The Advantages of Timber-Frame Building

Timber-frame building is a versatile, time-tested method of natural building that allows you to create beautiful, sturdy buildings.


| August/September 2004



Timber-Frame

Whether you go with traditional timber frame or (modern) “timber framing for the rest of us,” you will discover certain advantages and disadvantages in both systems.


Photo courtesy Fotolia/aigarsr

Many natural building methods — such as straw bale, cordwood masonry and cob building — benefit from timber-frame construction primarily because these methods can involve infilling between the timbers that make up the building’s structural framework. Unlike conventional 2-by-4 stick framing, the center-to-center spacing of timber-frame posts is somewhere between 6 and 10 feet. This makes infilling much less tedious; imagine trying to fill the narrow spaces in regular stick construction with cordwood masonry or straw bales.

Also, there is a great practical advantage in erecting a timber frame first — getting the roof on as a protective umbrella, and then infilling the structure using one or more of these natural building methods.

Yes, you can accomplish all this with “traditional” wood-on-wood — such as mortise-and-tenon and dovetail — joining methods. But these methods require intricate cuts and exact measurements, and to do it right, a great deal of time and study must be expended, and there are a few specialized tools that need to be purchased. The reality is that most farmers, contractors and owner-builders use methods of timber framing (also called post-and-beam) that they have simply picked up from colleagues, relatives or neighbors. With the advent of relatively inexpensive mechanical fasteners, most builders — contractors and owner-builders alike — rely on other methods of joining, using truss plates, screws and bolts, pole-barn nails and even gravity.

Timber Framing Advantages

Whether you go with traditional timber framing or (modern) “timber framing for the rest of us,” you will discover certain advantages and disadvantages in both systems.

Strength. Timber framing by either method is strong in real structural terms. Heavy-timber frames, with or without infilling, are more resistant to trauma from earthquakes, wind uplift and heavy snow load than light-frame construction.

Conducive to infilling. Heavy-timber framing is more appropriate than stick framing for infilling with natural building techniques. With infilling, it is not critical that exact spacing be left between vertical studs or posts; masonry and cob can fit any space, and straw bales can be made to fit almost any width of space.





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