Trussed Up

Ceiling Trusses Up
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The vault trusses are up. Ben commented that now he can finally see what the ceilings of the rooms in our butcher shop will look like. Catenary curves. Barrel vaults. Domes. Each room sealable and isolated for sanitation. The reefer with its high thermal mass and extensive insulation to prevent heat from coming in. Not just industrial looks but some beauty to go along with it.

I ended up raising the height of the carcass chiller so that we can place the refrigeration evaporator above the rail. This will actually let us put in two units should we need the capacity – even two different types of units for doing carcass chilling vs dry aging. Most importantly it gave us five extra feet of valuable rail space.

When we startup our cutting room will be located in the carcass chiller. We’ll send the carcasses to the far north end to cool down. The work tables will fold up against the wall to save space. The grinder and vacuum packager will also be along the walls. This will let us start processing our own meat sooner. The unfinished expansion areas of the building can then be finished off later as we have the time. This gets us up and running sooner while also giving us room to grow.

Holly Cutting Chocks

We use a lot of small chocks and shims to get everything right, plumb, level and square yet also be able to be popped apart from inside once the building is poured. After the concrete cures we must be able to remove all the forms form the inside. Thus the wedges which can be slid apart to release forms. All screws and nuts must also be accessible from the inside so they can be removed once the concrete is hard. This makes building formwork a little more challenging. The exciting part is when we drop the trusses. When we did the cottage it was the first time I had used that technique on a large scale.


This is a ceiling catenary arch truss in its jig. We use jigs a lot to manufacture identical pieces in construction. It helps make sure the trusses are the same so the ribs line up and it speeds up the process. Here Holly is making the trusses for the wooden forms that will support the concrete as we pour the catenary arch ceilings of our cutting room and kitchen. The barrel vault is a different arc and used a different jig.

Overhead Pan in Chiller

Here’s looking up! This is an overhead pan from straight up to about eye level as I stand in the doorway between the abattoir and carcass chiller. The barrel vault ceiling trusses of the chiller are up and temporarily anchored with 2×4’s. Next will come ribs to make the barrels. On the ribs we’ll lay two layers of lapping masonite. Above that will go our steel work so we can do the ferro-cement arches. Because these ceilings will hold tons of carcasses they are designed to be far stronger than that of our cottage. The vault actually changes in three dimensions plus it has an additional beam running north south for added strength. Either one, the beam or the arch, could hold the weight. Together they are insurance and super stable in all dimensions.

Our formwork isn’t the only thing progressing. The leaves are definitely starting to change. It looks to me like we may have a long fall foliage period this year. I love fall for the colors, lack of bugs and temperate weather. Yet, in the back of our minds is that knowledge of winter fast approaching which lends a bit of pressure to everything we do. Still, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Outdoors: 73°F/56°F Mostly Cloudy, Light Rain
Tiny Cottage: 70°F/66°F

Daily Spark: Sometimes technology is figuring out a better way, a system and not just the electronic toys we all enjoy.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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14 Responses to Trussed Up

  1. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    I’m so impressed by your engineering and coordination. Done a lot of gadget design and high tech stuff, but your current project boggles my mind. A lot more complex than a remotely controlled probe for a scanning electron microscope, for example. Do you use Project, or just hash out your timelines? And Walter, how extensive is your cement/construction background?

    • For time lines I use Excel and Opal which is an outlining program. As to concrete and construction, I’ve done several foundations for our own needs, renovated many houses, a fair bit of building on a few. Holly worked doing house construction and cabinetry. Years ago I identified the techniques I wanted to be using for building and made small projects to gradually learn the techniques. Models, dog houses, animal shelters, our cottage, the south field shed – all of them tested and worked techniques that we’re using on the butcher shop. That in turn is actually testing techniques we plan to use in the future. The butcher shop is not the end all.

  2. Anon says:

    Looking good. Do you plan to have it closed in before winter hits?

  3. karl says:

    Amazing as always Walter. Here’s to getting it covered before the snow flies..

  4. Jeff Marchand says:

    Pretty slick Walter and Holly

    In a few years I hope to build a root cellar and I will be coming back to these pages lots then to learn from what you did. Its walls will either be cement or stone and I want to bury the roof with so I plan to form the roof with cement. Is the roof of your butcher shop going to be cement too? Is that why you went with a catenary (I had to look that up) arch over a plain roman arch or a more traditional pitched roof?
    I visited one root cellar with a cement traditional pitched roof. What the builder had done was to build a ‘temporary’ trusses to support the weight of the wet cement and rebar. He says the cement is now self supporting . That was my plan but your catenary arch has me intrigued. Also can you post a pic of just the catenary arch jig? I cant make out from the pic where the jig ends and the arch begins.

    Many thanks

    • Yes, the roof of the butcher shop will be concrete just like the roof of our cottage. Eventually we’ll berm our cottage. We’re going to be building an animal shelter as part of this upcoming pour to test something so watch for that. Building that shelter will be just like building a root cellar. I’ll do a write up for you.

      The reason for the barrel vault in the carcass chiller is it is the strongest arch and it gives us extra height – something we need for hanging very tall carcasses like big boars who can be almost as big as one ton beef. Spot hung out at 12′ and he & Big’Un may have been around 1,600 lbs or so. All beef, er, pork cake with very little fat.

      The reason for the catenary arch in the rest of the rooms is that we want to conserve height so that we can use the space above in the attic for storing winter. We get very cold nights for much of the year. Lunar panels, a.k.a. Dark Panels, coupled with coolth batteries will let us take a bit of our winter and swing it around the calendar into summer when we need the cooling. All of this will be done with a passive system. Think of it as the opposite of solar power. We’re radiating the heat away and storing the cold, the lack of heat.

      I’ll post a photo of the catenary design at some point along with more photos of the jigs. Stay tuned.

  5. Jeff Marchand says:

    Thanks for offering to do those posts Walter. I look forward to seeing them.

  6. David B says:

    I was reading that the catenary arch was stronger… either one I’m sure works great. Looking at your tiny cottage I was trying to figure out what holds back all the sideways force from the arched roof (no buttreses) but then I remembered your walls are not all block, you have two “rings” that are poured with rebar, so that gives you the strength to contain the arch. Ever thought of doing catenary groin vault to be self supporting?

    The other thing I’ve been thinking about is earthquake resistance. I live in the midwest, which is not known for it’s earthquakes, but there have been several really big ones in the past, so would like to be prepared so that I don’t have a concrete house collapsing on me during one. From what I can read, for small structures, the trick is to overbuild, make sure to take into account side loads. Which with structures like yours, is already built in with all the reinforced concrete.

    • You got it right. Not only are there two rings but there are internal buttresses in the cottage that send the forces back down toward the center of the floor pad which made of concrete. Groin vaults are something on the ‘to-do’ list for our architecture. We’re practicing and dabbling in all sorts as practice for our castle.

      I would definitely not want the roof collapsing on me, be it made of sheetrock, wood, concrete, etc. This is something that I have as a concern. Like you we don’t have regular big earth quakes but you never know what the future may hold. So we over build. One of the benefits of the arches is they are more likely to hold. We also have a pad in our design that allows our house to shift with a quake.

      Another issue with earthquakes is not being too tall. When we do towers that will become more interesting…

  7. Walter,

    I read with great interest about your butcher shop construction. Like Jeff Marchand, I’m looking to build a root cellar using concrete vaults of some sort. We are hoping to begin construction this March. I’m eagerly anticipating your next posts on the topic. It seems that there is little practical instruction out there for this technique, making your work all the more valuable.

    Thanks for putting so much useful info together in one place.

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