How the Timber Frame Construction Process Actually Works in Practice
Updated: May 3
Timber framing is an iconic and ancient building style. But what is the timber frame construction process?
The oldest buildings in the world are ancient megaliths, like the Pyramids of Egypt or Sacsayhuaman in Peru. Second to using giant stones is something more manageable, timber construction buildings.
For example, the Buddhist monuments in the Horyu-ji area of Japan, in the Nara Prefecture, have been standing for about 1400 years.
Every building using timber framing can also guarantee such long lives and quality, under one condition. The timber frame buildings must follow the proper timber frame construction process. This strength and potential for survival have made it a popular choice through the centuries, everywhere in the world.
Keep reading to learn why and how the timber frame construction process guarantees long building life and quality.
Why Use Timber Frame Construction
Whether for commercial or residential building projects, sustainability is on the minds of many people. It takes less energy and water to produce timber than steel or other modern materials. What growing a tree and making timber does take a lot of is time and patience.
There are many reasons to use timber frame construction.
Properly sourced timber contributes to forest health and sustainability
You can maintain a natural appearance in a natural landscape
It's a long-lasting construction method
A timber frame building has great insulation characteristics
Depending on the situation, timbers outperform steel in strength
Step One: Design and Engineering
It comes as no surprise that you can't start making cuts blindly. The old adage of "measure twice" is especially important when it comes to timber frames. The first part of the process is to design and engineer the project.
First, we need to know the scope, size, budget, timeline, style preferences, and more of the project. It's a lot of communication, but as all buildings need a solid foundation, all designs need a solid understanding of the client's needs and wants.
Taking all of this into consideration, the structure gets designed out before being sent to an engineer. The engineer reviews the design and starts making decisions about which wood will work best, and which types of joint each timber needs.
What sets timber frame construction apart from post-and-beam construction is the use of tension, wood joints, and pegs, instead of metal fasteners or joints.
Mortise and tenon joints are perhaps the most well-known of wood joints. In joinery, there are dozens to consider as well as their variations. It's an engineer's job to know them all and how to apply them properly.
Once the project's engineering has been signed off, usually the project's final price can get determined.
Step Two: Ordering Timbers and Fabrication
Part of the process is finding out whether or not we can use "green wood" or if we need seasoned timbers for a project. "Green" wood is anything over 19% moisture content. It's always better to use seasoned wood if it's available and within budget.
The types of wood may change the way the timber is used throughout the project. Various types of wood may be used and joined together as well.
Fabrication depends on the species of wood brought into the project. Sustainability, cost, strength, and suitability, are all factors. The most common species are Douglas Fir, Eastern White Pine, Red Oak, and White Oak.
Glulam (glue-laminated timber) is an often misunderstood group of engineered wood products. It's a timber product made using a variety of quality wood species glued (laminated) together.
Glulam is a flexible, easy material to work with. Durable and extremely strong, it outperforms steel pound-for-pound and withstands higher heat and flame. Add in insect resistance and lower costs for transportation, handling, and manufacture, and the superiority over steel is clear.
The biggest issue with using it in timber frame construction is that glulam doesn't look natural to some. It's still far more natural than using steel and can be purchased in grades that mask its laminated appearance to all but the most discerning timber specialists.
Once the type of wood is selected, purchased, and delivered, fabrication of the timbers and joints can begin. It's almost always done in a shop, rather than onsite.
There is much more control and access to specialized equipment and machines in the shop. For example, a special mortising machine is a kind of chainsaw made to make a mortise. Other equipment for making timbers and joinery includes chainsaws, hand chisels, and even 5-axis CNC machines.
Step Three: Assembly and Raising
When possible, timber framing sections get preassembled in the shop before delivery. Assembly on site is possible as well, but not always the best option. Pre-assembling sections can save time-on-site, reduce unnecessary exposure to the elements, and provide a good, tight fit.
Before assembly on-site, timbers get labeled for orientation and placement. The timbers get loaded up and shipped to the site. Once the trusses and other parts are on-site, the bents and trusses get assembled and organized on the site.
A crane arrives on-site and lifts the bents into position. Purlins and rafters get installed, pegs get driven, and preassembled sections can get picked up and lowered into place as well, usually top ridges.
The frame gets tightened up and finished off and various traditions or ceremonies are generally performed by the workers.
Lastly, SIPs or structural insulated panels get installed. They provide superior thermal performance, better air quality, contribute to sustainability, reduce construction time and labor costs, and are flexible to any design.
Timber Construction Process From Start to Finish
It's our hope this article has you feeling more confident about what's involved in the timber construction process. Our team is comprised of leaders with decades of experience in carpentry, joining, and timber frame construction.
We're a northern Michigan company with strong ties to the local community.
We take our timber seriously and build world-class, award-winning timber frame buildings. Since 2015, we've dedicated ourselves to serving our clients the best products in the market, with the highest quality materials and craftsmanship possible.
Contact us to start the process of building your dream timber frame structure today!