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  • Leighton Crick

The Ancient Building Origins of Timber Frame

Timber frame building structures have been a part of human civilization for an incredible amount of time. Learn all about the origins of timber frame.

While China is currently the largest timber producer in the world, this wood is used to create building structures across the world. In fact, this has been the case for millennia!

If you're interested in custom-designing a timber frame home, you may be wondering about the history of these top-notch building options. Read on to learn some facts about timber buildings and why you should become part of their long history.

What Are Timber Frame Building Structures?

Timber framing is a popular style of building construction. These structures use a frame structure made from timber wood that has been cut into large posts and beams. While these beams used to be different sizes and fit together in one single way, modern technology ensures that they are all the same size for simpler construction.

The heavy timber posts are then joined together by sturdy steel pegs (or those made from another high-quality, durable material). The structure's walls are usually on the outside of the timber frame to ensure that the wood is showcased for aesthetic reasons.

This style of building incorporates multiple heavy and long-lasting materials. They can withstand even the most severe weather conditions because of their heavy-duty strength. In fact, they are so strong that they don't need load-bearing walls throughout their structure, meaning that there are limitless possibilities for their layouts.

These facts make obvious why timber building options have been so popular for centuries. But what how were they made differently in the past? Let's start in 500 to 100 BC to better understand how this build structure has evolved.

Ancient Civilizations

The first historical evidence of timber buildings dates back to ancient civilizations. In Ancient Egypt and the Holy Roman Empire, they used timber primarily to create their roofing. The rest of their homes, shops, and other structures were made of stone.

However, ancient building methods also developed the mortise and tenon joint system that we use for timber framing today. The smaller end of a wooden beam, known as a "tenon," is secured beside the wood that has a hole in it (known as the "mortise").

Just as we do today, ancient civilizations used pins and wedges to tightly lock these joints together. While they may not have had the same glue and other tools that we currently have, the same principle applied to their buildings that we use in the 21st century.

Temporary Timber Buildings

Over the next thousand years or so, timber frame building became much more widespread. Building materials and strategies began to move across most of Europe.

In the early days, these frames were part of primitive and simple housing structures. The timber stakes were driven deeply into the ground and crossed over one another in a teepee-shaped structure. They were then lashed together with animal hide, which made a sort of makeshift rope that held the structure firm.

The end result of this was a temporary building. Between 500-800 AD, people began to shift into more permanent timber buildings not only for themselves but also for their beloved pets. They basically made the world's first doghouses!

Moving Towards Permanence

Building methods continued to improve. New techniques to join timber came into play so that the timbers could be permanently fastened. Developing timber-framed homes on stone foundations was a common practice throughout the 9th and 10th centuries in Europe.

One of the world's oldest timber structures is Westminster Abbey. It dates back to 960 AD- over 1000 years ago. The fact that it's still standing is a testament to the longevity of timber-and-stone structures.

However, Medieval Europe wasn't the only place that was using timber framing. In East Asian countries like China and Japan, they began to use timber to construct sturdier frames for temples. They used similar joinery details to draw the frame together.

Coming to America

Timber remained a popular building choice across Europe and Asia for centuries. Eventually, the early settlers began to bring timber building options to the Americas as they set up their colonies. This was especially easy as timber was an extremely abundant resource in Virginia, where the first colony of Jamestown was established.

As the settlers began to innovate new building techniques, they shifted towards larger timber structures for residential homes. These buildings often would be up to two stories tall and can now be visited as historic homes. In fact, there are timber frame buildings all throughout New England, including in major cities like New York and Philadelphia. It's difficult to distinguish them from other buildings today because of the

new building methods that settlers came up with. They covered their timber frames in wood siding, brick, and stone while also protecting accents with plaster.


The industrial revolution during the 1800s and 1900s took a lot of timber resources away from those looking to build homes. People began to instead develop sawmills and cut small lumber cuts from smaller trees.

New homes were built inexpensively with less wood, which brought the timber building market to a screeching halt. People preferred to use other lumber materials because they were lighter than timber was, and these advancements persisted through the 20th century.

Luckily, though, the interest in timber is surging again in the 21st.

The Timber Renaissance

In the mid-1980s, people began to realize the many health benefits that came with embracing nature. Interest in timber buildings rose once again. People also started adding timber trusses to other structures.

Additionally, there have been new adhesives and building materials in the past decades. It's easier to insulate timber buildings and keep them comfortable. Once again, they have become an awesome option for homeowners, architects, and building professionals.

Build a Timber Frame Structure Today

Now that you know the exciting history of timber frame buildings, it's time to consider creating one of your own. If you're looking for a sturdy and customized place to live, you can't go wrong with commissioning timber trusses or a beautiful building.

Our team is committed to helping you create a rustic and nostalgic space with a contemporary twist. That's why we're excited to learn more about your project. Contact uswith any remaining questions that you have and to request an estimate for the job that you want done.

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