A History of Timber Frame Construction

Timber frame construction has a strong history and a glorious present.

Today's Timber Frames

Modern Timber Frame Construction

The benefits of modern timber frame design

From the outside, a timber frame home may look like other homes you've seen. Step inside and you'll discover what makes them special. The home's posts and beams -- its wooden skeleton -- are visible. They soar up to the ceiling and span the room. And because the frame supports the home, few partition walls are needed. Rooms flow together, bathed in light from large windows.

You'll also notice that modern timber frame homes are snug and comfortable because insulation wraps around the frame like a blanket, making the home warm, quiet and energy efficient.

Past Meets Present

Indian Temple Timber Frame

An ancient Indian template with timber frame design

Timber frames' appeal is old and wide. Whether you have fond memories of your grandfather's barn or are just fond of the distinctive warmth of massive wood timbers, you're sure to feel at home in a timber frame. In fact, people have been making themselves at home in timber frames for centuries.

All over the world, from Asia to Europe to North America, people seeking shelter have used trees as posts and wrapped them with skins or covered them with mud. During the Middle Ages, Europeans erected huge, intricate frames for cathedrals, castles, tithe barns and temples. The frames were enclosed with materials close at hand-stone, mortar, brick or mud.
The skill of joining timbers was passed from one generation of master craftsmen to the next. As these Europeans immigrated to North America, they brought timber framing skills with them. The New World offered them a chance to work their skills on huge trees taken from vast, untouched forests. The early settlers used these longer timbers to form simpler, less intricate frames.

Democracy and new-found freedom gave Colonial Americans the opportunity to build homes and barns for themselves, instead of building manor homes or cathedrals for others. Here they found a sense of community that brought willing neighbours together to raise a frame.

Older Timber Frame Design Plans

Timber frame design plans from the 1800's

Timber frame homes and barns were built steadily until the mid 1800's when stick-frame construction emerged. New, mass-produced nails and boards could be used to build structures quickly. Timber framing, a far more time-consuming craft, fell out of favour.

Decades later, in the midst of the energy crisis of the 1970's, a group of builders searching for responsible efficient building methods rediscovered timber framing.

This new, old style of building used larger, less-processed timbers in homes chat are meant to last for centuries. Timber framing allowed these builders to truly handcraft a home. By studying old frames, the craftsmen taught themselves to carve the wood joinery. Like their Old-World predecessors, they passed their knowledge on to other eager craftsmen.

This unique frame design utilizes modern joinery techniques.   Today, home owners expect their homes to do more than just shelter them. Our homes must use energy efficiency to keep our families warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They should be safe, secure and comfortable, and have modern fixtures and appliances. We also want our homes to be beautiful. The timber frame home can fulfill all these requirements, because it gracefully combines the best of yesterday and today.

Modern frame designers use computers to map out the intricate joinery that is cut with both power and hand tools. Instead of calling on neighbours for help, framers now use motorized equipment, such as forklifts and cranes, to hoist heavy timbers and raise large sections of the home.

Posts and Beams

Modern Timber Frame Joinery

Contemporary timber frame joinery by Whistler Timber Frame

All timber frames are made up of vertical members called posts and horizontal members called beams. Interlocking wood joinery holds the timbers in place. The joinery is secured with hardwood pegs.

Timber framing uses large timbers, such as 8-by-8-inch posts set far apart. In conventional stick-frame construction, walls are built of small pieces of lumber, such as 2-by-4s, set close together.

People often use the terms "timber frame" and "post-and-beam" interchangeably While all timber frames have posts and beams, interlocking wooden joinery is the hallmark of the traditional building craft. Other forms of post-and-beam construction use metal hardware and plates to hold posts and beams together.

The posts and beams transfer the home's weight and building loads to its principal posts and onto the foundation. The frame supports the home, eliminating load-bearing partition walls. Instead of compartmentalized rooms, timber frame interiors can feature large, flowing spaces and vaulted ceilings. Most likely your home will contain some interior partition walls. These walls will serve as handy places to run the pipes, ducts and wires of the mechanical systems. A timber frame home enclosed with insulated walls or panels is highly energy efficient. The key to its efficiency is the insulation that is applied to the exterior.

Getting Started

Timber frames are available from a wide range of sources. Some people choose to build timber frame additions on their existing, conventionally built homes. A timber frame addition is self supporting, so it can be added practically anywhere to any type home. This characteristic of timber framing also allows families to begin with a smaller frame and plan additions as their needs require and as time and finances permit.

A hybrid home is another option to an entirely framed home. In a hybrid, parts of the home, such as a great room, are timber framed and the remainder of the home is finished with conventional framing or structural panels alone.

We're Here to Help!

If you are thinking of a timber frame home, contact us. We'll be delighted to lead you through the process of building a timber frame home. We are a Whistler timber frame construction company serving the North American market.

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Timber frame construction has a long and established history.

Design and construction that has passed the test of time.