Last week I was contacted by two individuals who were interested in getting into the world of timber framing. This is a popular question, so I thought I would dedicate a little time to it here and share my story. While my passion for the craft developed into a profession, the same steps apply for the do it yourselfer. Here is how to get started with timber framing.
I first found out about timber framing while taking a wooden boat building class in Maine. I met a person who had taken an apprenticeship class at Goshen Timber Frames and immediately borrowed a book he had to read up on it. The book was Ted Benson’s The Timber Frame House. It had great images, joinery details, history, and of course, the story of his progression. After reading that book, I got my hands on every book I could about the craft. Below is just a short list of my recommended reading and where you can buy them.
- Timber Frame Construction: All About Post-and-Beam Building – Buy on Amazon
- Building the Timber Frame House: The Revival of a Forgotten Art by Ted Benson – Buy on Amazon
- A Timber Framer’s Workshop: Joinery, Design & Construction of Traditional Timber Frames, Steve Chappell – Buy on Amazon
- Advanced Timber Framing: Joinery, Design & Construction of Timber Frame Roof Systems, Steve Chappell – Buy on Amazon
- The Timber-Frame Home: Design, Construction, Finishing by Ted Benson – Buy on Amazon
After coming back home to South Carolina, I discovered Stephen Morrison with Moresun Woodworking. He is now a good friend of mine. He had built his house and then went to work. He gave me a job in the shop after first completing two full sets of sawhorses from layout to pegging them together. This project was completed after just a short class about layout, how to use a chain mortise, and making a mortise with a drill bit and chisel. It is why I give away a set of timber frame sawhorses on the site because I feel it is a great introduction to the craft and should be one of your first projects.
These are the tools that I bought/had for the sawhorse project and ones you will need for a bigger project.
These are the tools that I bought/had for the sawhorse project and ones you will need for a bigger project. Is is just a basic list, but for an in-depth look at the hand tools, you will need head here.
- 1 1/2 inch framing chisel
- Framing square
- Combination square
- Shinwa Square
- Block Plane
- 7 1/4″ Skill Saw
- Auger Bits
Remember, you don’t have to go out and buy the most expensive tools or even new tools but make sure you buy good quality ones. They will just make the experience more enjoyable.
Soon after starting and exploring timber framing, I was introduced to the Timber Framers Guild and went to my first event. We were cutting a small bus station pavilion in Charleston, SC. We went from raw timbers to a completed and raised pavilion in a couple of days. This was just a simple project, but it showed me the entire process. I would highly recommend to anyone to attend one of these projects if you can. There are timber framers of all experience levels for you to learn from. If you cannot attend an event it is certainly worth signing up for membership.
Soon after discovering timber framing, I went online and started searching, reading and looking at all the photos I could. There are a couple of sites that I recommend along with some forums. The Internet does not do a frame justice; you have to get in them. Start poking around…they are everywhere.
After completing a few projects with Stephen in the shop, I took a break and cut my first solo frame that my wife and I lived in, and soon after that with our new son and daughter. We lived there while I worked on our house. I am still amazed every morning waking up and staring at a timber frame that I cut.
If you have gotten this far in the article, you are already truly committed to learning the craft…so get going and cut a joint today.
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19 thoughts on “How to Get Started with Timber Framing”
I am considering building 4 cottages in the timber frame style. I have average stick framing skills but not sure if I can tackle timber framing. Would you recommend a specific plan for a 18X24 cottage ?
Our 18×24 plans would make a great plan for a cottage. With sometime and head-scratching you can build a timber frame, especially if you have some previous experience which it sounds like you do.
Thank you so
Much for this website.You have saved my project.many years of planning . I now have the answers and inspiration.Can you tell me your experience working with timbers that are not graded.everyone sells ungraded timber and I don’t know if that will be a problem on rafters and floor joist..will be buying from
You for future projects….. many thanks
Grading helps qualify the quality and strength of the wood. Most timber is not graded unless it is specified by an engineer or is required by your local code office. Which is the case in my county? We have to have all timbers in the frame graded. This can be done on-site or at the mill. There are private graders out there that will come to your site if needed.
Hey Brice. I’ve been kicking around here and the Forestry Forum and in Chappell’s books for a good while. I’ve started on a hand-hewn oak tractor barn because I enjoy challenging myself. I’ve been relying on a center line layout method because of the inexact dimensional nature of my hewn components. However I’ve recently encountered a new issue – crown in a rafter plate. I’m not exactly sure how to account for this using center line. Can you recommend a resource? I’ve actually scrapped the timbers mentioned (they deviated 1.5″ at the center of 13′) and selected another pair of pieces but for the future…
Thanks for all.
I would recommend that you use a snapline or string line to represent the plate as a straight line and plane down or adjust your joinery from that string line.
I had just recently discovered timber framing and I am extremely excited about getting started. I am also looking to buy pasture land to have animals but there isn’t a house on it yet. I would like to learn timber framing myself (and am very grateful for the article by the way) but I was wondering how many people I should expect to have help me build a house? Do I need heavy equipment to raise the walls and timber as well? Also, what is the average time frame for building a timber frame house from start to finish? Thank you very much friend, seriously I really am grateful for the post!
You can cut a frame by yourself, I would recommend getting a machine with hydraulic on it to help move around timbers (you will do this more than cutting the frame). It will also help with raising. You can hand raise a frame but you will need some help from others. The time frame is a tough one with so many factors out there. Our small 16×24 building took 6 months and our house took 6 years. Just depend on how much time you have and how big/complex you make it.
What should the load capacity be for a hydraulic lift?
The bigger the better, but you just need enough to lift what you want. For me now, I get by with a small John Deere tractor.
I’m just getting started on my first project. An outdoor pavilion over a patio in eastern white pine (eastern Canada). Is a finish required to protect the timbers since they will be exposed to the weather?
It is not required, but is recommended.
I’m gathering tools to build your swing-set design. The beams are all cut, planed and have dried. I’m using local old-growth longleaf pine, looks great. I have never cut mortises and tenons before, but have studied all I can find. For a 1-1/2″ wide mortise, should I first drill-out most of the cavity using 1″ diameter forstner bits? My first trials went OK. Then I want to trim off the excess with my router trim bit. But your design calls for 4-1/2″ deep mortises. Does anyone make a top-bearing trim bit that long?
Kent, you can make them 4″ or get an ultra-smooth Wood Owl Bit that is 1.5 inches to get down to 4.5 inches.
Is there anyone out there interested in making a film about a hardwood TF from the felling of the trees on site to the last old fashioned shingle? Something different and amazing! Let me know. 319 453-5584. I would like to do the incredible.
Is dead ash suitable timber framing material. With the emerald ash borer killing so many ash trees I thought timber framing would be a good use for all the dead ash trees
It will work well. Go for it.
Regarding use of EAB killed/dead ash – I hate to contradict, but do not use this material for any structural work. EAB killed Ash is prone to what is often referred to as ‘ash snap’ . As EAB infestations slowly kill the trees , these tress become unstable due in part to combination of irregular decay, and irregular drying out of the structural wood fibers resulting in brash and brittle wood. Trees with as little as 1/3 crown dieback (from EAB) can have catastrophic failures; with tops ‘snapping ‘ off at a point that looks otherwise fine. Healthy ash would likely provide very good framing material, but EAB infested or killed trees are way to irregular and unstable. See your local state forestry office for more information on emerald ash borers and forest management.
John, thanks for your comment. Always open for contradictions when I/we are wrong.