How to Build a Timber Frame

By Jeanie and David Stiles, from "Backyard Building"
December 2015

Backyard Building

David and Jeanie Stiles are renowned builders and authors of 23 books on woodworking projects. In Backyard Building, (The Countryman Press, 2014) the couple shows readers how to make that patch of land their very own. There are more than 20 projects ranging in complexity, the easiest of which requires only a few hours of dedication from a beginner. Below are the instructions for one of the favorite projects: Timber Frame.

timber frame

Traditional timber framing looks great, and is very strong and durable. Although it takes time to make a mortise and tenon joint and secure it with a wooden peg (treenail), the sense of pride and accomplishment is well worth the effort. This is the way buildings were made for centuries, by carpenters using simple hand tools—mainly a saw, mallet and sharp chisel.

Many people, even professionals, confuse timber-framing with post & beam construction. Both methods use heavy timbers, which accounts for the confusion that exists between the two. Traditional timber-framing uses difficult-to-make mortise & tenon joints secured with wooden pegs (tree nails), whereas post & beam often uses simple lap joints and even metal fasteners to hold the pieces together. Various materials have been used to fill between the timbers, such as wattle and daub (sticks and mud), bricks, stucco and straw. Timber-frame structures can be finished off in numerous ways, just like a modern stick-built house—among them, plywood, clapboard, board & batten, shingles, or even stucco. Today, houses are generally stick built with 2×4s or 2×6s, and sheathed with plywood to stiffen the frame and keep it from racking.