Sustainable Hand Hewn Timber Frame

One of my google alerts brought this beautiful timber frame to my attention. From a craigslist listing from the New Salem, Massachusetts area. You can own this beautiful hand hewn timber frame, modeled after Thoreau’s cabin at Walden pond.

With a footprint of 10’ x 15’ this timber frame would be perfect for an artist studio, shed or other small out-building. All the major members were sustainably harvested.

The frame is mixed species by bent (Oak, Maple, and mixed Pine) utilizing an English tying joint. The sill is rot-resistant white oak. The company that constructed the frame is White Oak Timber Frame & Construction and the price they are asking for the frame is $5500.

If I lived in New England, I would be very tempted to buy this myself as timber framing is one of my favorite types of building construction and this size is perfect for a small cabin or tiny house.

Photo Credits: White Oak Timber Frame



Temporary foundation

Side View

Finishing touches

The commander in action

The top


Hand Hewn Frame

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Tim - August 6, 2010 Reply

I love timber frame, good job on this! And the area looks beautiful!

Josh - August 6, 2010 Reply

That is beautiful (I love the shallow depth of field in that second picture). Part of the idea of tiny houses being that they’re economical, $5,500 seems like a lot to spend for a frame for 150 square feet. The fact that it’s all done by hand is remarkably cool, but what should something like this cost if it were done with modern tools, still using solid pieces of timber? And, for comparison, what would a similar frame cost using store-bought lumber and conventional framing techniques?

    Kent Griswold - August 6, 2010 Reply

    Good point Josh, is anyone out there good at figuring those prices out for us? Prices for a modern timber frame and for standard stick built. If you are able to do it please post them here in the comment section.

    Gowaduv - August 6, 2010 Reply

    As a craftsperson (blacksmith) I encounter similar questions frequently. Honestly, what you’re paying for on a project like this is the craftsperson’s expertise in their field and the uniqueness of the finished product. You’re not going to find that rough/hand hewn look when the timbers are made with machines (and certainly not if commercial timbers are used). And depending on the size of the finished timbers, you may not be able to find them anywhere except here. A friend who is a finish carpenter had a request from a homeowner for a 20′ long continuous beam sized 16″ square as a non-load-bearing center beam in a new construction (this was in 2006- when people could “afford” that sort of thing). It took a while to even find a tree that was suitable for the rough dimensions and then they had to go at it with saws and axes.

    Will lumber from the Home Depot make a frame for 150 sq ft? Yep. Can you interlock those timbers like these fols have done? Maybe, we don’t have dimensions on these hand hewn logs. Will the commercial product have the same sort of “personality” as this. Not ever.

    I hope that helps explain why these folks think $5500 is reasonable. Thanks.

      Alfred - August 6, 2010 Reply

      In a way Gowaduv is right.

      Was there a lot of skill, craftsmanship, and pride put into this? You bet. Can it be duplicated by the average Joe (or even the average production framer) with lumber from Home Depot? No way.

      But does one have to? Isn’t a 10×15 structure built from dimensional lumber (sustainably harvested for my green friends) just as strong, durable, and functional?

      In fact, bluntly put, isn’t buying this very much an affectation, analogous to buying a BMW or an expensive Wolf range for the kitchen?

      Isn’t the purchaser here really (at least in part) making a statement as opposed to simply buying/constructing a dwelling? Isn’t s/he saying that s/he has the money, taste, the sort of elite connoisseurship to appreciate such a finely crafted product?

      Now surely, there is nothing wrong with this (nor, for that matter is there with BMW’s or Wolf ranges). But doesn’t honesty (at least with ourselves) compel us to identify what is really happening?

        Gowaduv - August 6, 2010 Reply

        Well now I kinda feel like I’m sticking up for the craftspeople, which I’m happy to do. For the TL;DR crowd: no, you don’t have to build your cabin with hand hewn timbers.

        If you count the number of pieces involved with this it looks like you’d have less wood involved with this construction, than with a modern construction, but the trees here are selected for straightness and girth. And it appears that this was built mostly with muscle power, so we can argue that the carbon footprint is smaller (if we want to look at it as a “green” project).

        If you want to get pedantic about it, every dwelling makes a statement, so yes, this one does, too. Your argument seems to be that people shouldn’t pay for nice things, things that are well designed and crafted, or things that are different/make a statement- or that owning these things is somehow disingenuous/elitist. I disagree with that opinion. People buy what they like and can afford, and aspire to own things they like but can’t afford. I wear a Citizen watch because I enjoy looking at it, even though my $20 Coleman watch with the velcro strap does almost as good a job at telling the time. do I -need- the Citizen? no. Do I smile everytime I look at it? yes! 🙂 And for me, that makes this particular purchase worthwhile. I appreciate and am willing to pay for beauty and craftsmanship whenever I’m able to (which isn’t particularly often, so perhaps that’s why I enjoy the things that I buy that have a little extra form to go with their function).

        I’m pretty sure there will be a buyer for this cabin frame. And, I’ll bet the owners leave the timbers exposed to enjoy looking at and touching the rough wood, and will relish the craftsmanship that went into it.

        I can’t say for sure that’s it will be functionally superior to a modern framed cabin, but it’s probably not, so long as both are properly maintained. Will the owners of this modern cabin receive any aesthetic pleasure from the uniform pine boards? Doubtful, and the framing will likely be hidden, just as in a modern construction. That said, if your idea of a home/cabin involves drywall or paneling, then this rough frame is probably not what you’d want anyway.

        For what it’s worth I had a 8×12 shed with a loft built in 2007 for $1900.00 total in the Puget Sound region. So I imagine that just a modern 10×15 frame including labor could be had for about $1000.

          Alfred - August 6, 2010 Reply

          Actually, I think we are in total agreement. You make just my point when you say,

          “People buy what they like and can afford, and aspire to own things they like but can’t afford.”

          But you misinterpret me when you say,

          “Your argument seems to be that people shouldn’t pay for nice things, things that are well designed and crafted, or things that are different/make a statement- or that owning these things is somehow disingenuous/elitist.”

          Not at all. Choices about houses, clothes, cars, etc., are at least in part how we define ourselves (and present ourselves) in our culture.

          Like others here, I like the cabin very much and appreciate the craftsmanship. My point was that people should be aware that they are paying for a certain aesthetic, well above the function. If this their taste and within their means, that’s great, no problem at all.

Jake - August 6, 2010 Reply

Hewing the logs with an axe like in the photo is darn tiring work. Kudos to the builders.

alice - August 6, 2010 Reply

There are buildings built using these methods and similar materials still standing after hundreds of years. Very doubtful that a conventional stickbuilt, no matter how well maintained, will last anywhere near that long or give as much aesthetic pleasure. This is art as well as craft, and a fine demonstration of skill. Does it need to be done this way for a little shack? Nope, but if I could, I would!

Nan - August 6, 2010 Reply

5500? for what exactly?

Heather - August 7, 2010 Reply

It’s like buying a quality hand-made piece of art – quality always costs more and the value of art is subjective. I love this timber-frame. Beautiful work.

TimberFramed - August 21, 2010 Reply

Since its foundation Cygnum has established an impressive track record and earned a solid reputation as a supplier of QUALITY TIMBER SYSTEM SOLUTIONS. With thousands of completed projects including a wide range of building types and construction budgets, from unique one-off architect-designed homes to multiple plot estate developments.

chris willcutt - October 2, 2010 Reply

I think this is the best I have seen on how to build hand hewn cabins. I want to say thanks on publishing this sight. Maybe sometime I will put forth the effort to make one myself.
Thanks, chris willcutt.

lindy - April 13, 2011 Reply

Will this house still stand in 100 years? 200 years? I would say so.

Will a house of Home Depot sheet rock and sticks still be here in 100 years? Can’t be sure …

Craig - May 2, 2011 Reply

Nice work guys.

If one could see the “exploded view” of the tying joint they would begin to realize that $5500 is a reasonable price. Did you end up selling this frame?

What were your tie beam, top plate and post (at top) x-sect dims?

joe - August 19, 2011 Reply

Are any nail or anything used to hold this together?

Simon Frez-Albrecht - October 16, 2011 Reply

“5500? for what exactly?”

I have been in art galleries where a print of a photo sold for roughly the same. It is difficult to put a price on artistic vision, and clearly there was work involved with making the print, but I would be compelled to say that you are getting a lot more for the money buying this frame than that photo.

As a carpenter that has also been involved with timber frame projects, I can say that in almost all cases the materials are the cheap part. Most of the money goes into paying a skilled worker for his abilities and insight gained through experience. However, substituting sawn timbers for the hand hewn in this case would cut the price a respectable amount. Hard to put a solid figure on it because of regional and seasonal variations in price, but it could be substantial.

Trying to avoid getting too long winded here, these timbers are not too large, so a sawmill could cut them quickly and easily, and sourcing the trees themselves would also be relatively easy. I have read an article from an experienced hewer where he determined that once a timber exceeded a size of 12x12x20 feet (I think that was it), it was cheaper to hew the timber than have it sawn, because of the premium that the mill would charge for handling large timbers.

There are a lot of factors at play in the cost of a building, some of which are surprising.

David Stiles - August 2, 2012 Reply

If you have ever tried to make a mortise and tenon joint you may find that it takes you at least an hour to do a proper job. On the other hand, it takes an average carpenter about ten seconds to nail together two “stick” pieces of stock lumber. I think the price of$5,500. is a bargin especially when the lumber comes delivered free to your site. Yes it is an art and I hope not a lost one, David Stiles

Eric - February 13, 2014 Reply

This structure has all the features that are found in 100 year old examples using the same craftsmanship. It’s a bargain!
The price quoted is fair value for the labor alone, considering the skills & abilities to tie every joint in the structure with very high strength, whether pegged or pinned. It may even be underpriced. The quality materials used seems to be a bonus considering costs in a retail store. You would likely be charged 3 – 4 times this price if you purchased this quantity of same materials at a box store and just nailed it together.

Philip - August 3, 2015 Reply

I’m planning on building a tiny house on a foundation made with these anchors and treated 4×4’s.
Would appreciate your feedback (pros/cons) on this approach.

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