Battle Ground-based company uses nail-free method to create stunning structures

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

Arrow Timber Framing

What: A company that builds personalized timber designs for interiors, such as open-beam kitchens, and custom exterior projects such as pavilions, gazebos and entry gates.

Where: 9746 N.E. 302nd St., Battle Ground.

Owner: Bert Sarkkinen.

Employees: Between six and 11, depending on seasonal work.

Web: www.arrowtimber.com

Like a scene from the 17th century, local carpenters are using old-world craftsmanship to build a pavilion this month at Ridgefield's Bethany Vineyard.

After construction finishes up next month, the covered structure will house winery events. For now, those who catch a glimpse of the work might sense they are being transported back in time, despite the engine's drone of a modern-day forklift. The contemporary machine is being used to hoist and suspend in midair the project's huge timber trusses — including one weighing upwards of 3,400 pounds — to workers on ladders who guide the wood into place for eventual roof support.

The 30-by-100-foot post-and-beam pavilion is being built without nails. Workers instead are using mortise and tenon joinery.

"It's just the grandest thing," said Walt Houser, who co-owns the 10-year-old winery with his wife, Bethany Houser. He said the project's overall cost falls somewhere between $100,000 to $500,000, but he was unwilling to narrow that price range.

Battle Ground-based Arrow Timber Framing has been working at the site since mid-April to frame the structure, said Bert Sarkkinen, the company's owner. The project is among the largest for Sarkkinen, a builder who grew up with a large community of Finnish-Americans in north Clark County.

Arrow Timber Framing's technique is a reminder of his Scandinavian heritage, said Sarkkinen, 42. He learned the art of carpentry by watching his father, Joe Sarkkinen, also a Clark County builder and owner of Scandia Builders.

"It's been handed down to me," said Bert Sarkkinen, who started working for his father at age 16.

"He (his father) pushed me to learn math. Trigonometry is the keystone to this," Sarkkinen said of Arrow Timber's projects building wooden pavilions, entry ways, kiosks and other structures with beams, trusses and corbels.

But there wasn't much demand for the specialty work when Sarkkinen first launched his home-framing business, Arrow Construction, in 1995.

His penchant for math soon helped Sarkkinen differentiate himself from the rest of the pack. By 2002, he had begun to carve out a niche market by doing large custom projects that employed timber framing.

"The official story starts when a customer asked me to do some authentic timber framing on his 'shome' (a shop and home combo)," Sarkkinen wrote on

his website.

A self-starter, Sarkkinen went to work learning the ancient art of mortise and tenon, in which a socket or mortise is cut into one piece of wood to hold a protrusion or tenon in another piece of wood. Wooden pegs are then pounded through the joint to securely hold the large pieces of wood together.

"There are some 300-year-old barns built that way on the East Coast that are still standing," said Eric Lanciault, a Vancouver-based architect. "It's very traditional and very organic. That's how I would describe it."

He isn't surprised by Sarkkinen's taste for trigonometry, the basis of all building, built on mathematical relationships between shapes and angles.

Specialty work

Sarkkinen's niche market projects -- structures such as timbered pool houses, entry ways, gazebos and canopies -- soon caught on with wealthy homeowners. By 2008, he had completely switched to specialty timber framing and changed the company's name from Arrow Construction to Arrow Timber Framing.

"That's when the business changed gears and stepped away from conventional framing," said Derek Kemppainen, the company's director of public relations.

Although work remained steady for Arrow Timber Framing through the recent housing market downturn, Sarkkinen said even his company experienced slow periods, as upscale clients scaled back so as not to appear too showy.

"A lot of times those who can afford it slow down, so you get the work you can and work hard," said Sarkkinen, whose business employs between three and four office workers and between three and seven construction workers.

Projects can range anywhere from "a few hundred bucks to $130,000" or more, he said.

However, Sarkkinen said he's already optimistic about the workload this year, having started the building season with the winery's huge pavilion.

He cited the finished wood beam and truss buildings for creating ambiance and magnetism.

"When it's done, it's a fun place to be," he said.

Cami Joner: 360-735-4532, http://twitter.com/camijoner or cami.joner@columbian.com.

To see a video of the event pavilion under construction, visit YouTube.