The Art in Timber Framing

Beauty loses its power when it is repeated.
— Masters of the Tea Ceremony

This week the OCH team is beginning assembly of a mixed-species porch addition in southeastern Ohio. The trees were harvested from the customer’s property, sawn into timbers on our Wood-Mizer sawmill, and arranged into a composition of posts, beams and trusses with hand-cut joints that will fit together like pieces of a puzzle once onsite. The frame includes a variety of different wood species, from elegant cherry and walnut, to less-exalted poplar and aspen, to utterly surprising and delightful spalted sycamore. It is an expression of its provenance, its unique terroir, and will soon stand amidst the very forest it grew from.

No two timber frames are ever the same. Even when constructed from identical designs--the same set of blueprints--the frames will be distinct, separate works of art. Just as no two forests are the same, and no two trees of the same species growing within that forest are the same. Just as no two artists working with the same set of materials will create the same--or even similar--works.

When selecting timbers for a particular assembly within a frame, a timber framer chooses each piece based on a number of considerations: dimensions, strength, workability, tools available to work it, but also beauty. A timber may be turned and positioned to allow its curving natural edge to be retained, or to show off an intricate grain pattern, or to create a striking color contrast against neighboring pieces.

Further, a timber framer may choose to use a particular style of joint over another for aesthetic reasons. Indeed there are many, many types of joints by virtue of the separate timber framing traditions that arose autonomously on different continents and were based in those very different local aesthetic values. And even within those traditions, the ingenuity of mostly nameless individual practitioners through history, seeking to challenge themselves and imbue their work with distinction, resulted in even more--and more creative--types of joints.

The aesthetic choices that the timber framer makes on a piece-by-piece, joint-by-joint basis across an entire frame are what result in an overall creation of breathtaking loveliness, totally unique from any other structure. The frame being assembled this week is a wonderful example of this ... the art inherent in this craft.