· What’s the difference between Timber Framing, Post & Beam, and Stick Framing?
· What wood can be used for timber framing?
· Why are timber frames generally made with “green” wood?
· What alternatives are there to using “green” wood?
· Will you be responsible for the entire timber frame project?
· Who will design my home?
· What does a timber frame cost?
What’s the difference between Timber Framing, Post & Beam, and Stick Framing?
Timber framing is the ancient craft of building with large section timbers, locked together with all wooden mortice and tenon joinery. It was used extensively in medieval times all over Europe, and was brought to the new world with European settlers. It died out towards the middle of the 19th century, when balloon or stick framing was developed here in North America. Since the end of the 1970’s it has enjoyed a rebirth, both here in North America, and in Britain.
Stick framing was brought about by a need to build houses more quickly, by less skilled hands and at a lower cost. By using 2X dimensional lumber and nails, the need for complex three-dimensional joinery and large section timber was eliminated. Stick framing is considered rough carpentry as the framing is never meant to be seen from the inside of the home.
Post & beam construction is often thought to be synonymous with timber framing. It isn’t. Post & beam is heavy timber construction without the use all wooden joinery. Instead, complex joints are avoided and metal fasteners are used to connect the timbers together. While we choose not to build this way, it is sometimes appropriate where experienced timber framers are unavailable, or budgets are prohibitively low.
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What wood can be used for timber framing?
There are literally dozens of species that have been used to timber frame over the years. In our opinion, the species choice should be dictated by what is available locally. In Europe, white oak was used in the majority of frames because it was readily available and had exceptional strength and durability qualities. In North America, west coast frames were traditionally made with fir and cedar, while eastern frames often made use of pine, hemlock, elm and oak.
We strongly encourage the use of sustainably harvested local timber to keep costs down (including the embodied energy of the timber) and support local forestry and mills. We are fortunate to have an abundance of species to choose from here in Quebec and Ontario, including pine, spruce, cedar, hemlock, oak, ash, beech, etc. We’ll incorporate almost any species into the frame as long as it is structurally viable. Each have their own unique qualities. We are also happy to use timber harvested from your own woodland if you have one. This creates an even deeper connection between the house and its surroundings.
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Why are timber frames generally made with “green” wood?
Timber frames have traditionally been built using green timber – meaning timber that has been freshly felled and has a high moisture content.
The reasons were basically twofold:
· working dry timber with chisels, axes, adzes and planes is more difficult and time consuming
· the cost of stockpiling an inventory of large timber while it dries over the course of many years is cost prohibitive
As green wood dries out in the heated home, it shrinks. We have to allow for this shrinkage in our design and joinery. Does this affect the tightness of the frame? No, because we drawbore all of our joints. Drawboring is the process of misaligning the holes in the mortice and tenon so that when an oak peg is driven in it pulls the joint together tightly. As the frame dries, this joint maintains its tightness. All medieval and new world timber frames were pegged in this fashion.
Large section timber also cracks as it dries. This process is called checking, and is a natural consequence of a timber that is shedding moisture quickly. The checks do not pose a problem structurally. We slow the drying process by sealing the end grain of our timbers. It can be slowed further by not keeping the house too hot and dry during the first year of occupation.
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What alternatives are there to using “green” wood?
If the idea of shrinking timber is something that is unappealing, there are two alternatives to using green wood: recycled timber, and kiln or radio frequency kiln dried timber.
Recycled timbers have become increasing popular for use in timber frames for environmental as well as aesthetic reasons. These timbers are salvaged from factories, mills, and barns that have been demolished. They are often of very high quality and are dimensionally stable as they’ve had decades to dry out. They also have their own character, often displaying old pockets and nail holes from a previous life. Using recycled timber also means less pressure on our forests. Because of the work involved in sourcing and supplying these timbers, they come with a premium price.
Kiln dried timbers are newly felled, but placed in special kilns for anywhere from several weeks to several months depending on the type of kiln being used. The water in the timber is driven out until the desired moisture content has been reached. This type of service is not available everywhere, and also comes with its own cost considerations.
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Will you be responsible for the entire timber frame project?
In a word, no. We are not general contractors, we are specialist sub-contractors. Our area of expertise centers on the design and construction of the timber frame, and its enclosure. All of the other trades and activities will need to be coordinated by the general contractor
You will need to decide whether you would like to act as your own general contractor (a difficult and often full-time job), or if you will be hiring one. We are able to recommend general contracting services.
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Who will design my home?
The design responsibilities usually fall under on of the following:
· We design the structure with you only
· We design the structure with a designer or architect we recommend
· We design the structure with a designer or architect you have hired
An important thing to keep in mind is getting everyone around the table as early as possible. If working with an architect of your choosing, we want to make sure we can meet their vision with our part of the project, so it’s best to have us included in design discussions as early as possible.
||Some clients come to us with a blank sheet of paper and ask us to build them a home. Others come to us with an architect and a very developed set of plans. We are happy to accommodate both types of scenarios. Our 3D design software helps clients and designers alike see the finished timber frame, long before the first stick is cut.
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What does a timber frame cost?
The most frequently asked question, but nearly impossible to answer in black and white terms. The cost of a timber frame home depends on so many variables, including size, timber species, complexity of design, and how the home will be finished. Remember that the timber frame is only one piece of the puzzle, and accounts usually for only 20 to 30% of the entire project cost.
Without dodging the question entirely, yes, you can expect to pay a small premium for a timber framed house if compared to a similarly sized house using conventional stick-framing methods (By extension, real estate markets have begun to recognize this by appraising them anywhere from 10 to 20% higher than a similarly sized conventional home). So how much more do they costs? This cant be answered until all design considerations are resolved, and how much of your budget you divert into other areas of the home.
For the timber frame portion of the project - it all boils down to the complexity of the design and the number of mortice & tenon joints that need to be cut. Are there hips and valleys in the roof? These involve complex carpentry and take longer to cut than simple roof shapes. Are you opting for a simple truss design, or something more dramatic? By opting for a more complex roofing system and adding embellishments, the costs of a frame could easily double – even though it’s the same size! We’ve worked on frames where the embellishments took as long to cut as the actual structure itself.
Knowing your budget and working within it is the key. Keep in mind that you are buying a hand crafted home, that has been custom built for you, and you only. These are not standardized kits, churned out in assembly-line fashion. Timber frames are beautiful and built to last. If looked after they last for centuries, just as they have in Europe for over 800 years.
Our frames generally fall in the 30 to 55 CDN per square foot range – raised on your foundation. It’s possible to bring the cost down further by opting for a hybrid design or by using your own timber, etc.
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