Timber Framed Shed

by David Stiles

A New York Times writer once asked an Amish farmer, “Why did you build your barn walls five feet thick when you only needed to make them one foot thick?” The farmer’s simple answer was, “Why not?”

The same question could be asked of anybody considering timber-framing a tiny house rather than stick-building it out of 2x4s. Using only a wooden mallet, a saw, and some chisels to make the time-consuming mortise joints can take five or ten times longer to complete the building. So why do it? The answer is simple: satisfaction. Knowing that you’re building in the time-honored fashion of craftsmen from past centuries, and completing a frame that is much stronger, more durable, and uses less wood, is very satisfying.

timber frame

Having written several do-it-yourself books on sheds, cabins, and workshops, we were asked several years ago by an Amish community to design a shed that they could sell to the public. They invited us to visit their farms and see how they worked. The weekend that we spent with them was truly amazing; like being transported back two centuries. We saw them loading up a horse-drawn wagon with timbers for a barn-raising the next day, just like in the movie Witness.

timber frame tiny house

We named our design “The Perfect Shed,” it has the perfect proportions (discovered by the ancient mathematician Euclid) of the ‘golden ratio.’ Having designed sheds for 30 years, we think the size is perfect too. It is 10ft x 12ft – neither too big nor too small. The shed is insulated throughout, with electric wiring inside the stuccoed walls, a sleeping loft, and room for a small kitchen. We think it would make a perfect studio, home office, music room, hobby workshop – or even a self-sustaining ‘eco-shed’ with a wood-burning stove, composting toilet and solar electric supply. We have plans for building it using 2x4s as well.

timber frame and horse

To put our design to the test we teamed up with an artist/craftsman named Toby Haynes who comes every year from Cornwall, England to help us with construction. We built our own timber-framed Tudor cottage as you can see in the photo and even had a community barn-raising where neighbors – including the children – pitched in.

timber frame cottage

perfect shed

Build Locally with Roundwood Timber Framing

Dimensional lumber — 2x4s, 2x6s, etc., are about as ubiquitous as suburban sprawl is in America. (Maybe there’s some kind of relationship there..?) 2x4s are an industrial product, only becoming a dominant building material in the last century. As priorities have shifted to speed, uniformity, and ease of production, more traditional building styles have fallen out of favor.

local timber frame

However, it is almost certainly time to rethink how we build our homes, addressing not only downsizing possibilities, and the size and efficiency of spaces, but how we build houses themselves, and what materials we use. I believe timber framing, and specifically roundwood timber framing, fills a great need, enabling more holistic and sustainable home construction.

Building Locally?

Here’s a great passage from the USDA Forest Service’s “History of Yard Lumber Size Standards” (warning: PDF link) that hints at industrialization beginning to seep into the world of construction:

Until the middle of the 19th Century, building lumber was usually produced in a locality close to the place where it was to be used. Sizes were not a problem. The needs of builders in the locality were well understood and carpenters were accustomed to much more hand fitting on the job than they are today. As the forests were cut back from the centers of population, lumber had to be shipped greater distances. By the last few decades before 1900, lumber was no longer a locally made commodity. It then became apparent that the sizes used in different trading areas were not uniform and as a result sawmills had to cut lumber for the markets they wished to serve. Continue reading

Small Timber Frame House Plans and Workshop

Brian Liloia also known as Ziggy to his friends and well known for his cob house, which I have covered in the past here on the Tiny House Blog, is building a new home using a timber frame structure.

The house, code named Strawtron, is designed to be a passive solar, straw bale-insulated house using timber frame as the main structure.

The interior living area is 13 ft x 24ft which is about 300 square feet, it also has a loft and a green house area that is used to bring in passive solar heating.

Brian is making the small timber frame house plans available for free.

As a side note if you would like to help build this house Dancing Rabbit is offering a Natural Building Workshop in the summer of 2012. This includes two workshops one a Timber Frame Workshop and the second a Straw Bale Workshop. Only 12 spaces are available so click here to learn more and to apply.

P.S. Ziggy just sent me the full details so I am including them below.

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