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What is a timber frame?

Unfinished frame up

A timber frame is a sturdy wooden skeleton of a building that is made with heavy timbers and traditional joinery. The timbers are connected with dovetails and mortise-and-tenon joints secured with wooden pegs. Timber framing is a time-honored building method used for houses, barns, and public buildings. This method of framing lends itself to open floor plans, cathedral ceilings, and solar glazing. But whether the decor is contemporary, Early American, or an eclectic mix of styes, the warmth of the wood, the strength of the structure, and the craftsmanship of the joinery combine to make a dramatic statement.

What techniques do you use to make the timber frame?

Cleaning up a timberAll of our frames are cut to the client’s specifications. Most of our tools are hand-held; some are the same that carpenters used hundreds of years ago. While we achieve our dimensions with power saws and mortisers for efficiency, we finish our joints with chisels and mallets for custom precision. Then we plane, chamfer and oil the timbers, also by hand.

Charlie's timbers cut

What kinds of wood do you use?

Usually red oak, Douglas fir, hemlock, or Eastern white pine. We have also used cherry, southern yellow pine, cypress, maple, beech and chestnut on request.

How is the frame raised?

The frame raising is dramatic. In earlier eras, the brute strength of a large group of people raised the frame. Today, for safety and efficiency, we pre-connect sections of the frame on the sub floor of the new building and lift large sections into place using a crane. We then join the “bents” together with connecting timbers and sturdy oak pegs.

Where do we put the insulation in a timber frame building?

Insulated frames

Our insulated frames exceed new MA requirements for energy savings. Shown is a section of one of the panel products offered by Foard Penel.

Most of our frames are insulated with SIPS (structural insulated panels) on the rafters and sidewalls of the building. These panels sandwich foam insulation between sheets of oriented strand board (OBS).  The OBS on the exterior is sheathing for shingles or clapboards; on the interior, blue board is applied for paint or plaster.  In the roof system, frame members are spaced to accommodate panels so there are no seams. These panels provide an extremely tight structure that is comfortable in summer and winter. Our buildings can be certified for all energy-conserving home programs in North America, such as the Energy-Crafted Home Program in Massachusetts.

We will work with the panel company that the client chooses but we recommend Foard Panel.

For uninsulated buildings such as barn frames, we use horizontal side-wall purlins for nailing on shiplap pine boards.

Is a timber frame building more expensive than a stick-frame building?

The simple lines and warm wood tones create an appealing kitchen

Our prices are competitive. Our buildings will cost slightly more than a conventionally built structure. But if you ask the conventional builder to add some beams for the aesthetic effect, and also ask that builder to deliver an extremely tight insulated shell with virtually no permeability rate through the structure, you would pay substantially more for that structure than for ours. Also, as years go by, savings on heating and cooling offset the initial investment.

Where do you build?

Cohasset bare frameAnywhere! We’ll come to you. We are located in Massachusetts, but have built houses, barns, and public buildings all over the US. (One of our frames is in Japan.) Once the frame is fabricated in our shop, we truck it to the site. The same craftsmen who cut it will erect it and peg it. Trucking costs are part of any building project and paying this relatively small cost allows you to build exactly what you want, where you want it.

Hardwick Post & Beam