NORWAY — Rusty Partridge, owner-operator of Black Dog Timberworks at 560 Greenwood Road, doesn’t use nails in his construction. There’s no need.

Partridge is a builder who takes most of his techniques from very traditional practices.

“It’s a pretty ancient craft that dates back thousands of years, from Europe to Japan,” he said. “When the settlers came to settle this land they brought those techniques with them.”

Partridge’s method of building is timber-framing, using large heavy timbers carefully crafted to fit together. Partridge joins his building together using a ‘mortise and tenon joint. A slot or square is carved into one timber with the complementing piece in the joining timber.

He bores a hole through the pieces of the joint and hammers a peg through in a practice called ‘drawboring.’ Finally, Partridge seals the joint to help lock everything firmly in place.

“There are no metal fasteners in here, its all wooden joinery,” he said.

The naturally exposed rough-sawn timbers and interlocking hardwood pegs are thematic to the building style’s aesthetic quality.

Although Partridge’s projects reflect a sentiment of appreciation for the past and its charms, practicality, environmental conscientiousness, diversity of uses and longevity are other reasons people find Partridge’s buildings appealing.

“They’re very strong, very durable,” he said. Some barns like this around the area are hundreds of years old, he said.

“So long as the foundation is kept sound and the roof is kept up with, they’ll last hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years,” Partridge said.

Speaking to the versatility of timber-framing, Partridge attests to the ability to disassemble and move an entire house or barn.

“They can get repurposed, they can get taken down and put back up again in a different location,” he said. “Most of the old barns you see, they usually have pockets and joinery because they were probably someone else’s barn or someone else’s home previous to that,” he said.

Partridge explained the additional value of the commodity at the time.

“Back then, sawing the wood was a very arduous process, so once they had those timbers, that was a very prized commodity … so they reused those things over and over,” he said. “Today people use them because they are beautiful to look at, they’re very durable, they’re very special, definitely out of the ordinary.”

Partridge has made a concerted effort to diversify his projects, from large scale projects to household items.

“Its pretty wide ranging,” he said. “I’ve taken care not to pigeon-hole myself into just doing the same thing over and over again. I do take on a really wide range of projects, mostly because I like to keep it interesting for myself . . . everything from small gazebos to big barns.”

The website for Black Dog Timberworks showcases many of Partridge’s projects. Although they are seldom accompanied by standard pricing considering the nature of the custom built products, there are some rough quotes regarding the framing projects. 

“Every product is different, I always tell people that it’s worth coming in . . . every project is really distinctly unique,” Partridge said as he ran his hand over a bracing in the barn he built as his workshop. The brace was made of cherry with a unique ‘live-edge’ exposed finish.

“No one really does that,” he said about artfully incorporating the tree’s natural curves into construction, something of a signature element for Partridge.

Having interesting and unique projects that hold new challenges and offer opportunity to highlight the wood’s natural beauty are clearly incentives for Partridge.

When it comes to the construction of houses, timber-frame homes, in addition to being able to move with you, can be designed with some impressive utility features. For example, ‘zero net energy’ is a term that refers to houses that produce all or most of their electricity on site.

Black Dog Timberworks has built two homes that incur no energy costs in partnership with Black Brothers Builders, now Solar Maine. Their administrator, Janet Bouchard, remembers working with Partridge for a customer who wanted the traditional look of a timber-frame house with extreme energy efficiency.

“Rusty did fantastic work; I and the customer couldn’t have been any happier with it,” Bouchard recalls.

Partridge recommends any client interested in investing in a timber frame consider an enclosure package as well, saying his frames feature, “very tight construction insulation-wise. People who are investing that money into a timber-frame house want to be sure that they’re investing in a sound enclosure package, too.”

Partridge has taken on several home-building projects, including, as he says, “everything from uber-contemporary to very modest, simple homes.”

Staying true to his desire for diversity in his projects, Partridge has also recently completed the small gazebo at Norway Brewing Co. and a 12,000-square-foot dining hall at Camp Wekeela on Bear Pond Road in Hartford, where the Partridge family moved from Norway.

Partridge, who has been timber-framing since 2002, said his entry into the field was “a natural progression for me. I had the desire to work more with my hands and just, delve into something.”

And that desire was Partridge’s start.

“Luckily, I found a job where I was able to get trained on the job along the Midcoast,” he said.

Partridge has a degree in natural resource management from the University of New Hampshire.

From all appearances, he is managing his natural resources quite well. His timbers are locally cut and milled, further attesting to the sustainability of the frames and ensuring the projects stay with the local economy.

Partridge said that there are “a lot of guys in the Northeast doing (timber-framing.) It seems there has been a resurgence in the past 30 years or so. People like it and I’ve taken a liking to it, too, I guess,” he said with a smile.

Black Dog Timberworks has been in business for about 10 years and got its name from the family’s black Chesapeake Bay retriever, named Brooks, who the family lost in 2015.

“We’re in the market for a new dog,” Partridge said, pausing for a moment and adding, “whether or not it’s a black dog remains to be seen.”

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Rusty Partridge’s timber-framed workshop includes many optional features, such as live-edge natural finishes that incorporate the wood’s natural curve and beauty into the design. (Adam Brown/Advertiser Democrat)

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