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Nov/Dec 2005

Profile: Ed Shure, a woodworker par excellence, is dedicated to building a house the old fashioned way – with scientific craftsmanship

Profile:  Taking on an old craft in a young country, Ed Shure has a way with trees.

Sophie Donelson

Ed Shure is a master craftsman in an age of instant gratification, overseas outsourcing, and digital precision. He is that rare person who says let’s do it the old-fashioned way.

Shure and partner Ed Levin head up the Denver-based Timmerhus, a design and construction firm dedicated to log and timber residences. Far from the simple, ribbed boxes that the term “log building” evokes, Shure and his crew have taken on a lion’s share of hard-to-realize projects. Picture souring ceilings and an arbor of crisscrossed boards as intricate as a spider web. Timmerhus’s skills with timber are like a gymnast’s with her body – illusory contortions in which an imperfect material (mostly reclaimed wood) performs almost mathematically.

In the case of a home that Shure created with designer David Ashely (son of Laura), the process started with “finding dead, bent trees” on Canada’s Vancouver Island and folding them into a sprawling residence. Another, an overly ambitions ranch house in Beaver Creek, Colorado, Shure calls “the hardest thing we’ve ever done geometrically. It exceeded our ability to draw and make timber square enough. Our math just failed us.” The answer came from France as Shure hired a member of Les Compagnon, a society of craftsmen trained in medieval techniques and often called upon to repair Euorpean cathedrals.

In a raspy, rough-hewn voice, Shure describes intense dedication to the craft and great reverence for the material. Before a stint as a mechanic at a Harley-Davidson dealership, Shure crafted tools in Japan, and his involvement with building began there, helping temple carpenters build a teahouse.

“It was an epiphany for me,” says Shure. “Everything they do there makes you pay attention. They showed me how to align my vertebrae with the teeth of the saw. It makes you be present through the whole cut.”

That sort of intense attention to craftsmanship is less frequent today, says Shure. “The industry is changing. There’s a new computer that cuts timber so much faster than we can. It’s getting harder to convince people that our effort is different.” So instead of going after behemoth-like projects, he’s pointing his saw at smaller jobs accessible to a wider audience – like the 120-square-foot jewel-box hut he’s making for a Boulder client who will use it while he translates an old Chinese text.

As for Shure, he’s still in the same 1920’s cabin he purchased more than 20 years ago outside Denver. “I have a friend that does tattoos – he practices on his own leg. That’s what our house is – it’s pretty funky.”

Sophie Donelson is the editor of City magazine in Manhattan. Previously she worked with Hamptons Cottages and Gardens.

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