Timber framed construction is an exciting way of making beautiful buildings perfectly in keeping with the landscapes of Sussex and Hampshire. It uses techniques that are thousands of years old; Stonehenge, for example was based on a wooden henge, using similar construction principles.
While all my projects are highly varied - ranging from the supply of trusses or sections for granaries used as home offices, to full barns and complete restorations - they all share the same wood-working joints and techniques. One of my biggest challenges is working with the architect, client and engineer finding solutions that leave everybody happy whilst still being economic and practical to build.
Framing is not something for the amateur to try for themselves, not least because of the sheer weight and size of the timbers. The beams for a Sussex barn, for example, could weigh 25 tonnes when they arrive at the yard and unloading alone can take a couple of days. Even so, the tools that we use are not dissimilar to those in your grandfather’s shed, with the exception of a few power tools to speed things up.
At the end of long projects we all look forward to topping out. This ‘ceremony’ sees a selected flower of the season attached to the last principal beam and a barrel of beer is opened in celebration.
Timber framed buildings have a number of specific benefits. They are a relatively low cost, effective alternative to brick, with low maintenance costs, very pleasing aesthetics and a small environmental footprint. Fire safety is if anything better than steel constructions as the beams will char rather than burn, while simple construction principles mean the building goes up quickly.
They are also completely bespoke and can be built to specific client requirements. Heavy, dense beams provide good noise and sound insulation and the construction makes the most of available light. Planning permission can also be easier to obtain than new brick buildings.
Downland Workshops specialises in sustainable, affordable timber framed barns and other wooden buildings, made using traditional techniques.
The team at Downland Workshops have a combined 150 years of experience in timber work, ranging from the finest and most delicate cabinetry to timber building for home, commercial, office or agricultural uses.
I have had the pleasure to work on some unique projects, probably the most unusual being The Woodman’s Cottage, which was featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs programme. A recent large-scale restoration project was at the Northney Tea Rooms on Hayling Island (pictured). This was a particularly interesting project due to the complications of re-erecting the restored frame between a newly built Tea rooms and the neighbours listed barn. “There is not a day goes by when a customer does not give us compliments on the quality of works.” Mary Pike, Northney Tea Rooms.
I spent three years working on a voluntary basis at The Weald & Downland Open Air Museum working on the dismantling and reconstruction of traditional timber frame buildings, followed by an apprentice training in green (unseasoned) woodwork under Jack Hill, an influential chair maker who heralded the renaissance in green wood working. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the restoration of timber frame buildings both domestic and agricultural.
6 Top tips for Timber Framing
1. Don’t try doing it yourself. I’ve seen amateurs chop out major structural beams and collapse a building, narrowly avoiding serious injury.
2. Employ a professional and make sure they are a recognised, experienced and properly trained timber frame engineer.
3. Always consult your local council, both planning and historic buildings departments, particularly where listed buildings are concerned.
4. Allow for services around the building in the design of the frame so that plumbers or electricians can work without compromising the integrity of the structure.
5. It is difficult to build a frame that shows timber on both the inside and outside of the building and still complies to building regulations, so decide at the start of the project how you will position insulation.
6. Be wary of using too much glass. It is hard to make an effective seal between static glass and moving timber so minimize the risk of leaks, cracking and condensation.