Sunday, June 26, 2016

What have I learned by making a timber frame.

I have now had some time to reflect on the builidng of my timber frame for the small barn by our summer house.

Technically the timber frame isn't completed yet, as I haven't installed any rafters yet, but the majority of the framing work is done.

The first lesson I have learned is that timber framing is fun. I really like making large joints and getting them to fit together. It is a lot like making a piece of furniture, except for the dimensions. And the wood that I used is not surfaced on four sides, but used straight from the mill. There is some heavy lifting involved, but given that I never go to a gym, it is probably beneficial for me to do some sort of exercise - and timber framing appeals more to me than lifting weights.

It might come as a surprise to some of you, but this project is the first one where I have used a marking knife. I am sure that is one of the things that has helped the assembly go smooth. I am so impressed with the results, that I am considering making a marking knife that I can use on some of my normal projects like dovetailing etc.

The drawings for the barn were really interesting to make, and I like that I have no one to blame if there had been any issues with wrong calculations. But everything went together as it should, and all the various parts were either level or plumb as they should be. Even when I reached the top of the frame.

Raising the frame was easier than I had feared. I had spent a lot of time wondering how I could raise the bents and if they would fall over etc. The biggest challenge was actually to assemble the lower frame or the sills.
I had made those joints a bit on the tight side, but with the help of some securing straps I managed to pull them together.

To make sure that the sills would be level, I assembled them to a frame, and then I leveled out that frame by placing it on top of some pieces of scrap wood in the corners. Then once the assembly was level and in position, I mounted the brackets and poured the concrete.

The first bent was the most difficult one to raise, since I didn't have any high spot where I could attach the chain block. So to overcome that problem I started by lifting the top using a hi-lift car jack. I lifted the top as far as I could and then placed a set of saw horses underneath it. Then I lifted to the maximum capacity again and used the chain block on the lower frame and it went smoothly.
The subsequent bents were raised using the neighboring bent to hang the chain block in.
To keep the lower part of the posts from sliding around I attached a piece of a 6x6 timber approx. 12" long with a clamp on the sill. Once a bent was raised I screwed on some boards to help stabilise it and keep it plumb.

All the dowels I used were made out of larch. Traditionally dowels are made out of oak and other hard wood, but my dowels are just added to keep the tenons in the mortises, so the strength of the frame is not that dependent on what species they are made of.
I sawed out the stock for the dowels trying to follow the grain lines as well as I could, and then they were hammered through a 3/4" hole in a steel plate to make them round. This was something the children liked to help with. Instant results seem to appeal a lot to children.

The single thing that I had given the most thought was how I should lift up the beams for the upper plates and for the ridge beam. Once I finally got to that point in the process, it dawned upon me that I could raise them on an end, and then lift them up a bit. I then lifted and pushed the timbers until they reached their pivot point. Then it was just a matter of a few more inches and then I let go of them. That put them on the first floor in very short time. With a little more than half their length supported by the joists. My choice of dimensions for the timbers allowed me to do all the lifting myself. So if you plan on making a frame using 12x12 x 18' It might not work.

It is a strange feeling to see a frame grow that has only existed on paper and in your head and in the form of some loose pieces of timber with joints here and there. It shouldn't feel much more different than seeing a table or a chair coming together, but for me it did.
Maybe it was the size, or maybe it was the pioneer feeling, that this could have been a home for me and my family. I actually think the pioneer feeling is the most true description.


  1. I have noticed that you always (or at least almost always) use imperial measurements in your blog, do you actually use these numbers or are you catering to an American audience? Just curious.

    1. Hello Johann

      For smaller projects like furniture etc. I normally always use the metric system and then try to change them into imperial measurements for the exact reason that you mention.
      As far as I remember, around 80% of my readers are from USA, so they hopefully appreciate it.

      For the timber frame it was actually different.
      My saw mill is so old that it is graduated in inches, so a 6x8 is really that. But my plans for the small barn uses the metric system for measuring lengths. It is not ideal, but I have gotten used to work that way.
      For instance the plates (upper longitudinal pieces of timber) are exactly 420 cm long, and the mortise for each each post is 120 cm from the previous mortise. all measured from the front of the building.
      Each of the mortises on the other hand is 6" long and 1.5" wide.

      My drawings for the barn were made in the scale 1:40, because that is close enough to the conversion inches to meter. The lady in the building planning department looked a bit puzzled when I first showed her my plans. Because that was an unusual scale. I tried to explain it to her, but I could see that she didn't really understand it. She kept talking about using 1:50 or 1:100 etc.

      The travelling bookcases I am building, is an attempt to follow the plans, so they are made using imperial measurements. It requires me to think a bit more than going metric, but I like a small challenge once in a while.


    2. Next question: Are they imperial inches, or Danish inches?

    3. I use imperial inches - as opposed to Olav who uses Danish inches.
      As far as I remember, a Danish inch is 26.15 mm, that is a bit larger than the 25.4 mm for an imperial inch. But it is enough to make quite a difference :-)

  2. Where is the pictures of this timber frame?????

    1. Hi.

      The pictures are in my previous post:

      I am back on my job now on a ship in Norwegian waters, so I sadly can't take any new photos of the frame.
      It is more complete now than on the picture in the previous post, but I completed that part late Sunday evening to getting ahead of a heavy shower that was predicted (and came) Monday. I am admittedly not very good at remembering to take pictures, so I haven't got any more than those.

      I should get home in the end of July, so I will continue the build in August.