Grand County Project Profile

I thought I would occasionally share some projects and some of the steps in the process. I am calling it “Project Profiles” until I can come up with a better name.

Project Location: Grand County

Builder:  Mountain Top Builders

Architect: Apex Architecture

Structural Engineer: JVA Consulting Engineers

We have worked with all of these folks in the past and it is always a great experience.

We started out with a schematic drawing that we used to bid the job.

Here is a copy of the 3rd and final iteration during the bid phase.

After we were awarded the project we worked on the full set of shop drawings.
Here is the 3D model:

Here are the printed shops:

Once our shop drawings are completed and approved we then order the materials and begin fabrication. On this project, we used Timberlinx for the first time. To be honest I was skeptical as I have been doing this for quite a while and was reluctant to try something new. Now that we have used them I will definitely use them again. Once you get the hang of it install is pretty easy and I like the fact that you can “suck” the joint tight.

Here are some photos of the assembly.

Here are some photos of the trusses on-site.

As we get more photos we will add them and repost.




The Times They Are A Changin’

I started Three Elements Timberworks in 1999. Before that, I was framing during the days and timber framing during the evenings and weekends. I stumbled across some old photos from the mid 90’s. (Wow, am I really that old?) It was a shock to see how much things have changed. Here is a brief (ridiculously brief) synopsis of our story; where I started and where we are now. Oh, and don’t miss the video at the end. It’s my favorite part   🙂 .

My first timber frame project was a shed I built in Gunbarrel CO. The design came out of my head. No shop drawings. The joinery came out of what was my favorite book at the time.

Building the Timber Frame House: The Revival of a Forgotten Art: by Ted Benson

This was the first piece of timber framing I ever cut. It was a practice piece. Note the hand tools. Skil saw, framing square, Hole-shooter, 1-1/2″ chisel and a corner chisel. I built the saw horses myself. Taught to me by Tom Brown, my first boss when I started framing in college.


Timber posts, Timber frame shed
Here are the posts with the tenons cut on one end. You can see Ted Benson’s book in the bottom left corner of the photo.
Here are the knee braces. This was before I figured out to make templates. I laid each one out individually. There are 2 kinds of braces. Standard tenon braces and half lapped dovetail braces.
Test fitting my first bent.
Raising my first bent.
The frame is raised. Now for the trusses.
Transporting the truss from the shop (client’s garage) to the job-site (backyard). Notice the collar tie has a half lap dovetail straight out of Ted Benson’s book and at the peak is a tongue and fork joint, also straight out of Ted’s book.
“Booming” the truss into place.
The first truss is set, plumbed and braced.


All the trusses set and braced.
Full frame raised.


I took a timber frame workshop in Pingree Park CO back in the mid 90’s. We built this structure using only non-electric hand tools. The workshop was put on by Will Beemer and Peter Haney at the CSU mountain campus. It was a great time and it fueled my “timber frame fire”.
Here is the old fashioned version of a mortising machine.
This is how you cut arches without electricity. Once you get it close with the adze you clean it up by hand with a spokeshave.
This was the last project I did before I started Three Elements Timberworks. I cut it all by hand on the job site. It is a structural truss with no steel. It uses all traditional joinery. Again, mostly from Ted’s book.


You are probably wondering why this trip down memory lane. Three Elements Timberworks has gone through a lot of changes since 1999. It started with me working by myself on a job site, to having an outdoor shop with a crew of 7 carpenters and 3 designers to an operation that cuts almost everything on a CNC machine. It is a long story that I won’t bore you with here. If you are interested in the whole story give me a call, or send me an email. I will be happy to tell you about it, over the phone, over lunch, or over a beer.

Check out the short video below illustrating some of the changes we have gone through over the years.



The Iceman Cometh

The Iceman Cometh is a play written by American playwright Eugene O’Neill. I have never seen it or read it. I don’t even know what it is about. I just like the title. I was reminded of it when I decided to write about one of my life experiments. It seems that I have been coming up with ideas for life experiments now that I am getting dangerously close to the half-century mark. I remember when I was 10 years old one of my mother’s friends read palms. She looked at my palm and said I had a strong life line and that I would live to be 110. I remember thinking “great, I have 100 years left ahead of me.” If that is the case I am not quite at the mid-point. Although, according to Wikipedia’s definition I am middle aged. So the question is how to stay young. A friend of our family is in his late 70’s. He still team ropes on his favorite horse. I saw him last fall building a deck on the back of his house. When he was done with that he was pouring a sidewalk. Not with a pre-mixed concrete like Quikrete. He had bags of cement and a big pile of sand. He did have an electric mixer. Oh yeah, and he volunteers at CTRC. Doing what he loves, helping others and keeping active seems to be working for him. Those three things seem to be big pieces of the puzzle. 

Back to Mr. O’Neill’s play. I stumbled across another man my senior that seems to be thriving as time progresses. His name is Wim Hof. He is known as the “Iceman”. He advocates cold therapy. I have not enrolled in his system (yet?) but I have read a little about him. While searching online I found the 20-day cold shower challenge. Here are my results:

Wim Hof Method

If you look at my sheet you will notice 2  things.

  1. I did it in Winter.
  2. I didn’t quite do it 5 days a week. I only did it on the days I worked out. It was easier to take a cold shower in the winter after a workout when I was warmed up.

Week 1 was miserable. I thought it was because I wasn’t used to the cold showers. After completing the 20 days I found that when doing the 4th week of 60-second showers the first 15 seconds are the hardest. I think it just takes your body that time to adjust. The advice I found on the interwebs is to breathe and stay relaxed. It does help.

So here is the thing. You can see by my chart that by the end I did it 3 days in a row. I have not missed a day since. Every time I take a shower whether I have worked out or not I do a 60-second cold rinse. The first 15 seconds are still hard but by the time you are done and get out of the shower you feel great. I highly recommend this.

I doubt that this alone will get me to a robust 110 years old but it may help and in the meantime, it seems to be life-giving. I know this is not directly related to Three Elements Timberworks but I thought it might be fun to blog about the things I am trying to do to make my life outside Three Elements better.

Leave a comment below.

It would be great to hear from others. What kinds of things are you experimenting with for life improvements?




A single version of the truth

For those of you who follow my blog, you know that I am an advocate for 3d solid modeling. Not just 3d modeling but parametric modeling. Parametric modeling allows us to make changes to the model without having to start from scratch. Click here to see a short video describing the basics of parametric modeling. Bear with me as I tie this topic to our current project. We are building a timber frame tower that integrates with steel stairs. The steel stairs are being fabricated by Distinctive Welding. The general contractor is Heath Construction. Our timber frame tower needs to attach to Distinctive Welding’s stairs. The stairs will be installed first and then our timbers. It is important that our dimensions are correct and match the stair fabricator’s dimensions. One way to make sure everything has been designed to the correct dimensions is to pour over the drawings and compare our dimensions to Distinctive’s. There is another way. Distinctive Welding has created a detailed and accurate model of the stairs in 3d. We were able to import their model into our model and easily confirm that everything fits. Not only is this easier than reviewing the documents, it also gives us greater confidence that everything is going to fit.

Here is a view of the two models integrated. Everything in gray is Distinctive Welding’s and the colored parts are ours. It was a matter of importing the stair model and locating it in the correct position. At that point, we were able to confirm that everything fit. We were able to zoom in and take measurements from the 2 models. I call this process “a single version of the truth”. Before we brought the models together we each had our own version of what each assembly looked like. Now that they are together all of the information is in one place.

We used Sketchfab in order to allow other people to see these models without having to download a specific viewer. You can click here to see some of the other models we have uploaded.



Timber Frame Redwood Pergola

Our goal at Three Elements Timberworks is to provide our customers with as many solutions as possible. Here is the caveat. It has to be within our “wheelhouse”. So when Humboldt Redwood approached us about building outdoor structures using their redwood timbers we jumped at the chance. After speaking with Jim Lacefield at their office, whom I have known since 2004, I got a tour of their facility.

Here are some photos of my tour back in August of 2017:

After talking it over with the people at Humboldt we decided that one thing that isn’t in Three Elements Timberworks wheelhouse is competing with the “big box” stores trying to sell low end mass produced redwood pergolas. We are just not good at low quality, high volume production.

We are good at custom work. We did a custom outdoor kitchen back in 2014. We did not use redwood. One of the reasons being, we didn’t have a supplier of redwood timbers at the time. Now all that has changed. The architect on this project was Vertical Arts.

On February 16, 2017 we teamed up with Humboldt Redwood for the display at the MSLMBDA show in Denver. We cut a redwood pergola for the booth and set it up the day before.  Here are some photos of the raising.

Custom pergolas won’t be the only thing we are offering. We will be coming out soon with a catalog of higher end pre-designed timber pergolas . Keep an eye out for that.


Digital modeling and fabrication

A few weeks ago I told a colleague: “at Three Elements Timberworks we are experts in digital modeling and fabrication.” He replied “what does that mean?” I thought I would try to explain it in a post and show one example of work we have done using this technique.

In 1999 when I started Three Elements Timberworks everything was designed using paper/pencil, 2D Cad and calculated using trigonometry and a Construction Master Trig CalculatorI had several copies of a book on roof framing called, ironically enough: Roof Framing.  People working in the yard were encouraged to read it. When I hired someone to work in the yard they had a 90 day probation period. At the end of that time if they were retained they took a trigonometry test. If they passed it they got a raise. Everything was laid out and cut by hand. Then we started modeling our projects in 3D software. That was a big change for us. It allowed all of the design and calculations to be done on the computer and the people working in the yard could focus on layout and cutting.  We eventually made the switch to SolidWorks.  SolidWorks is great not only at designing in 3D but it also does a great job of communicating with digital fabrication machines. These are typically CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines that remove material and/or 3d printers that add material. Check out Wikipedia’s definition here. We now do most of our timber-work using  a 5 axis  CNC machine. I will post more about that in the future. I want to start out with one of the simpler machines we use to cut sheet goods for projects. 

This project was one Ted Master and I came up with in our “spare” time. We cut the pieces on a CNC laser table out of birch plywood. Ted first drew a mobius strip-like shape in  SolidWorks. Then he sliced it in order to come up with the pieces to be cut.   He sliced it into 1/4″ slices which was the thickness of the plywood we would use to build the finished piece.  He also placed holes in the pieces to assist with assembly. The holes were cut by the laser to fit wooden dowels.This allowed everything to line up during assembly. After slicing the solid in the model he “faceted” the edges to represent the 1/4″ plywood edges.You can see the slices, pegs, and holes in the video.

After the pieces were cut  I wrote numbers on them so we would know which order they got assembled. I made sure to write the numbers in a location where they would get covered up by the next piece. We hid the peg holes in a similar way where we were able to.

Here is a photo of the finished product.

Wooden Mobius Strip

You can see that the end result has 4 quadrants. All 4 quadrants were identical.

Let me know what you think about digital fabrication. Have you seen much of it in the construction industry? Have you used it? If so, how well did it work out?






Solid-modeling is a waste of time?

We spend a lot of time building computer models. I would be lying if every once in  a while I don’t question whether or not we are wasting time with all of the modeling and details. Then a situation comes up where I realize how powerful our modeling is. One example is of a rail we designed for a project in the Aspen area back in 2011. I went to the jobsite and took field measurements. When I got back to the office Ted built the model of the rail per the owner’s / GC’s specifications. After the model was built Ted created a video of a “fly-through” of the stairs and the rail. He loaded it on our you tube channel and invited our customer to take a look.


When they saw the video they decided that the balusters were too much.  Ted  changed the decorative balusters to every other baluster. He made the change relatively easily due to the parametric nature of Solid Works and re-posted the new fly-through. Here is the video of the revised rail.

It turns out that the owners preferred the second iteration of the design. It was never a consideration that having the decorative balusters at every location might be too “busy”. It didn’t even come up until we showed the client the video. Did we spend some extra time creating this detailed computer model? Yes, but in the long run it paid for itself at least ten-fold by getting the design correct before fabrication. As a side note Brian Martella of Atomic Forge fabricated and installed the rail for us. As always, he did a great job.

Lamboo Technologies

What, you can build a timber frame with posts and beams made from bamboo?

Several years ago I started to notice that every once in a while I would walk into an architect’s office and tell them I was a timber framer and they would tell me that they only build “modern” homes. They were always courteous but not interested. We had done some modern styles in the past. Mostly with glu-lam and steel.


For some reason many architects seem to shy away from glu-lam. They don’t like the look of it. Our goal as a company is to provide as many solutions as we can using tools that we are proficient with. So we started a search for materials that could be used in a more contemporary design. About 2 years ago we discovered Lamboo Technologies. They make laminated veneer bamboo beams. They are structural and may be used as a substitute for timbers or glu-lams. They are a great product for integrating the warmth of an organic material into a contemporary style home.

Bamboo timbers, Bamboo beams, Lamboo

After talking to Lamboo Technologies we realized that they had several products that could be a big help to our customers. To include rainscreen, panels for interior finishes, handrails, the list goes on and is limited only by the designer’s imagination. This led me (Eric Seelig) to become the Colorado regional representative for Lamboo. You can see some links on our “Lamboo” page.
Here is a Lamboo rainscreen project on the western slope of Colorado.

  • Lamboo rainscreen
  • lamboo rainscreen close-up

If you are in Colorado and are interested in learning more about Lamboo feel free to contact me or download the inquiry form by clicking here. I would be glad to tell you more. By the way, even if you are not in Colorado you can contact me and I will get you in touch with your local representative.

The first law of thermodynamics

For those of you that have been following us at Three Elements Timberworks, you may recall that we donated a timber frame pavilion in 2012 to the the Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center (CTRC).   We didn’t do it alone — not by a long shot. We had a long list of people and companies that helped. You can read about many of them here. It is by no means a complete list, and in the future I plan to do a better job of going back and acknowledging those that helped us build it and that help us take care of it. In that spirit, I would like to thank the Meade Mavericks football team.


I received a phone call from Carol Heiden, the executive director of CTRC, several weeks ago asking if I could supervise a group of high schoolers that were volunteering to do projects around CTRC. I told her that I would be glad to, and we decided that my project would be to stain the pavilion. It was last done about two years ago and was ready for another coat.

CTRC is an amazing place. Every time I go there I am moved by someone. I remember one Saturday I was working in the office trying to get the books closed out, and our bank’s online banking web page was down. I was so frustrated as I had planned to get the work done and wasn’t able to. I remember having a “Why doesn’t anything ever go right for me?” moment.  But then I jumped up from my desk and said, “I will go out to CTRC and get some work done!” (I was in the middle of laying down the Trex decking)..  I left the office and drove over to CTRC, got out my tools and started laying down the Trex decking over the joists. There was no roof on yet. It was hot. I was sweating. That’s OK — I would persevere through the hardship.

There is a path that goes between the main building at CTRC and the admin offices. The path goes right by the then-not-finished pavilion. As I was working on the decking, I looked up, and as sweat dripped down my forehead and stung my eyes, I noticed a young girl, maybe 5 or 6, walking down the path by herself. She had crutches.  She was obviously a rider at CTRC, so this was nothing unusual to see there. I continued to work with my head down fastening the decking, and when I looked up again several minutes later and the young girl was still walking. A walk that would have taken most of us maybe a minute was a journey for this girl, yet she trudged forward one step at a time. My heart sank, not for her, but for me. I felt pathetic. I had pitied myself because my online banking wouldn’t work. I had patted myself on the back for overcoming it, but now I was humbled by the strength, persistence and drive of a young girl.

If there is ever a time in your life you want to meet amazing people, people who will humble you, people who will inspire you, go to CTRC and just “hang out”. It took me a long time to build the pavilion: weekends, weekdays, mornings and evenings.  At one point, the executive director, Carol, thanked me for the pavilion. For some reason she doesn’t believe me when I tell her, “I got much more out of being at CTRC working on the pavilion than I put in,” but it’s true. I once read that the first law of thermodynamics says something to the effect of: You cannot get more energy out of a system than the energy you put in. That is not true at CTRC. No matter how much you give, you always get back more.


So I want to get back to the Meade Mavericks’ Football team. They did a great job working to get the pavilion stained. My hat is off to the coaches and parents that are instilling the spirit of helping others. I hope that they will continue to do so on their own. I am not saying you have to dedicate your entire existence to helping others. I certainly don’t do that. There are those that do, and they are amazing. But if you can just make your little piece of the world be better, that is a start. Go find your “CTRC”. You won’t regret it.


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