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From the Library

August 19, 2019

Building the Timber Frame House: The Revival of a Forgotten Craft by Ted Benson

I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, that I built our house myself (with a little help lifting the heavy shit from our clan-of-choice. With the exception of one timber, which we lifted with my neighbor’s tractor, we didn’t use heavy equipment to lift any of the beams in the house…and for the record, lifting a green 18ft 6×8 timber, 30 feet into the air, is sketchy as fuck!). I also had no real construction experience prior to that project.

So, how did I go about it? I ordered and read every single book on timber framing that I could find, that had been published in the last fifty years, in English (and several in German!).

This book was the single most useful reference I had at my disposal. In fact, I’ve now owned three copies, because two copies stayed on the job site while I was working, and ended up destroyed; it was that useful.

Obviously, not everyone has any interest in building a timber frame house (And, honestly, if your heart is not 110% set on it, I don’t recommend it! It’s a lot of work). But, it’s a pretty quick, simple way to put up a stout outbuilding, including emergency housing, if you keep it simple (don’t use oversized timbers like I did, for aesthetic reasons….). I am firmly convinced that, with the aid of this book, and the tools that Mr. Benson recommends, ANYBODY with the physical ability to use the tools in question, could walk into their woodlot, and build a small timber frame house in less than a summer. If you practiced your joinery cutting first, and got it dialed in, you could do it in less than a month.

Every single cut and joint you’re going to need is clearly illustrated with quality pen-and-ink illustrations. The science and math is covered for determining what your beam sizes need to be, but in terms that even laymen (like me!) can actually grasp. There’s even some different building plans in the back of the book, for different size projects.

The only potential drawback to this book is something I discovered after I had built our house. Some of the joints that Mr Benson recommends, while they work (my house is two stories tall, and has withstood 90MPH winds already…) well, are NOT the same joints that were used historically in the eastern US and in Europe. Now, if you’re doing historical restorations, that’s an issue. If you’re building a storage shed for your prepper supplies, or you’re putting up some small cabins for “bug out location” housing for your people to live in when SHTF, that’s just not a deal killer. Interestingly, nobody has EVER noticed the ahistorical joints in my house that came from Benson’s book (the only fucked up joint that HAS been noticed is one I designed, trying to simplify things. It didn’t work worth a fuck, and I ended up having to scab that joint, after we got the wall stood…and standing the wall got REALLY scary when we heard my joint cracking, just as we got a couple thousand pounds of timbers to head height….



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  1. kevinH permalink

    I used to own a Ted Benson house, that place was some kind of crazy stout built home! Never had a worry about snow load, or anything else. Much better than stick built.

  2. amateur ruckhumper permalink

    It’s already on the way. I’m in the middle of “A Pattern Language” right now, which my psych-major wife also loves. Thanks for recommending both. I’m also trying to turn bits from “Speed Power Endurance” into a routine, because I don’t have one.

    I’m pretty stoked for building my own house in a couple years, and while it’ll be brutal to balance a graveyard shift and a home construction project at the same time, it’s really the only way to afford a house on a spread out here without a big mortgage. A few years of hard work, or a few decades of payments? Not a hard equation to solve.

    Improving my current house with a deck will be a nice practice project, too. A shed follows that, and by the time I’ve done both, I’ll know enough to at least attempt a house.

    Thanks for all the book recommendations. Next on the reading list are your books, and a few on gardening, which should carry me through the winter.

  3. Vagus permalink

    I’ve never read it, but there is a book entirely about historic cranes and counterweights and such as they did before mechanization. It’d be an ungodly pain and the ass and take 4 times the time and materials, but you *could* build a timber crane to swing and place those 30ft beams if you had to. I’ll see if I can find it again and get back to you with the title and author.

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