They shelter our soul and warm our spirit

by Trish Gannon

Sandpoint magazine

Summer 2006

[Excerpt] Avid buyers who can’t find the home of their dreams already constructed and waiting for them to move into are increasingly buying up bare land and building what they want. That trend is fueling a construction industry that, as little as a dozen years ago, was seasonal with “stagnant” the only way to describe the winter months.

Although conventional housing is the norm, some people want something a little bit out of the ordinary. For them, “stick-built” just doesn’t match their vision of a home for the ages. And for those people, there are contractors who can provide exactly what they want.

Above: A hand-hewn beam takes shape for use in timber frame construction. Above right: Collin Beggs takes a break in his shop to hash out building plans.

Above: A hand-hewn beam takes shape for use in timber frame construction. Above right: Collin Beggs takes a break in his shop to hash out building plans.

The age-old method of timber frame

As an early spring sun slants through the open doors of the barn, Collin Beggs makes himself comfortable atop a huge piece of red oak and begins to hand drill a hole. His movements are precise, methodical and comfortable. He is a man at home with wood, and at home with building techniques that pre-date him by hundreds of years.

“Timber frame construction is the oldest continuing vernacular in construction,” he said. “Any country with good forests used timber framing. It dates back to the 11th century in some areas.”

At its heart, timber frame construction is a celebration of wood and how it is joined together. It is posts and beams and complex joinery, and the combination results in a self-supporting structure, eliminating the need for support from walls. True timber frame construction – as opposed to the broader category of post-and-beam construction – joins solid wood timbers joined by traditional wooden joinery. The joints are mortise and tenon, dovetails, and wooden pegs. The mortise is simply a hole cut in the wood, while the tenon is a tongue designed to fit the hole precisely. This method of construction is the strongest and most durable way to build with wood, according to Beggs.

“Timber frame construction has a proven history,” Beggs said. “There are timber frame homes built in the 1200s that are still in use. If we cut a tree, and put it into a frame, the potential is that the home will be used for hundreds of years.”

A timber frame home “is just really beautiful. These houses are more human,” Beggs said. “I think when someone chooses to build a timber frame, it’s a quality-of-life comment. It’s a house for the longer term, a place your great-grandchildren could live in.”

The timber frame home gives occupants a sense of security, he added. “People subconsciously feel safer when they can see what’s holding the roof up.”

Beggs spent seven years learning his craft, arid he likens the techniques he uses to those of fine furniture builders. He said his work “combines nature, handwork and the craft tradition.” He started in construction by building with full-scribe logs in Alaska, before heading to the East Coast to learn timber framing from the experts there. He worked and trained with three different companies, learning along the way about how to do high-end construction and historical restoration.

“I wanted to come back West,” he said. He opened his business just north of Sandpoint in January 2005. He is now working on his fourth project and his fifth design locally.

The wood he works with is enormous, some pieces weighing up to 1,600 pounds. “I measure a lot,” he said. “I have to be very precise. There are some pieces of wood I may work on for days, and it has to be right. If one of us cuts a joint just a half-inch off, we can’t use that piece of wood. Quality (work) is just a necessity.”

Timber framing, he says, can be employed in any style of construction from a New England saltbox to a Japanese-inspired pagoda. One of the oldest buildings in the Far East, by the way, is the Kondo, or Golden Hall, and was built in the early 7th century as a private temple for Crown Prince Shotoku. It’s a timber frame structure.

“Timber framing results in an incredibly durable building,” said Beggs.