Before we began building Bunny Vista, I had only a nodding acquaintance with timber frame structures. I have been reading some of Kelley’s books in hopes of not embarrassing myself when I actually have a timber frame room as part of my house. (Kelley points out to everyone that I have recently read several non-fiction books–somehow he thinks that is unusual.) I have found out a little more than I once knew about this traditional method of building. I supplemented the non-fiction books that Kelley left in my path with this helpful Wikipedia article.
Timber framing was the primary building technique for residences, churches, barns, and other structures in many parts of the world for centuries. In the middle of the nineteenth century builders began to use the “stick-framing” construction we are most familiar with today, and timber frame construction almost ceased, because stick-framing was quicker and less expensive. In this country, timber framing began a renaissance in the 1960s.
In early times, timber framers hewed and shaped timbers with felling axes and broadaxes and joined them together in a system of upright (posts) and horizontal (beams) timbers with the same kind of joinery found in fine furniture. To ensure the rigidity of the frame, they used trusses and braces in various configurations. When European settlers arrived on this continent, they built timber frame houses, barns, and churches. Now, as timber framing regains popularity, many timber frame companies build houses off-site with the aid of computer numerical control machines and other modern equipment. Although Jordan uses machines in his work, every piece of wood in our timber frame will bear the mark of his own handiwork. He will use traditional joints, such as mortises and tenons. He will use wooden pegs to secure the joints, which Kelley will adjust as the wood shrinks and moves.
Jordan sent Kelley some labeled drawings of the timber frame room. Our room will have four bents and three bays, as seen in the drawing below. Now, if you don’t know what bents and bays are, I will explain as Kelley explained to me: if you imagine the side view of the room as the side view of a sliced loaf of bread, each of the four slices coming up from the bottom of the loaf represents the side view of a post rising from the floor. Between each post is an open area called a bay. At the left will be the fireplace. At the right will be stairs leading up to a loft and down to the basement.
The photo below is a labeled view of one of the four bents. Imagining the loaf of bread again, think of the bent as a slice of that bread. The main parts of the bent are the posts rising from the floor, the beam, and the braces which form triangles between posts and the beam. (These braces keep the bent rigid. Triangles are rigid forms, but squares are not. Structures built without triangular bracing are going to fall right down in a strong wind.) There are also rafters. The drawing below combines elements from a couple of the bents. The sling braces will be only on the two bents near the fireplace. The floor beam will be on the two posts nearest the log house and will support the loft floor. The railing for the loft is also pictured here.
Many of the terms Kelley, Jordan, Lewis, and our architect Peter use with such authority and gusto are completely foreign to me. I found this useful glossary of timber frame terms on the beautiful Dreaming Creek Architectural Timbering Website. I sneak peeks at it rather often.
Kelley met Jordan when Jordan was doing a demonstration at a conference on traditional crafts at the Frontier Culture Museum near Staunton. Kelley visited the timber frame house that Jordan built for his wife’s parents near his own home in Mount Jackson. He is doing splendid work on the timber frame.