Posted on: 23rd June 2017

Alan and Matt are on the carpentry trip of a lifetime… from Devon, to Canada, to Montana.  Alan is sharing his experiences of another country – and another way of working…


–     After a very long drive and a very, very long flight I arrived at Vancouver airport which was so quiet it was almost like entering a Zen zone, lots of native totem poles and huge weavings greeted me in the main airport hall.  The immigration was a bit prickly at first but after my two key phrases ‘bringing contract’ and ‘supervising’ I was stamped in.  The next flight was delayed an hour which was for a 20 min hop.  Steve also waited out front, and eventually took me up to our house in Cowichan – ‘Cow Bay’ as the locals call it – where I was met by Tim, our landlord.  We all had a beer in the most fantastic digs.  It was a 32 hour day and I was tired.  I forced myself to bed and woke up real early and forced myself to stay in Bed till 5:30 when I got ready for John to collect me for day 1…

–     I was driven down the long and windy road down into the quarry on the inlet where the yard is.  Spent the day meeting the guys, checking timber, having a meeting including Jean via Sykpe, and poring over the drawings, annotating them with details from JBR and the engineer.  The timber looks fine and we’re ready to start.  I was then given my first right hand drive car which I was really scared of, but got right into it, making it home via a stop to buy some food and a nose around Cow Bay.  The food seems really expensive here, so I’m glad I’m not with the ‘Waitrose set.’

–     Today was tiring.  I’m trying to get this thing rolling, Steve wants it rolling, and yet I’m asked so much stuff about braces, fixings, joints, millimetres, imperial, how many, check this drawing… (are there really four different types of braces?  Not including two types of wind braces, slings and queenies?!  Come on CAD Lads, that definitely counts as colouring outside the lines!)  I’m also trying to mark timber so Noah can cut some oak which he did, amen.  Dustin is constantly looking at the list and the oak sent, a bit vexed, he wants to cut some oak too – and where is this mythical Macdonald & Lawrence mountain of tools?  John, my ‘handler,’ is a great help and a good chap.  Oh, and the porpoises swam down the inlet by the yard at afternoon tea, and the hummingbirds were feeding on the back porch of the house when I returned home – cool eh?

–     Got into cutting oak today cut all the top plate runs.  I had to make a mallet, a pretty crude but effective 15 minutes with a skill saw and some old offcuts.  The lads here are great, they collect logs then get the mobile mill guy in, then build their houses and extensions.  I’m trying to locate HP sauce, I know it’s out there !



–     Today was a yard day off.  A beautiful warm T shirt day.  Spent 4 hours working through the engineers drawings and making lists.
Popped down into Cow Bay, got some bread from the artisan bakers.  Took our Chevvy (probably bought from the dirty car shop) to Duncan to get some tools, practised right hand driving round and round the blocks of malls.  The tools looked crap, and the boots were expensive.  Hunted  down the colonial quarter, a refreshing trendy hub where I chilled away lunchtime.  Found the Red Arrow micro brewery, yes!  Good beer!  Walked the foreshore to Cow Bay to buy a ‘soda,’ found a first nation guy living in a tent on the outskirts.

–     Took a really long, really dark, winding and busy drive to collect Matt from the airport, across and up the other side of the ‘Inlet.’  Got stopped by the traffic cops.  I found Matt, but not his luggage!  I often thought the next village at home was a long way away.  Got us home, drank beer and was really wired!  2:30 bedtime.

–     Today’s a chippy’s holiday!  Went down to the village to meet some guys from work, for the boat festival and hoping to join the four-hour boat build competition.  Alas we didn’t enter in time, by several days – these guys are pretty laid back.  We had to drive again, down round and up the highway, to sort out Matt’s baggage which stayed in dear old Blighty.  We drove down into Victoria to check out the capital, where we were met by a cyclocade of naked cyclists arriving at the grand entrance of the government house.  We were invited to a BBQ up a small local mountain, where Nicky and Andy were gonna build their house, a great spot with views across to the snow covered mountains of Washington State, across in the USA.  This was my first walk in the woods, Canadian woods, bear country, oh and ticks too, which are much more common, and nasty to boot.  Driving the beast ‘mon chere chevvy’ is hard work, this time Matt got the delights of slack steering, crappy lights, crappy wipers, in the rain through the Goldstream Pass, but hey, it does have a guzzling 5.7 litre V8, just what two Poms need to drag themselves around.

–     Kind of relaxing day today, got up real late 7:45, popped over to see the town of Duncan, 10km away. Went to the mall, like you do.  Dear old chevvy had a flat battery in the car lot, off we went to find an auto shop, the guy who came out juiced up the battery and didn’t want any thing for it.  Star!  Went to the old quarter to find a bookstore, and visit my favourite café, well I’d been there once before.  Tonight is roast chicken dinner.  There’s a weird tidal anomaly here, the high tide has a huge ‘stand’ – why?  The oven I think is made by Chevvy, so the roast is making some leeway.  I’ve started wanting to know more about how the First Nation People fit in.

–     Matt’s first day in the yard today.  I think the jet-lag combined with a frontier framing yard shocked him.  It’s hard to really get going, questions, lists, lack of timber, adapting methods.  Also, I just started looking into the weird tidal anomalies here, right outside the window, basically there’s a massive stand of high water in the summer, it’s like the high water just stays around…  There was talk of us getting a hire car, no!!!!!  I love my chevvy!


–     Sounds like the oak is gonna be delayed, started roof lay up, decided to start swapping bits just to keep on.  Going out for a meal out tonight, our first in a restaurant, this could break the bank, and we’ll have to live on bark for the next 4 weeks, hippy chippys eh?

–     Well us English boys got into some serious oak cutting today, man this white oak is hard.  Matt got pulled by the ‘Royal Canadian Mounted Police’ for driving under the speed limit and weaving the slack ole chevvy, Paul our cop, understood our erratic progress, waving us on our wobbly way, ‘Take it easy in that heap of crap!’

–     We’re cutting the roof and purlins, I hoped to have it finished today, we first fitted one half of the roof but it looks like Monday.  The rest of the oak is arriving at the end of this month. The assembly takes longer, we made a jack, we rock trestles, we row/walk timbers, we used the fork lift around our dirt floored tent.  The temperature is rising, it’s real warm, I’ll need to protect my Celtic blue skin next week.  We worked right up to 5:30 this Friday.

–     I texted John, we popped round to his place for pizza and a chill out.  We all walked down through his back door step woods, to the river near his home.  We saw some big trees cedar, Douglas fir, maple – these apparently are second generation and in comparison to what we’re gonna see, are like looking at shrubs in your garden as an example of a woodland.  My second Friday night and I spent it driving around, again, which kept me out the pub.

–     Day off!  Matt skipped down to the ferry port in Victoria. I passed on that drive, so spent the day in the ‘village.’  I bought some stuff, chatted to some guys building a 14 foot stitch and glue skiff, sanding epoxy etc. Late afternoon went up to Duncan, found a great market stall, got more top-up beer at the micro brewery, and bought some wheels to try and build a trolley, like I have time. Back at the cabin, sat in the sun and drank Red Arrow.

–     We got up late – 13 hours kip, yeah!  Went off to find Wild Wood Ecoforest, set up by Merv Wilkinson in 1938.  He realised that the forest grows so much each year, so take that amount rather than clear fell.  Michael, one of the M&L guys is part of the TFG, and runs courses there.  We struggled at first to find it, mainly because I believe Sat Nav is making us dumb, the journey isn’t just arriving, it weaves – right?  Jump out the truck and ask, meet these people.

–     Trying to get this roof lay up done, My back grumbles and had to do the fixxy uppy lie down at breaks, felt better.


–     Matt hit a snag, but luckily an easy one, then I looked at rafter marks and thought I’d made a mother screw up, checked the drawings, all okay.  But did my head wobble or what.  We’re wrapping up the roof now.  Angus is missing me and I’m trying to work out how to Facebook to meet him, and allowing for time lag. Facebook is spooky!

–     Well we ain’t getting oak anytime soon, the sawmill ain’t really ‘with the program.’ The M&L yard was quiet today, except for Michael who we spent lunch with, talking about the First Nation’s plight, the history out here, and the costs of getting a home here. Matt started wall A, I built a timber trolley from slabs of Doug Fir and some wheels we got.
–    Canada Day: The Canadian people are celebrating 150 years of being a Nation. All the flags are out, the trucks full of camping gear are heading out to parties all over this massive and opportunity rich continent. I feel that the dispossessed First Nation people may not be cheering as loud. We took the ferry across the Saanich inlet to Brentwood Bay to visit Theo, the brother of Nikki White, married to Kelvin, who is among the ranks of those who’ve served at Carpenter Oak Devon.


–     Glad to have time off. We both do epic sleeps at the weekend, my average is about 11 hours.
We had a great day today. Noah organised a kayak and tube down the Cowichan River. I  had to paddle across a stream, as did we all, it was scary, bearing in mind the only other time I kayaked, I came close to going tits up, only Tony and Adam, pulled me back. Matt kayaked down the river and rapids, nicely done! I tubed in a ten foot $100 dollar tube, I didn’t take the $5000 camera with me sorry guys, but the photos are for those who weren’t there right? At chicken rocks I bailed and swam, Matt and Noah looked so cool in the kayaks. Really cool, like this is the boat right? I had a go on the last stretch and loved the kayak. Pat, our older Quebecois buddy did the whole run in a 4×4 inner tube. Pioneers or what?!

–     Today I cut 4 tapered posts with Greg the sawyer, and cut four braces on the big bandsaw. Matt got going on wall B, and I dug out some the big rafters.

–     I spent a load of time on GFA stuff.  Working with M&L guys Noah, Michael, Gregg and Fabrice the compaignon, who is a lot of fun.

–     Cut some rafters and helped Matt handle the long tapered posts into the top plates, showed him the old school techniques ‘jacking, rocking and rowing.’ All went well.

–     Got a couple of good books – The Golden Spruce is a good read.  We spent a day off trekking up mount Tzou Halaouen, which is the big view predominating our cabin.

Week 4

Been cutting oak, the second load came, only a few bits missing – a mere tie beam being one and two long top plates among them. This whole gig is just a series of hurdles, I’m quite happy and am enjoying the challenge. What you need out here is a Rigby!  So off I went to collect Don from the airport. Matt and I joked when we saw our predicament, be careful what you wish for.  We pulled a fifty hour week, dragging big beams around, then as a treat on Saturday, we made fifty trestles, all of which we loaded onto the dear Ole Chevvy.


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