Carpenter Oak - The Professional Timber Framing Company
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Materials and Techniques

Timber frame techniques and materials

When clients walk into our show barn, often they walk over to the large oak beams and touch them, run their hand over them, sigh, and talk about how it makes them feel. The first thing that many people comment on when they walk into the workshops is the smell of the fresh oak.

Whatever structure you are creating we understand that you are concerned with the overall feel of the finished space, and along with the interaction of the design, space and light, the choice of materials and timber frame techniques is key.

We have a wide experience in many different construction techniques, work with a variety of timbers, regularly combine them with steel and glass, providing options on details and finishes.

Whatever inspires you, and whatever you are looking for, we can help.

This section will help you to get familiar with the materials we work with and their characteristics, cover some of the considerations which could help you plan your build and hopefully provide some inspiration!

Don’t forget that timber frames can combine with any exterior materials you choose, meaning the external appearance can blend completely with your local building styles.

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"Let's face it, our response to these beautiful materials is emotional and forms a big part of what makes building so exciting. We firmly believe that's the way it should be - building should be a passionate undertaking! It's why we all do what we do at Carpenter Oak Ltd."

Nik Sheppard, Production Manager

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Framing Timbers

We work with the big 3 quality construction timbers readily available in the UK – oak, Douglas fir and larch. They are sourced from PEFC and FSC certified suppliers meaning you can be sure that the forestry methods are responsible and the stocks sustainable. We also work in Glulaminated beams which are available in many different timbers. Lesser softwoods can be used internally for sarking boards (which the roof shingles are placed upon) and Western Red Cedar is commonly used as exterior cladding.

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Questions about materials?

  • Can the silvering of the oak cover boards be avoided?

    For some, the silvering of oak cover boards is a matter of taste. Osmo UV protection oil can be applied to maintain a natural finish, however, this will require regular maintenance to achieve a constant finish long term. We do not offer the application of any finishing as part of our service and is best carried out by a local decorator.

  • What is ‘Timber Engineering’?

    Frame Drawing of Green Oak Framed Public Building in Penistone Market in Yorkshire by Carpenter Oak Ltd Devon'Timber Engineering' is a term which describes the use of timber within engineered structural solutions. Often it involves the combination of timber structural elements and steelwork and is often used in adventurous, exciting and large scale architectural designs, minimising the sections and mass of individual elements whilst achieving spans and shapes which are way beyond the capability of traditional carpentry. Computers have revolutionised our ability to carry out structural analysis and 3-D modelling and have made the construction of even the most complex structures possible, but the same approach can also be used sparingly within a house frame to achieve larger spans or very complex junctions, or to reduce the amount of timber needed within a frame. You can see examples within our case studies such as Bedales school or this unusual new build oak frame house.
  • Will oak ever run out?

    LeLoup-sawmill-8Is using oak sustainable? All of the timber we use is from sustainably managed forests (PEFC certified) and there is a plentiful supply. The total quantity of Oak we use as a company in one year re-grows in the forests of France within 24 hours. Moreover, the use of timber in construction encourages further planting and management and increases the value of our woodlands and forests; it forms an important part of the investment in our sustainable natural resources and protection of our environment.
    Carpenter Oak Ltd are investing into the natural resources of the UK. For each oak tree used in a project we will donate 10 oak saplings to an organised planting scheme in the UK. Investing in our future.
  • What are checks and shakes in oak?

    close-up-split-in-oak-frame-showbarnChecks and shakes are the natural fissures which appear on the surface of the timber as the it dries out. Checks are very small and shakes are deeper but never extend deeper than the centre of the timber. They are nothing to worry about and form part of the much loved character of timber framed buildings.

    Find out more about oak on our materials page.

  • I don’t like the splitting of the timber, what options are there?

    The splitting of the oak is completely normal and is to be expected in any oak frame building, timber extension or new build oak frame house where green unseasoned oak is used. If good quality materials are used then the perimeters of the movement are known and through careful detailing by the architects and frame designers these 'issues' are easily controlled. Sometimes the splits can appear quite scary. If you have any concerns then call us to talk this through in more detail on:- +44 (0)1803 732900.

    Modern timber framing encompasses the use of a variety of materials and techniques, so if you are not looking for the traditional Oak-frame style there are still plenty of options.

    Painted and Limed Douglas Fir Timber in The Carpenter Oak Framing YardDouglas Fir is a common alternative and is still a high quality framing timber. It still checks and shakes but somewhat less so than oak and retains its straightness even years down the line. This gives a much cleaner appearance and so tends to be used more for contemporary frames. If you want an even crisper look, the Douglas can be planed and because it has a much lower moisture content it can take a light surface treatment such as liming oil which gives a cleaner appearance.

    Glulams can be used and are available in a variety of different timbers. Glue laminated timbers are very stable - 8-12% moisture - and it can be used with similar applications to steel (large spans and stable). They are planed, straight and clean and have very few surface anomalies. They can be easily treated with decorative finishes. Please note however they are significantly more expensive than fresh sawn timber and need special care during the framing process to maintain a clean surface and dry storage.

      See our materials page for more information
  • What happens to green oak as it dries out?


    Oak - and to a lesser extent Larch and Douglas Fir - will shrink (between 8-10% across the width), split, bow and display surface checks and distortion as it dries out. Green Oak has a moisture content of between 60-80% and can be stored outside for long periods (it will gradually dry out).  Air dried oak (3-8 years) will have a moisture content of 20-30% and will be relatively stable but usually more expensive.

    Oak will mellow slightly in colour over time and outside it will gradually go to a silver colour (unless UV stabilised). These tendencies form a large part of the beauty and character of the timber for which timber frames are regarded and are taken in to account in the architectural detailing of an oak house, creating modern timber buildings which are perfectly able to meet and exceed our stringent modern standards of weather tightness, airtightness and insulation.

    See our oak page for more information.

  • Do you have to apply a finish to an oak frame?

    There are certain options for finishes that can be applied to an timber framed building, such as liming oils, stains, wax, sealer or paint. In the majority of cases the finish is applied to the timber frame at the decoration stage in the build process. In the majority of projects the frame is cleaned removing a microscopic layer of the oak beam revealing an uniform finish. Read more about timber frame cleaning here.

    treated-and-untreated-douglas-firThe different materials we use in our projects can require different finishes, for example if you wanted to paint the timber frame we would suggest having a Douglas Fir frame instead of oak as the Douglas Fir is cheaper and has a lower moisture content. As a general rule once the oak is cleaned it doesn't need a finish to protect it. Oak as it dries will become harder and harder making it more resistant to damage from furniture knocks etc. One thing to be mindful of is leaving the window open in wet weather as the oak can become water marked. One of the benefits of not applying a finish means that there isn't any ongoing maintenance giving you more time to enjoy the beauty of the oak frame.

    Glulam timber, being kiln dried, can safely have a variety of surface treatments applied. 

    The moisture content of fresh sawn timber is relatively high and it is important not to trap this moisture as the timber goes through its natural drying process. We therefore strongly advise against applying any treatment which forms an impermeable layer, such as hardening oils or waxes, as this will lead to moulds. If you do wish to apply such finishes it is best done once the frame has done the bulk of its drying (this can be several years depending on the section of wood). 

  • Do you have to treat the timber?

    In short: No. We use only quality timber classed as 'Highly Durable' for any outside elements. This means treatment is not necessary as the timber is naturally resistant to insect attack and decay. Internal timbers do not require any treatment except for an occasional brushing down to prevent dust build up.    
  • What other materials do you use in timber frame extensions or new builds?

    Although green oak accounts for 90% of of past new build houses we also regularly build in Douglas Fir, Larch and more recently Glulam (Oak & Chestnut). These 3 form the primary fresh sawn building timbers in the UK due to their structural and durability characteristics and because there is a reliable &  consistent, high quality supply of them. We also use Glulam (glue-laminated) beams. Glulams are available in a variety of different timbers as they use dry smaller section source material. Please note however they can be several times more expensive than fresh sawn timber.   Read more about the materials we use, where they come from and their characteristics click here:- Explore other materials?
  • What is ‘green oak’?

    'Green Oak' is a term used to describe the unseasoned, freshly sawn oak which is used for timber framing. It is not a reference to the colour of the Oak, but rather to the fact that it is recently cut. It implies a moisture content of between 30%-80%
  • Why use ‘green oak’?

    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:

    • pencil-marking-on-timber-in-yardIt is far easier to cut and shape.
    • Seasoned beams deform significantly and develop splits, shakes and checks. This makes it far more difficult and time consuming to mark out and frame accurately.
    • Storing timber is very expensive and time consuming and the resultant seasoned material can be anything from 2 to 5 times the price.
    • Oak in fact takes several years to get anywhere near being dry and so after a year when it is cut, it is still wet to the touch. Even large section beams which are sold as seasoned or 'air-dry' are very far from being dry inside and will still undergo significant movement and shaking afterwards.

    Worried about movement, cracking, treatment? See our oak page to find out more.

  • Do you offer a ‘Turnkey’ (complete build) solution ?

    Cabin with Lake View constructed from Douglas Fir Timber with Western Red Shingles by Carpenter Oak Ltd Devon

    Image courtesy of Michael Harris

    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.

    Find out more about Carpenter Oak's Complete Build solution
    Click here to visit our 'What We Do' page.

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