Check, please

Timbers are nat­u­ral — that’s why we love them. And yes, they “check” or pro­duce small open­ings. Here’s why, struc­turally, it’s not an is­sue.

Timber Home Living - - Contents -

Ste­wart El­liott doesn’t want to come off sound­ing like a know-it-all. But, truth be told, he is — at least when it comes to de­sign­ing and build­ing tim­ber homes. As project man­age­ment team leader for Penn­syl­va­ni­abased Wood­house (tim­ber­frame1. com), Ste­wart’s decades in the busi­ness have con­vinced him that home­own­ers “no longer want cookie-cut­ter houses that stand a lit­tle more than a decade; they want some­thing per­ma­nent.” A big part of that per­ma­nence, of course, comes from the timbers. Ste­wart notes that some home­own­ers worry about small grain sep­a­ra­tions or splits knows as checks.

QTo most peo­ple, see­ing a tim­ber with a 3/8- to 1/2-inch check run­ning half its length is alarm­ing. What’s go­ing on here?

ATrees, once they’re cut down and milled, are go­ing to ad­just to their new en­vi­ron­ment, which in­cludes the in­door air tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity lev­els. They will shrink and twist, which will cause checks. Visu­ally, it’s nat­u­ral and, many be­lieve, quite beau­ti­ful.

QIn most ma­te­ri­als, a crack isn’t ex­actly a good thing.

ATrue. But, with timbers, the in­tegrity isn’t lost. Re­mem­ber, a check isn’t a crack — that’s why check­ing is harm­less. Think about this: If you have a 3,000-square-foot home, it weighs about 300 tons. Three tim­ber posts can sup­port all that weight. And sure, some of those posts will have checks.

QIf you aren’t a purist and re­ally don’t want check­ing in your timbers, what can you do?

AYou can use re­cy­cled tim­ber from old barns and mills, which did its twist­ing years ago. It dried on its own terms. You also can choose dead stand­ing tim­ber, which is struc­turally sound de­spite its name — dead wood is just dryer wood. Re­claimed tim­ber — wood fished out of river and lake bot­toms — also won’t check be­cause it’s been in cold wa­ter for years. Also, kil­ndried tim­ber doesn’t check as much, if at all. Fi­nally, pre-fabricated tim­ber, while un­usual, won’t check.

QIf timbers twist, shrink and check when ad­just­ing to an in­door en­vi­ron­ment, won’t this im­pact the ma­te­ri­als, such as floor­ing and sheetrock, that they’re nudg­ing up against?

AYes. But your builder will com­pen­sate for this move­ment. For floor­ing, he’ll notch the tim­ber so it doesn’t make con­tact with the floor, and for sheetrock, he’ll place a fur­ring strip be­tween the tim­ber and your wall. It’s fairly stan­dard stuff, but be sure to dis­cuss this with your builder.

QAny other so­lu­tions to check­ing you’ve come across?

AWhen a check opens up, you’re look­ing at “fresh” tim­ber. If you re­ally don’t like the look, the most I’d do is sim­ply ap­ply tung oil or stain into the gap. I get pretty pas­sion­ate about this — I per­son­ally love the check­ing, as it shows the char­ac­ter and tex­ture of the wood. That’s part of your in­vest­ment, so en­joy its nat­u­ral beauty. Timbers are alive even in their “dead” state, and they’ll tell their sto­ries for gen­er­a­tions.

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