It’s an ancient craft with roots in Europe and East Asia which was brought to Colonial America and Canada with the first European settlers. The craft relies on connections that are cut into each piece. The most typical connection is one in which a tongue (tenon) on the end of a beam is cut to fit into a pocket (mortise) in a post. A hole is bored through both sides of the post and then through the tongue and a wood peg is driven in to hold the two timbers together.
Yes, timber framing is usually more expensive, often by 10-15% than the most equivalent conventional method. That said, there are exceptions, and the design of a space will greatly affect the relative cost differential between timber framing and more common construction.
Timber frames can be economical or extravagantly expensive, depending on their design. As a rule of thumb, a full timber frame will cost between 15-20% of the total construction cost, so a $700,000 home should have a frame valued between $100,000 and $140,000. To reduce the overall cost of your project you may consider adopting a hybrid approach, where the timber frame is used in the key living areas and secondary spaces are conventionally built.
For clients in the USA, your dollar goes a lot further in Canada, saving you 25-35% when Canadian dollar prices are converted into US dollars.
We are a timber frame specialist and usually the first stop when customers begin to consider a timber frame. We provide:
Maintenance – timber frame homes require little maintenance compared to a log home. There is no chinking, no tension rods or levelling jacks, and no rotting sills to worry about. All outside timbers will need to have their finishes maintained. For a timber frame there is a small effort required to apply a maintenance coat every 5-7 years to posts and fascia – typically a single day’s work by the homeowner. With log homes the entire outside shell will need attention and that will often require a hired professional crew and a week or more of labour.
Aesthetic Choice – timber frames offer an unlimited choice of interior and exterior materials and finishes. Stone, drywall, board and batten, cedar shakes, metal, fiber-cement siding… whereas with log – it is the wall and the finish look, both inside and out. Like chocolate, timber in the right proportion is a treat, but with log, the appetizer, main course, and dessert are all chocolate which for some, may be harder to enjoy as the years pass.
Cost – timber frames are often a half or less the cost of a scribed log kit.
Energy Efficiency – timber frames are a perfect match for high R-value structural insulated panel systems (SIPs – see more details on this page). Log walls perform at between R-1 and R-2 per inch if they are perfectly chinked (the probability of which declines with time).
We’ve learned a few things along the way. Thirty years ago, we unloaded trucks full of timber by hand, we used a drill to make overlapping holes and then hand chiseled out the mortise pockets. We worked hard, but not always smart. After a few years, a light slowly came on and we realized what should have been obvious all along: The mechanics of how you cut a timber frame matters little. If you find a method that achieves more accuracy, strength, and efficiency – it’s the right thing to do.
So, it was good that we stopped seeing technology as a “cheat” and learned to know it as an ally. We bought a forklift, chain mortisers, planers and all manner of powered equipment. And when our company needed to, we bought a big CNC cutting machine and then a second. Our designers are now free to call for stronger, more complex joinery, our builders and clients love the precise fit of our frames and we’ve been able to build more top-quality timber frames than ever before. Our carpenters are also free to focus on the fine details that make our timber frames a joy to own.
When you see the term, “handcrafted” to describe something, it suggests that it’s a high-quality item, made in a traditional way, with old, time-honoured tools and methods.
But in North American timber framing the word “handcrafted” is used and abused. The companies that employ it know it plays well to emotions and a romantic idea of the past. Their designs are produced on computers and their shops are equipped with power tools. These tools are held and directed by hands, which in no way makes their work handcrafted. It does add opportunity for mistakes and inaccuracy. In “power tool shops” there is a tendency toward simpler joinery, to keep labour costs down. While simple joinery is faster to cut, it often compromises on fit, appearance and strength.
Regrettably, “handcrafted” is a marketing ploy to distract customers from what’s truly important: great design, highly accurate cutting, strong and beautiful details.
Cornerstone has worked with US clients for over 20 years. While we cannot send our workers to US jobsites, we are permitted to send a timber frame raising advisor who can provide technical support to your builder. This works well and having the advisor on site ensures that everything in your timber frame will come together quickly and smoothly.
Yes, we can. Our sister company, Marshall’s Design, specializes in timber frame plans for homes and cottages. Whether you’re building in the US or Canada, the drawings will be accurate, detailed, code-compliant and reviewed by an engineer certified to stamp in your locale. Good drawings remove the “wiggle room” so trades and suppliers will be clear on what their scope includes. Visit the Marshall’s Design website here.
Start with your timber framer – we can help you grab hold of the important timber details you’ll need before going into the construction drawing process. Let us know about your overall budget, preferred timeline, and your building site. If you have a list of the key features / spaces you want in your home and some inspiration pics of things you like, that’s a great start. We’ll respond with timber frame ideas for you to consider, a rough timber budget and advise on anything you need to know to get your design underway
Possibly, but there will likely be dimensions and room layouts that will need to be altered to make it work effectively as a timber frame. Often a plan book concept will allow us to see the elements that appeal to you, and we can offer similar “timber frame friendly” plans as starting points for a design discussion.
It’s best if you can allow around six months for design. More time means more opportunity to reflect and revise and significantly reduces the risk of missing something that you’ll later regret. Plans can be done in as little as a few weeks, but they require clients to be available to provide quick responses.
Experienced home designers will charge between $2.00 and $3.50 CAD ($1.50 – $2.70 USD) per square foot. Architect fees will range from $4.00 to $6.00 and more per square foot or are calculated as a percentage of constructed value. Fully accredited interior decorators, depending on agency, charge $90 – $150 per hour.
Most jurisdictions require an engineer to review and stamp your design. Fees range from several hundred dollars to several thousands, depending on complexity, size, and project value.
Yes, once we understand the specifics of your project, we can recommend one or more experienced designers who can provide design cost estimates.
Our most common wood species by volume are:
We have also made frames from a variety of other species: burr oak, green ash, white spruce, and eastern white cedar.
One might expect that old barn or bridge timbers should be less expensive than cutting new wood. At the point at which a demolition company buys the rights to salvage timbers from a structure, the cost per board foot is a usually a bargain.
But of course, that would make recycling too easy! After the labour and equipment required to salvage the timbers (sometimes out of really challenging locations) and the labour-intensive work of de-nailing, the cost is usually double or triple that of new.
The rustic beauty of reclaimed wood won’t go out of style. Our customers who have chosen it, love it and would choose it again.
Way back in 1980, timber frame revivalist Tedd Benson, was already writing about how SIPs could revolutionize the way homes were built: “The stress-skin panel presents attributes of heat resistance never before seen in home construction and is a perfect match to timber frames. Energy conservation is the hope of the future…we must mark the end of the era of substandard housing that is cheap to build but expensive and wasteful to maintain.”
At Cornerstone, we’ve noticed a big jump in client demand for SIPs. Before you commit to using them here are a few things to consider:
Some additional considerations:
At Cornerstone, our top priority is always to ensure we are a good fit with each and every one of our clients. Book a consult to learn about the Cornerstone advantage today.