timber, we can do it.” Now, Tim and Colton are working on the restoration of a century-old barn in Central Point, Oregon.