DIY Timber Frames

Learn how to source, prepare, and connect timbers to frame a 12x16-foot structure that can be used for any need, from a cabin to a studio.

| July 2016

Using full-color photos, detailed drawings, and clear step-by-step instructions, Learn to Timber Frame (Storey Publishing, 2016) is a guidebook for beginners, showing exactly how to build one small timber-frame structure that’s suitable for use as a cabin, studio, or even a workshop for future projects. Expert Will Beemer takes readers through the entire framing process, beginning with timber sourcing and ending with a finished building. He lays out the tools and costs of this undertaking, and he also explains how to modify the structure to suit your needs and location by adding a loft, moving doors or windows, changing the roof pitch, or making the frame larger or smaller. After following his instructions, you’ll end up with a beautiful building, as well as solid timber-framing skills that you can use for a lifetime.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Learn to Timber Frame.

Timber Framing vs. Stick Framing

In North America in the 1830s, settlers migrating west needed a way to build quickly with unskilled labor. The newly built railroad made it possible to ship smaller-dimensioned lumber to the treeless prairie, and the new technologies of sawmills, drying kilns, and mass-produced nails helped promote a new construction system called stick framing. This system relied on the repetitive use of many small pieces of lumber (2x4s, for example) to overcome the scarcity of skilled labor. Now anyone could build a house — and faster, with a smaller crew. Since the framing was nailed together, one didn’t need the skills of a joiner. Stick framing became firmly established as the predominant method of light construction after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, when a large part of the city needed to be rebuilt quickly.

Timber framing, however, remains a viable option, even though it requires more skill. The structures, with their large, open floor plans (no load-bearing interior walls) and exposed timber and joinery, are a joy to make and to live in. If you have a woodlot or access to local sawmills, the materials can be cheaper than buying kiln-dried “sticks” from a lumberyard.

The Principle Differences Between the Framing Methods

Size of Pieces

Timbers are defined as members that are 5 inches by 5 inches or greater; lumber is 2 to 4 inches in its smallest cross-sectional dimension, and boards are 1 inch or less in thickness. This is standard lingo; most of us have a fear of looking dumb at the lumberyard or sawmill, so it’s important to have our terminology straight.

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