Timber Framing

If you know what timber framing is you may want to move on to another page.  Despite an increase in popularity and the fact that most home magazines feature timber frames in their articles, many people say they don’t know what timber framing is. In reality most do know what timber framing is or have at least seen one in the past. The fact of the matter is, they know it when they see it, they just did not realize what that style of construction was called. Memories of old barns, ski lodges, the classic Adirondack style camp, or recollections of a community hand raising a frame help people realize they have been around timber frames their whole lives.  Nostalgia usually kicks at this point and they remember their grandparents or the sense of warmth, awe, comfort, and security that the large timbers and an open frame instill in people.

Occasionally people will confuse timber framing with log or post and beam construction. While many log homes built today use elements of timber framing on the inside of the structure, they are not technically fully timber framed. Similarly, post and beam construction includes a wide variety of timber construction techniques. While all timber frames are post and beam structures, not all post and beam structures are timber frames. So what is the distinction? 

Simply stated, timber framing is the craft of joining large timbers together to form a free standing structure through the use of wooden joints. No metal fasteners are used to hold the building together. Perhaps at this point, it is useful to define  “timber” and “joinery”. Technically a timber is a wooden member that is greater than 5 inches by 5 inches in cross section. In a typical house timber frame, posts will be  8 ” by 8″ in cross section, beams will be 8″ x 12″ in cross section, and scantlings, the smaller timbers in a frame, will be  around 4″ x 8″ in cross section for a joist and 3″ x 6″ for a brace. While 3″ x 6″ is smaller than a 5″ x 5″, the distinction is not critical. What is critical in setting a timber frame apart from other types of construction, including other types of post and beam construction, is the use of joinery.

Joinery is simply any method of taking two distinct timbers and assembling them into a whole. The classic example is the mortise and tenon joint. We use the mortise and tenon joint widely in our frames because it is a strong and durable connection that has stood the test of time. In addition to the mortise and tenon joint, our timber frames also employ the use of lap joints, scarf joints, briddle joints, wedged and splined joints and various forms of compound joints. Most of these types of joints can have variations such as the “soffit-tenon” or the “half-lap” whose descriptive names help the joiner visualize the type of joint. All of these varieties give the joiner an abundance of techniques to accomplish a desired result, whether it be to enhance the structural integrity, efficiency and/or the beauty of the finished timber frame.

Timber framing therefore is simply a construction technique and not necessarily a style. The construction method is easily integrated into rustic styles and settings due to the natural beauty of the wood, but the technique can be employed to enhance modern and mixed architectural styles as well.