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DIY book on building a Timber frame house  RSS feed

 
Sarah Joubert
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Location: Eastern Cape,South Africa Zone Cfb, Annual rainfall 570mm,
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Hey all, my husband, daughter and I have spent 5 years living frugally and saving in the UK to buy our own place in South Africa. Our financial plan was supposed to run until May next year but we are being retrenched end Dec so have decided to take the leap earlier.
In order to cut costs and stay within budget we are looking to build our own timber home. Nothing fancy, a two bedroom cabin would be grand. My husband wants to build it on stilts so he can use the underside for parking/storeroom etc. we would be using pre purchased timber as we don't have the kit to mill our own lumber (that's if we have access to trees to start with!) but the plan is to buy the timber and make the panels/ cladding ourselves (we have plenty DIY experience but have never built a house before).
Does anyone know of a good book or e-resource that has plans and step by step how-to-guide? This is a considerable investment and we don't understand enough about load bearing to do it ad lib. I am a techno idiot and so cannot use architectural planning sites etc. Planning permission/bylaws wont be an issue as we will be so far off grid no one will bother us!
We lived in an elevated timber cabin once that had the timber support posts buried in the ground but I have heard that the lifespan of the posts is not long. We are trying to avoid concrete as much as possible.
I am also planning to use a biogas chamber for gas cooking, does anyone know if the gas will rise high enough if the house is elevated 8ft?
Any advice would be gratefully received.
 
Will Meginley
Posts: 115
Location: Concord, New Hampshire
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I have read, and found these two books very helpful:

Build a Classic Timber Frame House (TFH) by Jack Sobon

and

Timber Frame Construction: All About Post and Beam Building (TFC) by Jack Sobon and Roger Schroeder.

Both cover roughly the same material, including selecting timbers, how to make them yourself - including the old-fashioned way using just a couple of axes, layout and basic joinery; foundation, roofing, and cladding options, etc. TFC goes into more detail with the theoretical aspects.

TFH includes drawings and instructions for a simple 18ft x 36ft two story house frame that was commonly built in the NE US during the British colonial period.

TFC includes drawings and instructions for a very simple 12ft x 16ft shed that can be extended by increments of 8ft in the long axis without any engineering changes. My fiance and I are considering making a 12ft x 24ft version with two sleeping lofts to live in while we construct a TFH-style house.

Get the paper versions if you can. I have the kindle versions, and some of the tables are cut off or hard to read.

I'm probably going to invest in another book or two that go into joinery with more detail. Am open to suggestions.
 
Sarah Joubert
Posts: 78
Location: Eastern Cape,South Africa Zone Cfb, Annual rainfall 570mm,
3
forest garden hugelkultur solar
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Hi Will,
Thanks for that. I will definitely look for them on Amazon! Sounds like you two are on a wonderful adventure. Best of luck and if you find a good joinery book I'd love to hear about it. Any ideas on books on DIY furniture? Kitchen cupboards, tables, chairs, wardrobes etc?
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Sarah,

I will try to be as helpful as I can along your adventure in timber framing...

I posted a Simple Timber Frame today for folks like yourself.

Here is a book list I provide students and folks like yourself that are getting into timber framing.

Asian Timber Architecture

Timber Architecture

Out of this list, I recommend these first:

Master's Guide to Timber Framing
James Mitchell's book is a "text book" to the craft of timber framing. It is expensive (more than the average DIYer want or probably needs.) It is however probably the best out there currently. It can be bought from James directly for much less than "list price."

The Craft of Modular Post & Beam: Building log and timber homes affordably
This is another older book by James that has similar info. I recommend this one most often for DIYers. The reason being it outlines in detail "line rule" which in my view of the 3 primary systems is one of the oldest, most used still today, and encompassing of system far superior in most ways to the other two systems being "scribe rule" and "edge rule."

Layout is a major part of this craft and getting to use lower grade timber (in an easy fashion) can not be achieve by "edge rule" virtually at all. Line rule is almost as old as "scribe rule" yet much simpler to use once understood.

Japanese Joinery: A Handbook for Joiners and Carpenters
This one has lots of "typos" but is a good reference anyway. It is a "mashup" of two other books not in English...

Wood Joints in Classical Japanese Architecture
This is out of print but PDF version can be found online for free. It is a great pictorial for students to understand the inside of joints they may wish to cut. Both basic and advanced versions.

As mentioned above there are many other wonderful books, and I do like Jack's books, but he works in a manner and style outside the Middle Eastern and Asian context I teach most often and have found much easier for students to learn and be successful with. Especially if new to the craft.

Regards,

j
 
Will Meginley
Posts: 115
Location: Concord, New Hampshire
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Hi Sarah,

I will try to be as helpful as I can along your adventure in timber framing...

I posted a Simple Timber Frame today for folks like yourself.


So far you're succeeding, brilliantly. I love that stone plinth foundation in lieu of sill plates and a wooden floor like the designs I've looked at so far. Seems like it would be a lot easier to incorporate adequate thermal mass for a passive solar design that way. I'm guessing it's probably going to be a pavilion in this case. If you were going to enclose it would you build a masonry wall between the plinths and raise the interior floor level to match?

Jay C. White Cloud wrote:Here is a book list I provide students and folks like yourself that are getting into timber framing.

Asian Timber Architecture

Timber Architecture

j


Very helpful, though both links currently point to the Asian Timber Architecture list. Some of your other lists are really great, as well. I may just forward them to "santa" this year...
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hello Will...Thanks bunches for pointing out that typo on the link for Timber Architecture...I think I fixed it

I am pleased you enjoyed the list! It is a long (decades) in the making, reading and teaching from these many fine tome. Along the way great friends have been made and many of the authors have been most helpful, becoming not only friends but wonderful mentors/colleagues.

I can't help but always "plug for" Jame's books as he is probably one of the top ten Timberwrights in the nation in overall depth of knowledge, ability to speak for the craft and actually teaching it fully in an erudite and complete manner. I am biased of course as I work in the ancient and wonderful Asian modalities of the craft...as does he in many respects.

Another "plug for" if into wood "anything" is my dear friends new book on Japanese Boat building that was just released..."Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding" by Douglas Brooks is simply wonderful! The lessons learned from it have cross over to everything from boats to timber framing to Japanese wooden bathing tubes...

... I love that stone plinth foundation in lieu of sill plates and a wooden floor like the designs I've looked at so far. Seems like it would be a lot easier to incorporate adequate thermal mass for a passive solar design that way. I'm guessing it's probably going to be a pavilion in this case. If you were going to enclose it would you build a masonry wall between the plinths and raise the interior floor level to match?


The fastest, simplest, least expensive foundation I have every built, that is traditional, natural and extremely enduring (millenia long endurance) is a simple stone plinth/socle foundation with wood posts.

Its range of application to many different styles of architecture from straw bale, light cob, cob, infill methods, hung walls, wattle/daub, piece sur piece, and the list just rambles on for several lines of text.

It can indeed lend itself well to a passive solar design, or as in this case, a pavilion as you rightly took it for that will become an outside classroom, after school programing space, view area for sporting events, and on some weeks during the year it will serve as a "pizza pavilion" for wood fired pizzas that fund extra curricular school projects. The pavilion (and the pizzas) have been a huge success thus far!

My most common method for designing and building with this system, from very warm regions of the south to very cold in the north is a "raised wooden floor" frame work that is insulated according to regional needs, and provides a crawl space for good ventilation in warmer months, though this can be modified for an all wood and stone infill system if a building site presents with the ability to have a "walk out" basement/root cellar foundation.

The typical "raised wood floor" and its supporting beam work is a minimum of 400 mm off of final grade and usually will have a wrap around porch/engow with extended roof overhangs. The porch then also serves as outside living space and the support armature of this area gives way for the extra thick walls (minimum 250 mm) I tend to design using a "wall truss" system.

Regards,

j
 
Will Meginley
Posts: 115
Location: Concord, New Hampshire
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Yes, both links lead to the appropriate list now. Not that it was hard to click on the links to the left, anyway. To stop clicking, though..., that was a bit more challenging...

Thanks for answering my question. I won't drive this thread further off course with more. I'll get around to starting a few threads of my own in a couple weeks once I'm laid off for the year.

That boat building book looks really cool! Will probably stick to the British modality for the house builds (the nearly beloved is a trained archaeologist who's more than passing fond of all things Medieval British Isles), but a Japanese boat would be awesome. And perhaps a Japanese boathouse to store it in. I like dreaming big.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Will,

I look forward to reading your posts...

(the nearly beloved is a trained archaeologist who's more than passing fond of all things Medieval British Isles)


If this is the case, then a "cruck frame" would probably be right up your beloved's alley. This will actually take a mix of "scribe rule" and/or "line rule." Line rule was used in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe. Scribe rule was (is) the most dominate historical form of European frames. Edge rule is actually considered relatively knew in orgin, and isn't really applicable to these "medieval designs."

Best of luck and look forward to your posts...

j
 
Will Meginley
Posts: 115
Location: Concord, New Hampshire
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I'd thought about a crucks frame, but that seemed a little daunting for a first solo project. The Heartwood School does have a scribe rule course, though, so I suppose we'd be on our third or fourth frame by the time we got around to building it...
 
Sarah Joubert
Posts: 78
Location: Eastern Cape,South Africa Zone Cfb, Annual rainfall 570mm,
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Hi Jay,
I was hoping my post would catch your eye..... I have been perusing your repies to other posts for quite some time now.
Thank You for the links to your build and book recommendations. I especially found your stone plinth technique very enlightening.
I am a bit unevenly yoked as to the how to build this house, my husband is the "get it up quick" type using round poles up to Floor level and then modular panels to put the house together-lots of threaded rod and nails- finished off with tongue and groove cladding! I would love to build with morticed joints-hope I'm using the correct term and not showing my ignorance!
The other thing we disagree on is size. I'm plumbing for a 6m x 10m structure while he's wanting 10m x 12m. Although we are very hands on, not shy of hard work, historically have worked with no power tools, tractors etc, I just dont think we have the skills to take on a such a large project first time.
I'm all for building it if someone can say "yes, using such and such a method, 2 amateurs given time can achieve this using block & tackle/pulleys and basic hand tools.
What do you think of the idea of workshop/parking on the lower level? Will the structure withstand winds if it is top heavy? The idea is to have gates between the posts making a secure unit where we can keep all our assets contained in one space, no outlying buildings.
Any chance of explaining the difference between linear and scribe and european/asian building techniques? Or a referral to another post would be just as helpful.
Many Thanks,
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Sarah,

I am glad you have found my suggestions helpful...

I am also very excited to be of any help I am able to such an exciting adventure as the one you and your family planning on embarking on...

Africa has a rich history in timber framing, one that is much older than what Europe has, and few...outside the esoteric academics like myself care to study. Many still today either ignore or refuse to acknowledge this history, with some still suggesting that it is "not real" and what there is of substantial architecture in "African Culture" had to of come from Europe. This "Eurocentric view" is astounding, yet still exists in the 21 century.

Malagasy and related Zafimaniry Architecture is ancient and rich in indigenous tradition, while later perhaps influenced by some "European flavors" this influence ran in both directions, and more left Africa then came to it in the way of "style and form." From the "Leopard Society" meeting houses found in Ekpe architecture to Yoruba traditional architecture the history of earth, and timber architecture in Africa would take many more years to completely understand and even then, much has been lost. Mbari Architecture, Akan Architecture, and others that may be of interest to examine, as "vernacular architecture" for a given region and/or biome is always going to be superior to what none natives "think" they should probably build. This is not to state that "pole architecture" could not be "made to work" yet may not actually be the best style for a region.

I am a bit unevenly yoked as to the how to build this house, my husband is the "get it up quick" type using round poles up to Floor level and then modular panels to put the house together-lots of threaded rod and nails- finished off with tongue and groove cladding!


I can offer from decades of study and experience that "get it up quick" is only applicable for "transient architecture" (aka tents, and structures not meant to last.) This is fine if that is the goal, yet "get it up quick" usually = "come down quick." As such, through lots of nails and threaded rod at something does not build a home (nor good architecture) in my view, and seldom have I seen it be enduring for more than half a generation before major intervention, repair or replacement usually has to take place...

I would love to build with morticed joints-hope I'm using the correct term and not showing my ignorance!


You are, and timber frame archiecture is more than applcable to many areas of Africa. Proper wood species selection and other detalys would need to be addressed, yet for anyone with some practice can build these structures in a matter of months for the average small home, and most go up in a few hours to days...depending on size. Much like you would assemble a "knockdown Armoire, or Trestle Table.

The other thing we disagree on is size. I'm plumbing for a 6m x 10m structure while he's wanting 10m x 12m. Although we are very hands on, not shy of hard work, historically have worked with no power tools, tractors etc, I just don't think we have the skills to take on a such a large project first time.


This is hard to gauge from simple "post exchanges" on a forum, and typically would need much evaluation over time and/or in person to get a solid handle of it all. I can say from experience that most folks are way to ambushes with there aspiration, and my advice is always to:

1. Take your time.

2. Research and plan thoroughly.

3. Don't bite off more than can be "chewed." Which means start as small as possible and design the architecture for expansion later.

Getting a comfortable livable house is the first goal...Making in "larger" later is a mater of good design. Most folks "want" more space than the "need" especially in the beginning of a homesteading...I would also point out that there is a reason that in agrarian societies (and undertakings) that the "domestic architecture" is rather small and the barns, sheds, greenhouses, and work pavilions are so large...These are the spaces that much time is spent in and where the "real space" is often best used and needed.

I'm all for building it if someone can say "yes, using such and such a method, 2 amateurs given time can achieve this using block & tackle/pulleys and basic hand tools.


I say this to most folks that ask that question. Timber frames have been built for millenia by simple farmers and other crafts people...As such, there is nothing outside the scope of abilities of even the "average" DIYer trying to homestead.

What do you think of the idea of workshop/parking on the lower level? Will the structure withstand winds if it is top heavy? The idea is to have gates between the posts making a secure unit where we can keep all our assets contained in one space, no outlying buildings.


"Compound architecture" is a common practice in agrarian society also, where the architecture is contained, and/or connected one to the other. This can come in all manner and form, from "live in" barns with attached greenhouses, to structures that are "multi level" as suggested above. Without a location and exact site, followed by understanding thoroughly local conditions and resources, it would be folly to guess at such things let alone plan a building. Architecture is not something that is "I like this" or "I am going to build this..." just because that is what one "wants" or "thinks" they should build...It is a matter of understanding and embracing the vernacular and boime resources that will lend itself to the "best options," for a region/biome.

A "Pole Building" may well work just fine...then again it not be the best choice either... If you have a location and building site, I can address more details better.

Any chance of explaining the difference between linear and scribe and european/asian building techniques? Or a referral to another post would be just as helpful.


Timber frames come in many forms, yet most fall into the category of "post and brace" and "post and lintel" with a broad range of the two mixed together. Post and brace (oblique bracing on the diagonal) is what we find in Europe. Post and lintel with horizontal bracing is what we find just about everywhere else and is the older of styles.

"Scribe rule" is probably the oldest form of laying out timber frames. This encompasses much labor in moving and laying one timber onto another to "custom scribe" each tenon joint to its receiving mortise. The timbers are not interchangeable at all, and the joinery is specific to each one cut...

"Line Rule" on the other hand is probably near as old going back 5000 or more years (unlike edge rule which is perhaps 300 years old maybe 500.) It is simplistic in nature (once learned and understood) and allows for the use of crooked, bent, tapered and even round timbers.

Regards,

j
 
Sarah Joubert
Posts: 78
Location: Eastern Cape,South Africa Zone Cfb, Annual rainfall 570mm,
3
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Thank you Jay for your very detailed, informative reply. There is much in there that needs to be dissected and digested. We have not had much time to consider our options as we only found out about our retrenchment recently.
The original plan was to buy a homestead with a dwelling on it and create a permaculture based school for natural living for displaced people with no/little access to resources and finance. With our own living arrangements sorted out, we would be able to devote time to various building styles-wattle & daub, cob and straw, timber frame incorporating natural fuels for heating-ie biogas, rocket mass heaters, compost hot water systems, water storage etc etc as well as showcasing methods of agriculture for self sustenance and potential profit.
We were on a 5 year plan but that has been cut short by 6 months and thereby the budget! We are now looking at buying land cheap and starting from scratch. So we will have to shelve the school plans until we are settled ourselves- one piece of wisdom that someone said on Permies has stuck with me-you cannot hope to help others if you are not secure yourselves. The extra funds would have provided us with a year's living costs and increased our land purchasing pot. So there is a sense of urgency to get things up and running quickly but as you say, build in haste, repent at leisure!
As we haven't purchased land yet, we don't know the terrain. We are looking at 2 options-poles apart from each other. Free State is flat, dry. tree poor. Kwazulu Natal is subtropical, hilly, humid and vegetated. I know these are very general descriptions and the actual building location will be totally unique so I realise I will have to wait and assess the site. My basic question is: what conditions would lend itself to such a construction? We will not be able to harvest our own timber as Free State is tree poor, unlikely to find a property with significant numbers and the species would be bluegum and wattle, maybe some poplar. Kwazulu natal may have significant numbers of these species and both locations are reasonably distanced from the pine plantations in the Natal Midlands.
I realise I am waffling on a bit without providing actual specifics and thank you for your patience-I know you are answering other posts at this time as well as being busy with your own projects. Your knowledge sharing is a measure of your community building ethos.
Kind Regards,
Sarah
 
Sarah Joubert
Posts: 78
Location: Eastern Cape,South Africa Zone Cfb, Annual rainfall 570mm,
3
forest garden hugelkultur solar
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18 Months on and we have finally settled on a piece of land. Given that we were short of funds due to our master plan being curtailed by retrenchment and the fact that Brexit severely dented our capital and affected our budget, we have ended up with less than hoped for but more than we were prepared to settle for. We are now the proud custodians of 40 Ha of derelict farm in the Eastern Cape, South Africa! We have various ruins, a borehole (I think you call it a well in USA) and a sewerage system which services the main house and "cottage". Due to the above, I have had to return to the UK to earn more pennies to top up the pot while hubby dearest gets on with some hard graft. Before I left we had 4 weeks to make "the cottage" habitable, get a solar pump on the well and sort out water storage with enough unassisted pressure to have running water. We do not have electricity. I shall probably start a thread on the projects page to chart all the other aspects but this thread deals only with the timber refurbishment of the main house. The images below are of "the cottage" It's not pretty but it suffices. The first image is the front and side view after we had hacked our way into the ruin and cleared all the debris out. The second is the gaping hole in the bathroom after being neatened up a little. The third is what it looks like now after hastily covering all the holes. The back wall has weatherboard like the front. We were going to brick up the top but ran out of time. So far it's holding but it does require a lot of cleaning as the dust just blows in from all sides. The winds have been quite scary at times, it blows regularly at 40-50km/H with gusts of up to 60Km/H.
The only new thing on the structure is the roof. The weatherboard and framing were purchased as rejects-chipped and bent. We cut a lot of poles. As it's just a temporary dwelling, we intend re-using the roof on the main house which is what this post is all about. I just thought I'd give some background and an idea of our skills and capabilities. What we lack in skill, we make up for in "can do" !
As I can only attach 3 photos per post, I shall continue my request for advice in a new post.
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Sarah Joubert
Posts: 78
Location: Eastern Cape,South Africa Zone Cfb, Annual rainfall 570mm,
3
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So this is the next step. We are looking to put a timber extension on the top of the main house. All labour will be done by my husband and myself, we hope to have it finished by the time our daughter returns from a hip replacement in June. We have access to a fair amount of bluegum ranging from 15mm to perhaps 25mm but this is not onsite so transport would be an issue on long lengths. Also, my worry is curing it will take too long. I would love to do mortice etc joints but (a)I dont have the skill although I do have the inclination to learn and have lots of plans for future builds which I can complete at my leisure and (b)my husband is very impatient! We do have a sawmill close enough to deliver so will probably make use of that. The ruins measure 10m X 11M but we don't have enough resources to renovate the whole structure. So I would like some advice on whether it would be possible to build on only half of it. The foundation is solid. The house was built probably in the early 1900's with clay bricks. The roof was removed by vandals about 8 years ago. Weathering of the bricks has caused one side of the house to collapse but the part we wish to utilize has decent walls. It is a cavity wall on 3 sides and single brick wall on the other. We would like to erect a platform across the 3 rooms you see on the right side of the 1st picture. The middle room juts out and would form the boundary on that side of the platform with the other three sides keeping to the outside walls. So there would be an overhang on both the top and bottom rooms in the photo. The measurement of the platform would be 4.75M X 11M.
My question is, if we built a base of 3" X 9" lumber to rest on the brickwork and put in beams every 24"down the long side, could we build cladded walls using a 2" X 4" framework to rest on these walls? Would it need some form of attachment to the brickwork or would a suitable timber framework and roof secure the structure enough to be self supporting especially in high winds.
The second image is of the cavity wall and the third is the long side of the house. I have a range of pictures of the entire structure but don't want to post a long list of boring pictures that may have no use without context which is difficult to imagine unless you have seen the sight.
Thanks in advance for any advice offered.
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tomas viajero
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I almost hate to admit it but I learned a lot about TimberFraming from Ted Benson's first book on TimberFraming.   I haven't seen my copy for about 20 years(bought it in the early 80's).   Maybe you can find it used.   Never had much use for Sobon's books.   Steve Chappell's book A Timber Frame Workshop is a pretty good summary of the craft circa 1995.   Most of the tables for load bearing are for North American species so they may not be useful to you.  

Your other question about attaching a structure to the top of your brick walls...   you definitely want to firmly attach any wood structure to the bricks.   I would embed hooked threaded rods at least 6" into the masonry, about 6'-0" oc.   You don't want to rely on gravity to hold everything in place, especially since you mention strong winds.
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