Historical timber framing practices

Contemporary timber framing practices
February 6, 2017
What are the basics of timber framing?
May 8, 2017

Historical timber framing practices

T imberframing comes from a long tradition

Building a timber frame structure means participating in a longstanding architectural tradition. Found in archeological sites in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, the timber frame technique has a popular history throughout the world. The joints used to construct timber frame structures appeared as early as 200 B.C. Today, the timber framing tradition integrates modern building techniques and technology to enhance these beautiful and ancient methods.

Living History

Timber framed buildings are built to last, which means that historic timber framed buildings of long gone centuries can still be seen and used today. One of the most famous examples is the Old North Church, located in Boston, Massachusetts. Built in 1723, the church entered into history in 1775 when two lanterns were hung as a signal to Paul Revere that the British were coming by sea instead of land. This church is still used for services today.

Prior to timber framing in the United States, many other cultures worldwide capitalized on this building method. Ancient stone temples, such as Stonehenge, employed joinery details similar to today’s timber framing wood structures. In India, timber frame construction dates back to 200 B.C. where teak timbers were shaped and connected with simple joinery and bamboo pegs. Japanese builders also discovered the strength and dependability of working with wooden joints and fibrous timbers. In an area prone to typhoons and earthquakes, stone buildings would crack under stress, while the timbers shrugged and bore the weight.

Community Raisings

Modern timber framing has capitalized on technology, using industrial mill processing to speed up the production and reduce costs. Before the advent of the industrial mill, timber framing was a solely handcrafted process from the ground up. Diaries of early Americans in New England describe the culture surrounding timber framing as one of community-driven labor. Farmers in need of a new barn would spend the winter gathering wood, and the spring preparing the wood for a master timber framer. Under the timber framer’s direction, the farmer and his neighbors would raise the structure together. In this way, barns and town halls were constructed relatively quickly with the help of fellow citizens.

Resurrection of the Craft

Timber Framing was one of the major building models in the United States until the 1900s when the industrial revolution met the demand for housing by producing smaller, dimensional lumber from its new mills. Instead of timber frame construction, this type of lumber led to “light frame” construction, or “stick building,” where a series of small pieces of lumber made up the structural frame. In the 1970s, a group of dedicated builders revived the timber frame tradition and started building structures in historic fashion. Today, timber frame construction offers the strength and beauty of the timber frame tradition with modern improvements in insulation, design, and more.

Commitment to Preserving History

While there are many timber frame companies dedicated to developing new structures, there are also companies committed to preserving historic ones.

The Timber Framers Guild has a special branch known as the Traditional Timberframe Research and Advisory Group (TTRAG) that emphasizes documentation and preservation of historic timber framing. TTRAG members meet annually in a location rich in historic timber structures, present illustrated talks, and follow a historic buildings tour. In addition, the group produces an annual public conference. To learn about joining TTRAG click HERE.