A Comparison of Timber Frame v. Stick Built Construction

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This week’s guest blog is from builder and timber framer, Glenn Tarbell. Glenn has collaborated on many projects with Green Mountain Timber Frames over the last two decades.  Recently, he built this beautiful timber frame garage for a client. 

Final Timber Frame Garage.jpg

Why Use Timber Frame Construction?

Recently I had a customer who wanted a new garage. They live in a beautiful wooded area with large oak trees near a wetland. Their house is not large and has a low sloping roofline. The siding is rustic, rough sided pine that is stained. They asked me to build a two bay garage.

Timber Frame v. Stick Built

I inquired if they would be interested in a timber frame garage rather then a traditional stick built garage if the pricing was not considerably higher. They loved the idea of a timber frame and we began the design process. The pricing for a timber frame style building was only slightly higher, so we decided to go with it!

Designing the New Garage 

In the design phase, we talked a lot about the height of the new building. The customer did not want a garage looming over everything. We talked about enclosed and not enclosed bays, power needs, and building materials for the roofing, siding and the timbers. They also needed storage for kayaks and canoes and windows on the south face for garden starts.

We decided that the final building would be a barn-garage. We would create a structure that looked like a barn with an extension for the traditional hay hook or, as we discussed, a canoe hook. The customer had a rope system with a vintage pulley that has already pulled the boats into the upper half story for the winter.

The structure we finally designed has one fully enclosed bay with an overhead door and a shed roof off one side for the second bay. We ultimately choose this look for two reasons: height and looks.

6_plate section for the shed roof

Building the Barn – The Construction Process

When it came time to start building the garage, we chose hemlock wood for the frame. This is a ridged softwood that works well for timber frames. We cut the joinery traditionally using chisel, saw and chain mortiser. Then, we dry fitted all the parts of the frame at my shop. Seeing the mortise and tenons fit together and then seeing the bent sections laid on the sawhorses was wonderful. Dry fitting the frame gives a sense of what the building will become, while also allowing for us to check for accuracy in layout.

2_All the bents are up

Here we are drilling 1-inch holes for the wooden pegs.

The barn posts are six by six, the girts are eight by eight, the rafters are four by four and the braces are three by six. As a big pile of wood it does not look like much, even with the joinery cut. But on raising day, wow, it takes on a look of its own.

4_4x4 rafters in place

Here you can see all the bents assembled and the frame with shed walls erected.

And here’s a look at the new garage once the roof sheathing and trim were on:

7_Roof sheathing and trim

Pricing Timber Frame v. Stick Built Construction

When pricing this kind of project and determining the cost difference between timber frame and stick built construction, I have to look at the two styles of building with the thought, “What steps will be different?” Siding will be applied in the same manner in both building styles, as will trim, roofing and sheathing. The only real difference then, is the framing.

It took nine days to cut out the timber frame and tip it up, including roof sheathing.

3_Drilling holes for pegs

The frame with all the 4×4 rafters in place.

To build a traditional stick built garage with roof sheathing, it may take seven to eight days to get to the same point. Therefore, the difference in this project was two days of labor.

Timber Framing – A Worthwhile Investment

In the end I think timber frame construction makes more sense both financially and aesthetically. Even if it takes a bit longer and requires a slightly larger initial investment, (usually 15-20% more) a new timber frame is strong. Barns built this way have lasted hundreds of years.

Standing in a timber frame feels good. You can see the craftsmanship of the builder and know that the history of barns and houses built this way dates back hundreds of years. So whether you build a new timber garage or use a vintage timber frame barn as the frame for a garage, from my experience timber framing is usually the way to go. It’s cost effective and the building can last for centuries if the roof is maintained.

Interested in your own timber frame barn or home? Let us know!

We’d be glad to hear from you! 

Luke – Green Mountain Timber Frames
luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com
802.774.8972

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3 thoughts on “A Comparison of Timber Frame v. Stick Built Construction

  1. I grew up around some old timber framed buildings when I was a kid. I wasn’t supposed to play in them because they were so old, but they still seemed plenty strong to me. So, when you say that timber framed buildings are stronger, I believe you. I definitely think they look better than their stick-built counterparts.

    • James, thanks for commenting. Yes, when you look at the history of “stick built” construction it only has a 100 year run.
      I’ve visited timbered barns in England from the year 900! Do what you can to save the timbered structures in your area.

  2. I just got to reading this Dan…Great post…!!

    It’s getting to the point (with inflation and “good practices”) that much of the craft of Timberwright is now competitive with many “stick built” contracting fees…I have (as of late) matched or beat “turnkey” cost for house projects with all natural/traditional elements (including timber frame) against that of a “box store” built GC project…Our time of craftsmanship coming back and being appreciated is once again with us…Sending email soon…I may have a project to collaborate
    on…

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