Here's your crash course in timber framing. We cover everything you need to know about how modern design meets traditional craftsmanship in today’s timber frame homes.
Meticulously crafted and beautiful, timber frame homes are also versatile, energy-efficient and sturdy. But what exactly makes timber framing so unique?
A timber home is a kind of house that uses a frame structure of large posts and beams that are joined with pegs or by other types of decorative joinery. Almost always, the walls of the structure are positioned on the outside of the timber frame, leaving the timbers exposed for visual effect. Timber framing is strong, old and so well-established that they used to just call it building. It forms the basis of a building that will last for hundreds of years.
One of the big advantages of timber-frame construction is that it is so strong it doesn’t need load-bearing walls cutting through the middle of the house, so you can design the layout in any configuration you want, including a totally open great room/dining room/kitchen/entry. On the other hand, in open designs, the frame connects the volumes and brings them down to a more human scale due to the warmth of the wood and the joinery. The skeleton of timbers also can be covered any way you want, so your timber home can look like any other style of house and can fit in anywhere.
You’ll often hear a timber home's structure referred to as either post-and-beam or timber framing. The difference has to do chiefly with the method used to fasten the frame’s complex joinery system together. A post-and-beam home employs metal fasteners, which are either hidden behind the timbers or face the interior. Timber framing uses only wooden pegs to secure the frame’s joinery. Whether you choose post-and-beam or timber frame will determine the look and feel of your home’s interior.
Timber frames are often confused with, but are quite different from log homes. The main distinction between log homes and timber homes is how they use the wood. As a result, they achieve sharply different looks. And because timber homes can use a variety of exterior materials having nothing to do with the inside, they may not be recognizable as timber frame homes, whereas log homes are always identified as such. In general, log homes have a horizontal profile and timber homes are vertical. These tendencies result from the way to logs are laid and the frame is raised.
See more about how timber-frame homes are built in Timber Home Living's Plan, Design & Build section.
Beyond the aesthetics of exposed timber and open floor plans, timber structures enjoy a durability unmatched by conventionally-built homes. Timber framing also provides more structural integrity in the unfortunate event of fire damage, as the large timber supports are more resistant to burning completely through than the thinner cuts of wood that make up conventional building structures. Finally, a timber home affords the owner opportunity to make a bold design statement, as timbers come in a number of sizes, shapes and colors. A timber home can take on a casual or rustic mountain style, an ornate Victorian style, the more restrained feel of a classic New England home, or any style in between.
Like most specialized art forms, timber framing has a language all its own, with terms for the various tools, materials and construction methods. Below is a brief list of commonly-used timber frame terms to help you better understand the process.
Timber homes are complete structures made of vertical posts and horizontal beams to form cross sections called bents. Other members provide support, bracing and structure to the frame. The most common members are shown in the illustration below.
SIPs (structural insulated panels) are the most popular way to enclose a timber home. Although individual products from manufacturers vary, today’s SIPs all have a solid core of insulation sandwiched between two layers of oriented strand board (OSB). Other materials used in SIPs include plywood, wafer board, sheet metal and gypsum board. The white core often is polystyrene, extruded polystyrene, Styrofoam or polyurethane — the same durable yet lightweight foams used in bicycle and motorcycle helmets and egg cartons.
SIPs are available in a variety of thicknesses and sizes, ranging from 2 to 12 inches thick and in sizes from the standard 4-by-8 to 8-by-24 feet. Panels generally weigh less than 4 pounds per square foot, making them light enough to install by hand. A crane often is used for larger roof panels or for lifting bundles of panels on the job site and depending on the size of the home, it can be enclosed within days or even hours.