The most important items that you need when you decide to build a timber frame house is several strong friends. Having a hoist or crane available is helpful, too. Here’s a quick math problem for you: How much does a 10”x 10” timber 35 feet long weigh, if wood weighs 50 pounds per cubic foot*?
Timber framing uses heavy timbers to form the framework of the building. Timbers typically measuring 8”x8” or greater are used to construct the building, allowing large open spaces to be created, due to the weight bearing capacity of the huge members. Often the timber framing is left exposed as an architectural detail offering visual interest to the interior or exterior of the structure.
When utilizing timber framing to construct your home, you have a lot of design flexibility available to you. The large timbers carry the weight of the structure and you can place non-weight bearing walls anywhere that you desire. Or, you can have large open spaces, reminiscent of the great halls of yore or modern industrial lofts.
The timber pieces are joined together by various methods including: lap joints, mortise and tenon joints, and lengthening scarf joints. Remember to allow for shrinkage of the timbers, which will naturally occur as the wood dries, or you will have cracking problems. Diagonal bracing is used to prevent the vertical timbers from leaning or ‘wracking’.
You can find more information on finding a professional timber framer in the US at the Timber Framer Business Council.
Though timber framing has been around for centuries, modern timber framing techniques make the process simpler for the average homeowner. Timber frame components are now shaped by computer controlled saws and drills to precisely make all the timbers required for your house. They are numbered and coded then shipped to your building site with a detailed schematic which diagrams where each timber goes and in what order to assemble them. It’s just like building with Lincoln logs, but at a much bigger scale.
You can attend timber framing workshops where you can learn to use the tools and techniques to build your own timber frame house. There are timber frame guilds that get together on weekends to help members build their timber frame homes. Having experienced timber framers available to direct the construction process will make the process go smoother. The guild members will also provide the manpower required to maneuver the heavy timbers into place, which will be much appreciated by the end of the project.
Timber framing has its own terminology, so you will learn what a ‘jetty bressummer’ is used for, why you need a ‘dragon beam’, where to place a ‘noggin-piece’, and the difference between an ‘axe’ and an ‘adze’. (I’m not making any of this up!) Any technique that uses these terms should be fun to master. Just think of the conversations that you can have with your co-workers.
*Answer: 1215 pounds, hence the need for friends or a hoist!