Last Mountain Timber Wrighting



History of the Craft

In many ways the history of timber framing mirrors the history of civilization. With the development of the first sharpened iron tools came the shaping of the most easily worked and readily available material - wood. Originally the dwellings of nomadic peoples, timber frames evolved from poles wrapped with animal skins which covered pits in the earth to hand hewn square and rectangular timbers used in above ground post and beam structures. No longer simply shelters but homes - timber framing ushered in an era of security and permanence - the beginnings of civilization.

Timber framing seems to have developed simultaneously in Europe and Asia around 2200 years ago. Naturally the buildings differed from region to region dependent on availability of resources, availability of variant species, and societal needs. However, the similarities in building techniques and architectural styles surprisingly transcend physical and cultural boundaries and easily outweigh the differences. The Great Buddha Hall in Japan and Westminster Hall in England were both built with similar construction restraints and requirements - both featured steeply pitched roofs which drew the eyes to the heavens - and most importantly they were both built by skilled craftsmen which have allowed these monuments to stand for hundreds of years.

Regional population growth had a major effect on the evolution of the craft. In England, for example, the population grew rapidly during the Middle Ages and this in turn depleted the numbers of large trees. As a result, timber frames were then made of elaborately joined shorter pieces and infilled with masonry in an effort to conserve wood. The success of the craft's ability to adapt to changing times is evident in the millions of timber framed buildings that were built during the Middle Ages that still remain functional structures today.

The craft would change yet again as Europeans made their way across the Atlantic and laid claim to North America's old growth forests. It was like stepping back in time - once again utilitarian structures could be crafted using large timbers. There was seldom a need to splice together small timbers as was the tradition in Europe. The evidence of this renaissance is clear in the massive barns and churches with their large open spaces which dot what was once New England and Upper and Lower Canada.

Suddenly, in the middle 1800's, the craft began to disappear in North America. The introduction of the mass production of nails and community sawmills production of small pieces of lumber led to a less expensive and quicker means of construction. This form which evolved into what we now refer to as 'stud construction' required far less time and skill which accommodated an expanding population and the movement of peoples westward. In essence, the natural beauty and long term endurance of timber frames were sacrificed to meet the housing needs of an increasingly mobile population.

The craft and its influence waned until the early 1970's until several architects and carpenters began the mission of rediscovering timber framing. Their process involved dismantling old buildings and exposing the original joinery craft. A treasure of information and a new appreciation for timber framing emerged from these findings which has led to the resurgence of timber framing today.

A marriage of old and new techniques has emerged in timber framing. Unlike past generations, modern timber frames are finished with the timbers exposed on the inside. Modern exteriors form walls and roof systems that further strengthen and insulate these already sound structures. Although modern machinery has aided in the current construction of timber frames - the ancient craft has been preserved though the dedication of the master craftsmen who practice timber framing today.

The popularity of this ancient craft has seen an explosion in recent years. Last Mountain Timber is one of nearly 100 timber framing companies registered with the Timber Framers Guild. While the vast majority of North American homes will continue to be built with stud construction - timber framed homes offer their owners' Old World quality unsurpassed in strength, beauty, and detail. And with the resources that we now possess as builders - structures can be built that are highly functional yet physically and intellectually satisfying. Here's hoping that you choose to explore this unique building option!

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