Build It

Rich His­tory

Timber Home Living - - Contents - BY ALLISON AURAND

Warmth and won­der: It’s sel­dom th­ese two words are used to­gether to de­scribe a build­ing, but it’s the re­cur­ring sen­ti­ment evoked by a timber home. Mod­ern timber frames em­body the ideals of crafts­man­ship and at­ten­tion to de­tail, paired with ma­te­ri­als hand­s­e­lected to suit the struc­ture and re­flect the set­ting. The men and women of timber fram­ing to­day fol­low a rich tra­di­tion of knowl­edge earned through years of train­ing, ap­pren­tice­ship and hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence, in what is largely an oral tra­di­tion. Great re­sources and text books ex­ist, but noth­ing re­places learn­ing along­side an ex­pe­ri­enced crafts­man.

The tra­di­tion of timber fram­ing claims roots around the world, from Asia to Europe, and uti­lizes tech­niques dat­ing back to Ne­olithic times. How­ever, timber fram­ing his­tor­i­cally has been most pop­u­lar in re­gions where de­cid­u­ous hard­woods, like oak, thrive.

Timber fram­ing nat­u­rally em­i­grated from the Old World to the New, con­tin­u­ing the tra­di­tions and styles of Euro­pean ar­chi­tec­ture. How­ever, af­ter 1750, struc­tures built in the United States tended to be more “Amer­i­can” in re­sponse to the lo­cal cli­mate and agri­cul­tural prac­tices.

Tra­di­tional timber frames were “scribed,” from the 12th cen­tury to the 19th. In a frame built by scribe rule, mor­tises are cut, their cor­re­spond­ing tim­bers tai­lored to fit pre­cisely, and each piece is scribed and marked to in­di­cate mated tim­bers and/or po­si­tion within the frame. Tim­bers in scribe rule are not in­ter­change­able.

In rapidly-grow­ing 19th cen­tury New Eng­land, car­pen­ters found an ef­fi­ciency, de­vel­op­ing “square rule” car­pen­try. Square rul­ing im­poses reg­u­lar planes within im­per­fect or ir­reg­u­lar tim­bers, and the car­pen­ter makes re­duc­tions on the non-ref­er­ence faces ac­cord­ingly. Will Beemer, founder and di­rec­tor of the Heart­wood School in Mas­sachusetts, of­fers this thought about square rule: “Pieces may be pre­fab­ri­cated with­out se­lect­ing the mate piece it’s to join, and mem­bers such as joists, braces and rafters be­come in­ter­change­able. No pre-assem­bly is re­quired be­fore rais­ing, and even peg holes can be laid out and draw­bored ahead of time.”

In the mid-1800s, the de­mand for cheap hous­ing that went up fast pushed the con­struc­tion in­dus­try in a new di­rec­tion, bring­ing di­men­sional lum­ber to the fore­front — where it per­sists to­day. How­ever, timber fram­ing in the United States and Canada ex­pe­ri­enced a re­vival in the 1970s, with crafts­men like Will Beemer and Jack Sobon lead­ing the North Amer­i­can re­nais­sance, train­ing them­selves and sub­se­quently new gen­er­a­tions of crafts­peo­ple.

In 1987, the Timber Framers Guild was founded, with the ex­press pur­pose of re­tain­ing and cel­e­brat­ing the tra­di­tional craft of timber fram­ing. Guild mem­bers are de­voted to the craft and share it with the rest of the world through com­mu­nity build­ing projects that not only serve as hands-on ed­u­ca­tion for mem­bers, but also as a last­ing public legacy for com­mu­ni­ties to en­joy. In the end, home­own­ers are the ones who truly ben­e­fit from this metic­u­lous preser­va­tion of tra­di­tion, be­cause they not only get to live in a house they love, they get to live in a true piece of art and his­tory.

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