The Whetting Bush

Photo by Moresun Timber Frames

People often ask why timber framers place an evergreen bough on the peak of each frame when they finish. The short answer–tradition. But I’ll take a stab at the long answer since there isn’t much information out there about this tradition.

“Topping off” a new frame is a practice that has been around for hundreds of years. It’s the act of placing a bough on the highest peak of a newly completed frame. The bough is always an evergreen. You can use pine, but anything will work, and even a discarded Christmas tree.

Ask ten timber framers about topping off the frame and you’ll get ten slightly different answers. But the common thread is that the whetting bush is placed as a symbol of thanksgiving. Some say it gives thanks to the forest for providing timber for a new home. Some say it gives thanks for a safe raising. A few simply say it’s “good luck.”

Whatever their beliefs are, topping off the frame is a special time for each person. For the owners starting life in a new home, it can be almost like a dedication ceremony. For the carpenters who built the frame, it’s a chance to stand back and see the fruit of their labor. For everyone present, it’s a moment of celebration.

For me personally, placing a whetting bush is a chance to stop and smell the roses. Finishing a job well done is satisfying on a basic human level. Then there’s the appreciation I feel for my trade and my fellow carpenters, and the thankfulness I feel for a safe raising and for our renewable resource of timber.

Topping off a new frame is an ancient tradition and timber framers continue it today. It highlights a special time during the construction of a building when everyone pauses to appreciate the accomplishment of a new frame. If you have a chance to be present when a frame is topped off, you’ll probably care more about enjoying the moment than about the specific meaning of the tradition.

Special thanks to Moresun Timber Frames for the photo

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