How to Erect a Timber Frame Structure

Written by bob haring
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Timber framing may be the world's oldest constructon system. It was used for centuries before sawmills cut wood to standard dimensions, and builders used strong nails, screws and bolts to connect boards. Traditional timber framing relies on mortise-and-tenon joints -- a mortise or slot cut into one log with a tenon or tongue in another to fit into the mortise. Then, holes are drilled into the two pieces and wooden pegs are driven into the holes. A variation called timber post-and-beam framing substitutes metal brackets for mortise-and-tenon joints.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Detailed building plans
  • Pre-built wall and roof sections
  • Crane
  • Drill with long bits
  • Wooden pegs or metal brackets
  • Hammer or mallet
  • Level

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  1. 1

    Design a timber-framed house with precise detail. Frames must be precisely engineered so mortises and tenons fit exactly or joining timbers fit correctly into metal brackets. Factories from North Carolina to Oregon specialise in custom-making timber frames. Most put frames together, then disassemble them for shipment and reassemble them at a job site. Homeowners can do this themselves for sheds and small cabins, but larger structures require professional engineering and cutting.

  2. 2

    Build a solid foundation. As with any building, the foundation is critical to successful construction. It may be a poured concrete basement or stem walls built of poured concrete or concrete blocks. It must be designed and engineered for timber beams, with the location of every post precisely determined. Usually a large timber sill plate with mortises will be laid atop the fundation, so tenons on a wall section will fit into them.

  3. 3

    Erect timber frame walls by positioning tenons exactly over mortises, then raising the outer edge so the pieces slip perfectly into place. Use a crane, with workers on the ground to guide tenons into place. Make sure walls are plumb and corners are square. Traditional "barn raisings" relied on men with poles who lifted the walls. That is still done in some Amish communities, but it requires many workers. Drill holes through mortises and tenons and drive wooden pegs into them. Brace walls temporarily once they are raised.

  4. 4

    Connect all walls, with tenons into pre-cut mortises at corners or intersections. Then raise roof sections. Use a crane to lift sections atop the walls and position tenons into mortises on the wall posts and beams. Fit mortises and tenons together at the roof peak and secure.

Tips and warnings

  • Using metal brackets instead of mortise-and-tenon joints will simplify construction and speed erection of the timber frame.
  • Put a sealant or protective coating on all timbers before erecting them.
  • Timber frames can be round logs or logs squared to exact dimensons.
  • Be careful working on a roof.
  • Put hard hats on all workers on the ground.

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