Timber framing… then and now

This interior photo of the oldest house in Nantucket shows a table with straight-back chairs drawn close to the massive fireplace.People have built timber frame structures with traditional wooden joints for thousands of years all over the world. New England boasts timber framing buildings still in use after 300 years.

Currently builders typically frame wooden buildings with dimensional lumber (such as 2 x 4s) nailed together. In contrast, traditional timber framers craft buildings with heavy timbers fitted together with mortises and tenon joinery.  When the structure is raised, the joints are secured with sturdy wooden pegs.

The switch to dimensional lumber was gradual during the 19th century. Then the demand for inexpensive housing brought dimensional lumber to the forefront in the 20th century. “Stick built” gradually replaced timber framed buildings. But now timber framing is enjoying a revival. People are surprised that traditional wooden joinery is still available – and affordable. Not all “post and beam” builders use traditional wooden joinery as we do, however; some use metal fasteners.

This photo of a timber framed living room shows traditional wooden joints with modern engineering.

Our place in the tradition

In the early 1970s, Hardwick Post & Beam founder Ridge Shinn worked at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum. He recalls, “Working in the old barns, tending the oxen, cows, and sheep, made me appreciate how attractive and functional these post and beam structures were after more than 150 years.”

Soon he learned to reproduce antique furniture with mortise-and-tenons and dovetails.  Then he went on to help develop a post and beam building program at the museum, using similar wooden joinery.

But he yearned to bring lessons from the past into the present.  He envisioned timber frames designed to meet modern needs and engineering standards. And that’s what he’s been doing for more than 30 years now. Hardwick Post & Beam makes time-honored craftsmanship available today. In contrast to the old days, however, our insulated buildings are energy efficient and include all the features that modern lifestyles require.

Find out how are our frames are different from Early American frames—and how are they the same.

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