Timber Framing is the art of fastening timbers together with interlocking wooden joinery to create shelter. Each piece must be handcrafted to precise specifications so that every joint fits perfectly into a three-dimensional puzzle. The act of structurally interlocking a frame makes it safer than nearly all other methods of construction, even in a fire or an earthquake.
Timber Framing may be done with straight timber or naturally curving timber. There are only a handful of Timber Framers nationally who work with crooked timber, and this is especially limited in the Western United States.
Crooked timber has been used since the inception of Timber Framing, however. It was often the most practical solution on hand, yet was also sought after for its inherent beauty and the way it created harmonious geometry. Examples of this include Welsh crucks, which mirror the Gothic arches seen in ancient cathedrals.
Using crooked timber presents a specific set of creative and design challenges. Straight timbers have their place, but crooked wood really brings out my love for this craft. I am continually on the hunt for crooked wood. Rather than cut curves in straight timber, which results in weaker arches, I prefer to find natural curves in the forest where they originate. Using natural curves takes devotion, but also cannot be replicated by any machine and confirms our interdependence with the forest.
The earliest surviving examples from Northern Europe include houses, barns, cathedrals, abbeys and various minor structures from the twelfth century. These structures were built by highly skilled carpenters whose creations became known for their longevity and beauty. However, in the late nineteenth century with industrialization and the demise of the guild system, this craft tradition came to an end in much of the British Isles and North America.
In France, however, les charpentiers (the carpenters) have a continuous tradition dating from at least the thirteenth century. Timber Framing traditions have also survived in Asian countries such as China, Japan and Korea. Other regions and cultures that have maintained vernacular traditions are just coming to our attention, thanks in part to the Timber Framers Guild, which encourages cultural exchange.
Timber Framing was brought to American shores by the various European immigrants settling in the New World; the oldest surviving example of a wood-framed house in the United States is the Fairbanks house of Dedham, Massachusetts, circa 1637.
The Timber Frame revival began in the 1970s, sparked in part by a curiosity of old buildings and a desire to build more lasting homes that contribute to communities rather than detracting from them. We are now fortunate enough to enjoy a vibrant community of craftspeople and the satisfied owners of their homes.