Timber framing has been practiced and refined for more than 1000 years now and in many different cultures. In each culture the wood species traditionally employed would have been the strongest, largest, and most abundant species available.
The Great Halls of England are timber framed using English oak. Colonial America saw use of Eastern white pine, spruce, maple, and the oaks. Timber framing in Appalachia added Tulip poplar and even American chestnut. Bald cypress joins the list for projects benefiting from a weather-resistant species. On America’s West coast Douglas fir, Western red cedar, Western white pine, the Redwoods, and Sugar pine all saw use in timber framed structures.
Modern technology and logistics has broken down traditional geographic barriers for these different species, and we’re able to bring these wood species to you and your timber framing projects. We work with a number of different species in our timber framed homes and pavilions, and can work with you to find the best species for your project.
Let’s briefly discuss the traits of the 5 commonly used woods in timber frame homes.
Bald cypress timbers are commonly available in lengths up to 24 feet. This species enjoys predictable lead times for projects. The wood is a very light tan in color and weathers to a uniform silvery gray. Paint and stains adhere well to Bald cypress. Bald cypress most often sees use in outdoor structures such as timber frame pavilions, mid-size farmers markets, porches, exterior awnings and decorative trusses where the species’ weather resistance helps insure long life.
Douglas fir is an abundant West coast species that sees wide use in heavy timber structures. This species is strong, available in a number of specifications including kiln dried and grade stamped, and can be supplied in very long lengths to 60 feet. West coast mills are sophisticated in their processing of timbers making lead times predictable and availability reliable. Paints adhere well to Douglas fir.
Stains perform well on Douglas fir timbers with the mild caution that the natural color of this species varies and care must be taken to insure uniformity of color. Pitch pockets that may ooze resin can be present in timbers that have not been kiln dried. Because of the timber sizes available, stamped timber grading, and relatively short lead times, Douglas fir sees wide use in both public and residential projects.
Eastern White Pine
Eastern white pine has often been used for timber frames and is available in large sizes. Eastern white pine timbers are not particularly strong and so timbers increase in size to handle loads applied.
This species accepts stains better than most, but it has little rot resistance and so should be used only in dry conditions. Eastern Tennessee is not the best environment for this type of timber frame.
Western Red Cedar
Western red cedar timbers are frequently specified for exterior applications because of its rot resistance and handsome appearance. This type of wood accepts most finishes fairly well.
Available in a variety of grades, specifications are reliable and grade stamping is routine. Timber sizes may be large to carry loads expressed. The wood weathers to a uniform gray color.
The White oak family of tree species includes Chestnut oak, Post oak, Species White oak, and a host of other distinct species. In the practice of timber framing little distinction is made between the different species and timbers are selected for appropriate grade and geographic availability.
Timber frames built of White oak are traditional--surface checking and all. (Checking results from uneven wood shrinkage as the timbers dry faster near the surface than in their core.) White oak timbers accept oil-based stains well and take natural oil finishes readily. Paints are not a good choice on any species of oak.
White oak timbers are a joy to work and often are the timber framer’s choice for many projects. While rot resistant, this family of species is best used inside as it weathers to uneven coloration in exterior applications. The only downside to working with this type of wood is that lead times can sometimes be long.
Other Wood Species
Wood species sometimes used in timber framing include the maples, Red oaks, Redwood, the Spruces, Tulip poplar (Tennessee’s State Tree), tamarack, and a variety of others. In earlier times, whatever grew in proximity to the structure being built was put to use.
If you're looking for more information about our timber framing process, check out our eBook, What You Need to Know About working with Timber Framers. We go into further detail about species of woods, the different ways you can work with a timber framing company, and more.