Skip To Content
Almonte DHS Heritage Carpentry Program
Almonte DHS Heritage Carpentry Program
Posted on 10/02/2015

Heritage Carpentry Program at
Almonte and District High S

 Video: Teacher Joe Irvin Explains Mortise and Tenon Joinery

By Mark Calder

(Almonte) – Heritage timber frame homes and barns dot the scenic landscape across Lanark County.

Now students in Joe Irvin’s construction technology class are learning the techniques used to build them.

Irvin runs the Heritage Carpentry Program for Grades 11 and 12 students at Almonte and District High School, teaching old-fashioned mortise and tenon joinery techniques used to build heritage timber frame homes. Construction technology students are building two 9-foot by 12-foot wooden structures, one this term and the other the next, which will be sold and then converted to whatever use the new owner wishes, potentially creating everything from a bunkhouse to an artist’s studio, said Irvin.

The construction techniques are similar to those used by settlers to build barns and cabins and involve creating tongues or “tenons” on one end of a beam and then "mortises" or grooves on another. The tenons are fit into mortises to connect the two lengths of wood. There is a high need for precision so that everything fits together properly for a solid, stable structure.

The experience offers many advantages to his students, said Irvin.

“It gives them an opportunity to try something completely different,” Irvin said of the program. “We are surrounded by timber frame structures across Lanark County. It gives the kids an appreciation for the craftsmanship involved in putting one together.

“It exposes them to a trade that they don’t see very often and it’s also a unique one that offers a very specific skill set that could be highly sought after (by contractors).”

Irvin and his students actually began work on the project last year, after the teacher secured a $10,200 provincial grant to purchase enough eastern white pine and other material to complete two of the structures, and cover costs for specialized training, and trips to see examples of timber frame buildings. Currently, a handful of students are working on the project but, counting students from last year, at least 22 will have participated in the program by the end of this school year.

Students involved with the project have taken part in two training days covering the techniques with staff from Gibson Timber Frames in Perth. Students spoke with workers in the business, and learned basic heritage timber framing techniques. They also toured the heritage carpentry program at the Algonquin College campus in Perth.

Students are learning how to use a special device called a chain mortiser, a vertical chainsaw which can be clamped on to a log and then lowered so its tip digs out the mortise to a specific depth to accept the tenon. Hand chisels are then used to take the hole to a precise depth and square it off. Tenons are cut using a skill saw, and then squared down to a precise size with a hand chisel so each fits snugly into a mortise. The tenons are then secured by a pin as an extra measure to ensure stability.

After the students fashion the individual pieces, the small buildings will be erected in a manner similar to an old barn raising, said Irvin.

Students participating in the program say they enjoy it.

“It’s more old school,” said Grade 12 student Zach Frew of the construction style. “And when (a building’s) up and built it looks so nice the way the wood fits together.

“I find it quite relaxing.”

The 17 year-old says he is strongly considering a career in the trade, and may enroll in the Algonquin College program to further his skills.

Irvin hopes to have the first structure built within a month.

Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2019 West Corporation. All rights reserved.