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In the history of timber framing it is not possible to date when timber was first used by humans in construction, but being such a readily usable material in its raw state it is hard to imagine a time when it didn’t play a part in sheltering our forefathers. Archaeologists have found timber framed homes in Britain dating back to the Mesolithic period (over 10,000 years ago) showing clear evidence of timber posts having been set in holes.
Techniques we would recognise as ‘Timber Framing’ first were first developed by the Romans. By AD 50 Romans were building with dead straight lines, with posts being plumb and plates being level, using the same joints that we use today; particularly the ubiquitous mortice and tenon.
Techniques continued to develop; driven to some extent by tools improving with the development of metallic alloys from bronze, to iron, to steel. Bronze is not a material from which to make a saw, but steel is, so axes were replaced by saws as the primary means of shaping timber. By the Middle Ages timber framing was reaching its peak with the construction of such impressive buildings as the hammer-beam roof of Westminster hall (illustrated here) with its impressive clear span of 18m (60ft).
Timber framing went into decline as the Georgian era moved to the Victorian era due to a number of factors. Timber was in great demand by boat builders and house builders alike and in short supply in the sections and lengths that the medieval carpenters enjoyed. Buildings were being made of brick or stone up to eaves level and so timber framing became largely the manufacture of roof trusses. Sometimes roofs were simply purlins and ridge beams, spanning between brick cross walls. By the latter half of the 20th Century the gang nail truss (low quality, small section softwood timbers held together by toothed plates) were the supporting structure beneath the vast majority of modern roofs.
Due to the longevity of hardwood timbers – particularly oak - many of the most impressive medieval timber frames were still standing, and were much admired by all who came across them. Many of these agricultural barns were being converted into domestic dwellings, sometimes less than sympathetically.
Often these barns needed repair before they could be deemed structurally sound enough to live in, this led to a number of carpenters starting to repair these barns. Although metal strapping was often the technique of choice; replacing timbers and repairing joints was often necessary particularly in the case of historically important listed buildings.
Parallel lines with crosses between, and scratches on the outside of posts exactly two feet below the top of the top plates, began to be understood as ways of referencing bendy timbers; and so the ancient forgotten techniques were re-learned by the study of these ancient frames.
During the closing years of the 20th century with the rising popularity of such television programmes as Grand Designs, new build oak timber framing became ever more popular with clients and architects alike. Carpenter Oak developed a means of glazing green oak frames, while keeping buildings air and water tight to comply with ever more stringent requirements for energy efficient homes.
Materials such as glass and stainless steel were found to compliment oak in a way that our medieval predecessors would not have dreamt of.
Modern airy open spaces such as that pictured above became feasible with architects, craftsmen and engineers working together.
Now with a combination of materials both ancient and modern, understanding structures by the study of buildings still standing after hundreds of years, and computer modelling of engineered structures, we can produce beautiful and robust structures to suit any brief.
Usually this kind of work requires a site visit, advice and a report before the work is agreed in discussion with the engineer, architect and conservation officer. We regularly work on a consultancy basis during that phase and if there is a frame to build at the end then we can take that on too.
Adam Milton (Managing Director) was one of the carpenters involved in the roof repair after the Great Fire at Windsor Castle.
Contact us to discuss your project.
Yes. If you are looking for a complete build or ‘Turnkey’ service, we can offer a solution to include each stage of the process, from the feasibility assessment, design, management and construction, right through to completion. We pride ourselves on being adaptable as every client is different. We can offer a number of routes for you and your project, depending on how involved you want to get. We aim to understand your particular situation and respond to deliver what you need. For many people that means us working as a contractor alongside your architect and builder, for others, involvement at each stage or a self build project. Get in touch to find out which route would suit your project best and we can deliver a range of options from a finished frame to a finished house, ready for you to move into.