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The Difference Between Timber Framing and Post and Beam

What is the difference between timber framing and post and beam? Many people have a hard time distinguishing between the two methods of building with heavy timbers.  Primarily the difference is with the connections.

Timber Connections

Truss Plate and Post Closeup
Timber Frame Joints and Pegs in X-Ray

Timber framing is a method used by our forefathers and their ancestors, who brought with them the skills used in Europe and other countries for centuries. Using traditional wooden joinery to piece together large, usually squared timbers, the connections are carved out to fit together like a complex puzzle.  An example of such a connection is a mortise and tenon joint. When the connection is made, it is usually with wooden pegs because the use of metal is not practiced with timber framing; this type of framing requires a high level of skill and can be very time consuming.  There are schools that offer courses to teach these methods such as the the ones found here.

post and beam framing
Post and Beam Framing

Post and Beam, in contrast to timber framing, has a distinct look that provides a more industrial appeal.  This method of framing also uses heavy timbers, however the connections are much less complicated; fasteners in the form of metal screws, bolts and plates are used to connect the timber pieces.  The simpler connection usually requires less time to craft.  A business like Simpson Strong Tie offers plates and bracing that provide a functional solution in their Architectural Connector product line.

Alternative Framing System: T-Rex Connector

t-rex post and beam connector
Post and Beam Connection with T-Rex

One company to offer an alternative to both framing with mortise and tenon,  and framing with angle/corner bracing is Connecticut Post and Beam, with their connector.

t-rex connector in the shop
Attaching a T-Rex Connector

This extruded aluminum connector is mostly hidden and no special skills are required. Fine Homebuilding called this method “21st Century Post and Beam,” in a recent article in one of their Spring publications, “Building Sheds”.  Due to their inquiring customers, Connecticut Post & Beam created a simple connection that balanced the art of timber framing with the industrialization of post and beam.  These customers were not interested in spending the time and utilizing the skills needed for traditional methods, nor did they want to use the big metal plates and corner bracing common in post and beam construction.  Framing with T-REX presents a viable alternative with a minimal metal look that is not only engineer-approved, but cost effective as well.  Plans, connectors and custom tooling are available at Connecticut Post & Beam.

In conclusion, building with larger timbers encourages personal design choices, showcasing either a handmade and rustic look, or a sleek and more modern appearance.

4 thoughts on “The Difference Between Timber Framing and Post and Beam”

  1. Hey Brice,

    Paul Freeman from Brooks Post & Beam here. We could very well be the oldest timber framing company in the country. Our founder built his first timber frame in 1968 and gradually grew the business from timber frame restoration to cutting of new frames, incorporating in the ’80’s as a sub-s corporation.

    We occasionally employ steel in our frames to meet modern codes or simply to save a client significant labor expense on joinery that would mostly be invisible and under-appreciated by laymen. However 99% of our joints are mortise and tenon, pocketed timbers, or mortise and spline joinery.

    We are timber framers, I am a past president of the Timber Framer’s Business Council and board member of the Timber Framer’s Guild. My company name is Brooks “Post & Beam”. When we started, “timber-framing” was not a classification for construction, “Post & Beam” was a broader description and over the years timber framing has grown to describe the craft of building timber frames in a traditional manner. Personally I define timber framing as a subset of post & beam. In other words timber frames are post & beam structures but not all post & beam structures are timber frames.

    It should be mentioned that in the larger commercial environment heavy timber construction is used as a general description of any construction using timbers, glulams, and other large manufactured structural wood products.

    I recognize that many timber framers describe post & beam as you have here. However, if you were to poll the general population I think you’ll find that post and beam is the common description of heavy timber framed structures. It is a phrase easily recognized and one could argue is a de facto definition.

    I have been following the development of your website over the last few years and you have done a great job. Ed Levin and I developed TimberCAD many years ago and invested untold hours in that venture not for fame or fortune but simply out of a passion to develop a tool used in the development of timber framing. I see your effort as a similar outlet of passion for the trade and a tool to expand the timber frame industry. Good Work and Thank You!

    1. Thanks for your comments and thoughts Paul.
      I agree with you about the a general polling of folks and their interpretation of timber framing and post and beam structures. I have also found people who consider a timber frame a log home, as you know education is the key.
      For me I am happy if folks use timbers instead of LVL and glulams to solve their structural needs. I actually used TimberCAD for a little while back in the beginning of my design career. Thanks for all you do for the industry.

  2. Thanks for the clarification. I am planning on building a Timber Frame on my property in Williams Az. I am a Blacksmith and not only am I going to build the home but I have started making the Slicks and chisels to do it. I was always confused by the difference between “Post and Beam” and “Timber Framing” I have been thinking about all the joinery and am a bit intimidated by the whole process. I am working on the drawings for the Building permit and was considering using steel in a number of places throughout the structure. Some for the decorative aspect but also structurally as well. I bought and downloaded your 20′ x 20′ shed drawings. They are a great asset for me as I do the drawings for the house. I’ll build the shed and probably modify it some this spring and it will be used as the wood shop initially then the Blacksmth shop later on. The process should help me determine if I am out of my mind to think I could build the house as a Timber Frame. I don’t see the need to do all the joinery if it is going to be buried when the simplest solution is to use steel plates and thru-bolts. The joinery that will be exposed is what i really want to excentuate. It is very similar to the work that I do in iron. You have to have dreams. Thanks for all the information . Great website. Tim Cisneros http://www.theforgeworks.com

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