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Carpenter Oak doesn’t get many inquiries from Japan. But when Shu Koyama contacted the company on behalf of a friend of his, we engaged in a conversation that would ultimately lead to two of our carpenters, Mick Dandridge and Simon Shields, heading out to southwest Japan to raise an English oak building with six elderly Japanese carpenters.
It was the experience of a lifetime for Mick and Simon who had been part of the team that built the frame in our Devon yard, destined to become a rather incongruous English tea room in rural Japan.
The tea room is the vision of Satoshi Nakashima, who is a huge fan of English culture, from his obsession with MG cars to the old watches and clocks he repairs. His dream for the tea room is to grow an English garden around it with roses and wisteria, and to serve English cakes – even though the Japanese do not have a tradition of eating cakes or puddings.
After we had designed the frame and priced it, Mr Nakashima visited our Devon framing yard with Shu Koyama and their builder, to meet the team and see for themselves whether we measured up to the job. It was a successful visit in more ways than one – we passed the test and they timed it to coincide with the 90th year celebrations of the MG car at Silverstone.
Once formalities were done we went ahead with the build, all the time knowing that raising a frame with a group of carpenters who don’t speak the same language could potentially be quite tricky. In the end, however, the work on site was trouble free and a lot of fun.
“It was quite different to how I expected it would be,” said Simon. “I thought they would be calm and considered, but in fact they were quite frantic – it was go, go, go, all the time!
“The carpenters were very experienced… some of them must have been in their mid-60s. They were very joyful, good fun and always up for the challenge of trying to communicate – we taught them some English words – they all learnt Stop!”
Simon tried to pick up a bit of Japanese while staying there but sadly the word for carpenter can be easily mistaken for another similar word… “I kept saying I’m a radish and people would look really bemused.”
It took a week to raise the frame on site, with eight carpenters there on day one and then six for the rest of the week. “The foreman stayed on the ground, but a couple of the older guys were doing acrobatics all over the frame. They were fearless,” said Mick.
“By a mile this has been the most interesting, the best job I’ve done at Carpenter Oak and not least because we were really able to build a relationship with the client – he took us out to eat, he showed us around, we visited his home, he made us feel like real VIPs”
The Japanese carpenters were construction carpenters and not familiar with the mortice and tenon joints used by traditional timber framers like Carpenter Oak. But Shu Koyama remained on site all week to help translate and they gave out instructions stage by stage so the Japanese team knew what to do next.
The frame now sits proudly at the start of a mountain road in this rural part of the country and will be visited mainly by local people – it’s not a particularly popular area with tourists. However this tea house may in itself become a tourist destination, being so unusual in Japan.
These days virtually all construction in modern Japan is carried out with concrete, but the country is familiar with wooden framed buildings. Traditionally Japanese temples were built with wood and Mick and Simon’s visit to the Todaiji Temple at Nara was clearly one of the most memorable parts of their stay. It is one of the country’s ‘seven great temples’ and possibly the largest timber framed building in the world – with a massive statue of the Buddha inside, which is so big that one of his fingers is the size of a man.
Mick and Simon loved Japan and were clearly struck by the respectfulness of the people they met. They enjoyed eating fish, rice and pickles for breakfast and were humbled by their visit to the peace memorial in Hiroshima.
“By a mile this has been the most interesting, the best job I’ve done at Carpenter Oak and not least because we were really able to build a relationship with the client – he took us out to eat, he showed us around, we visited his home, he made us feel like real VIPs,” said Simon.
Sadly it’s just a bit too far for them to pop back and enjoy a brew when the tea house is finally finished.
Devon (UK) based award winning specialists in the design, construction and raising of oak timber framed buildings. We have a dedicated team of Project Managers, Frame designers and Carpenters who work closely with clients and architects to deliver a wide variety of bespoke oak frame projects across the UK, Europe and beyond.
We celebrate the beauty and joy of timber frames in many different styles and raise over 60 frames a year for inclusion within schemes ranging from oak sunroom extensions to extensive high-end architectural oak houses.
We love wood, we love design and we love a challenge.
Budget considerations are of course one of the primary factors for anyone undertaking an oak frame self build project whether it's a new build oak frame or a timber frame extension. 'How much will it cost?' is therefore a question which will be asked over and over and will almost certainly form a central thread of your project.
Overall build costs for a complete new build oak house typically vary from £1,500 to £2,000+ per square metre (referring to the useable area of the lower and upper floors added together) i.e. for a two storey property times the area by 2. We would suggest that you budget from £1,200- £1,800 per sqm (or £120-£180 per sqft).
For extensions we would suggest budgeting from £2,000 per square metre - don't forget to add VAT (for UK customers). It is worth noting that guide price is for a complete build based on a contractor doing the work with the timber frame is usually a 20-30% proportion.
If you intend to self build then expect to budget toward the lower end of the scale (although of course it may take longer!). There are several caveats with this guide price including the following key considerations:-
At every stage your decisions will affect the overall costs, from the complexity of the design to the level of finish. Engaging an architect will almost certainly save you money in the long run. Getting advice from us on the timber frame concept prior to going in for planning will minimise the risk of sending your architect 'back to the drawing board'.
We are happy to discuss your ideas with you at an early stage and can offer you advice along the way. It is helpful for you to build a scrapbook (you could use Pinterest) of your ideas and wishes – this makes your brief to us and your architect much clearer. Once you have a plot in mind we would encourage you to come and see us in the show barn at our yard to discuss your ideas in more depth and help you establish a concept design and rough costs.
You can meet with one of our frame designers and an architect if required (Roderick James Architects offer a free initial consultation). We can offer you an estimate for your budget costings at that stage based on a timber frame sketch scheme. You will then be in a position to draw up a planning application, knowing that you will be able to achieve what you want with the frame. We can offer you an accurate estimate based on a timber frame sketch scheme once you have architects drawings. Once your planning application has been approved we can get going on a detailed frame design for you.
All of our Oak is from sustainably managed woodlands located around a single sawmill in Normandy, France (PEFC certifified). When this mill is unable to fulfil our order we divert to an alternative mill in Germany. The mills have access to a plentiful supply of exceptionally well managed and very high quality timber.
Why not use UK sourced oak, I hear you ask? Sadly, the lack of investment and good timber management for hardwoods in this country over many years means our domestic supplies are generally of a lower quality, inconsistent supply and can be more expensive. Although the situation will gradually change, it means that currently continental Oak is the best option for our framing. Carpenter Oak Ltd are investing in the future of UK woodlands.
For every tree used in a project we will donate 10 Oak saplings to an organised planting scheme in the UK
Douglas Fir and Larch all comes from sustainably managed UK forests.
Just to clear it up from the start Green refers to the amount of moisture in the timber rather than the colour!
Large section ('heavy') timber framing has a style and rawness of its very own which is everything to do with the material. Its style, rhythm and methods have developed hand in hand with the use of timber in its unseasoned state. Any potential problems that the shrinkage and movement of the timber could create are designed out at the detailing stage, creating modern buildings which retain all of the beauty and stature of their historic predecessors whilst meeting and exceeding our stringent modern standards of weathertightness, airtightness and insulation.
Oak has always been used by timber framers in its 'green' state for a variety of very good reasons:
Worried about movement, cracking, treatment? See our oak page to find out more.
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.
We regularly build oak frames for inclusion in renovations and barn conversions. A timber oak frame structure is ideal if the existing building is in structurally poor condition. The oak frame can slot into the fabric of the building to then carry the new roof etc.
You will need to find a builder to undertake the project as a whole but we are happy to design and build a frame for you or to give your builder dimensions. We can deliver this to site either as a kit or with the carpenters who made the frame, dependent on the size.
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.