The Beauty of Roundwood Timber Framing

Ben Law is a 21st century woodsman pioneering the benefits of roundwood timber framing, a low-impact, sustainable building practice that utilizes local trees rather than milled lumber.

| April 18, 2012

Ben Law constructs sheds, barns, homes and businesses with roundwood timber framing, a low-impact, sustainable building technique that marries freeform building with modern architectural regulations. In Roundwood Timber Framing: Building Naturally Using Local Resources (Permanent Publications, 2010), Ben provides diagrams, photographs and descriptions of how a roundwood building utilizes local trees from managed woodlots to form uniquely beautiful roundwood structures that are in balance with the landscape around them. Read how Ben's first buildings in the heart of England's forests became an inspiration for the beginning of his sustainable style. The following excerpt is from Chapter 1, "Roundwood in Building." 

The building industry is one of the most high energy, high waste industries in the UK. Although building regulations are helping to create better insulated buildings, many of the components are mass produced and incur high building miles, being transported vast distances to the construction site. Mass produced fixings and features often produce soulless architecture and the social atmosphere of many building sites is far from welcoming. The building industry ploughs forward in a reactionary fashion, making small changes and concessions through new regulations but not stopping to consider methods that are low impact, locally sourced and workforce friendly.

Roundwood timber framing is one such technique. Working with materials sourced straight from the forest, using nature’s shapes to create the structure, using techniques that can easily be learnt and passed on and a method of building that can continue without stalling in the transition to a post oil society.

The need to express one’s creativity through freeform building and a need to comply to plans and regulations has always been a difficult balance, but through the evolution of roundwood timber framing, I believe I am finding a style and technique which satisfies both needs. Hand selecting trees with form and character that have their own intrinsic beauty and follow their own lines, rather than those that have been forced upon them by the saw and right angle, allows freedom of movement in a building whilst keeping within the parameters of the drawings on the table. The building itself has life, curves and natural form, the frames often looking like they are trees growing out of the floorboards. Each new building improves on the last and each joint is developed and refined. I feel roundwood timber framing has reached a point in its evolution where the joints are advanced, the timbers tried and tested and a range of buildings including sheds, barns, dwellings, educational spaces and industrial buildings have been constructed and passed the vigorous analysis of the construction engineers and building inspectors.

So it is time to pass on the fruits of this work, encourage you to search your local woodlands for timber, and create roundwood timber framed buildings in our landscape, which leave a legacy of hope to future generations. Roundwood timber framing is in its infancy, but what you will find here has its roots firmly grounded in the woodsman traditions of England ('Woodsman' is not a reference to gender, as men and women are equally capable of woodland activities. It comes from manus, the Latin word meaning "hand". Thus woodsman means 'hand of the woods'.) It is the love and knowledge of woodsmanship and its revival that has spurred us woodsmen to come out of the wood for periods during the spring and summer, to build our roundwood creations before returning to the woodland landscape to cut the coppice and continue the renaissance of the British forest dweller.

Ben Law's Early Roundwood Building 

The first building that I constructed and lived in was a bender; bent coppiced hazel rods lashed together with string and then covered with a tarpaulin. It was a simple structure that more than sufficed as a home in the woods for a few years (See Image Gallery).

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