Timber Frame Construction Is Still Alive and Well

For centuries, men all over the world have built homes using forms of timber frame construction. Dating as far as the Neolithic period, people from Northern Europe to Japan used this technique to construct durable homes that gave them shelter from the elements and were built to last.

During the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, people began to abandon this time-tested method in favor of cheaper, quicker alternatives. However, the late 20th century saw a revival of timber frame homes, and the method is again alive and thriving in the world of home building and modern architecture.

A Brief History of Timber Frame Homes

Timber framing has a long history and is an integral part of the human story. Although the specifics of the process varied from culture to culture and changed over time, several examples of timber frame homes have been found throughout the world that are centuries old. Their popularity in ancient times was due in large part to their durability. Unlike most houses of our modern era, these homes were built to last for generations.

People throughout history also favored this method due to its simplicity. Unlike modern methods of light frame building, timber framing construction used heavy timbers that were carefully fitted together with joints (most commonly mortise and tenon joints) and secured using wooden pegs. This method could be used to build anything from single-family homes to large cathedrals.

Although the historical forms of timber framing were simple, they were not easy to build. It took months or even years of sawing, fitting and lifting, and it would often require an entire community to build one home. Most structures before the 19th century were built using this method, but as early Americans expanded westward, they needed to find easier, faster ways to construct buildings.

This led to the development of light frame (also known as “stick building”) construction. This style used smaller, lighter boards that were held together with metal nails, which were now mass-produced and readily available. Light frame building is what modern people now think of as the traditional construction method.

The Timber Frame Revival

Light frame construction had become the standard for home building, but by the 1970s, people were again looking for a new, better way to build. Energy consumption was beginning to be a global problem, and the people of the world began to take more notice of the environment around them. Little did they know that the new method they would find would actually not be so new.

It was during this period that a few innovative and dedicated builders began to create homes using the time-tested method of timber framing. They found that timber framing was a more environmentally responsible technique, and that it allowed builders to truly handcraft homes again.

Companies like Woodhouse (then known as Solar Northern Inc.) began to specialize in this method and create homes were seen as a direct response to the mass-produced, overly processed results of light frame construction. When compared to the natural, durable homes built with timber framing techniques, modern stick building could look flimsy and generic.

Residential Exteriors

Modern Timber Framing

Although light frame building is still the standard method of home production, more builders have begun to follow the lead of Woodhouse and other timber framing companies. This style allowed for a more intimate, artistic form of construction that could allow builders to truly create a home by hand.

Timber framing is still a more time-consuming form of building, but modern technological advancements have allowed builders to quicken and perfect the process. Computers are now used to make precise measurements for fittings, and timbers can be carved at a faster rate. This blend of modern technology and time-honored building techniques combines the strength and beauty of timber framing with modern comforts and conveniences.

Erin Emanuel