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#6663 - 03/03/99 07:19 AM UK vs. US framing techniques
Jerry Weir Offline
Member

Registered: 03/03/99
Posts: 1
Loc: USA
The US and the UK barely speak the same language and I understand this extends to the native timberframing styles. What is different about UK framing techniques? Why aren't the joints housed? Is it because US framers are too fussy or because they aren't using English Oak?

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#6664 - 03/05/99 12:11 PM Re: UK vs. US framing techniques
Bill Keir Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 02/24/05
Posts: 0
Loc: England UK
Ah the great debate,

This is what Timberframers from both sides of the pond talk about when their paths cross. The pros and cons of Square v Scribe.

As I'm supposed to be the moderator rather than the oracle, I will not attempt to give you the definitive answers here, I would rather invite comment and input from others.

While we are waiting for the great debate to get underway perhaps we could all could do a little background re-reading. One of the definitive texts on the subject is a publication by Jack Sobon called The Scribe Rule or the Square Rule (my copy came via Randy Nash (Guild member of Canastota NY).

One thing you should bear in mind is that over here many of think of our selves as Barn Builders, Timberframers, Carpenters, and definitely not Joiners or Cabinetmakers, (which is how some of our New World colleagues view themselves. I've debated this over many beers with many people and I swear we will never tire of it.


To illustrate this point, I would enclose what we give to all new starters when they arrive to take up a career with us:

"The Village Carpenter" (Walter Rose 1937 ISBN 0 85442 065 7) along with "The Wheelwright's Shop" (George Sturt - ISBN 0 521 44772 0) should be part of every carpenter's tool kit and should be re-read every four years

"The reminiscences recorded in this book are nearly all those of our old carpentry business prior to my grandfather's death in the year 1893. For some of them I am indebted to others who remembered it in its more active days before I was born."

"Some of my father's men never claimed to be jointers and rarely worked in the workshop. Theirs was a ruder kind of craft, woodcraft of the open fields, the hillside and the valleys. I have heard such work contemptuously called "hedge-carpentry", but the slightest knowledge would convince anyone of its value and a little reflection would also reveal that it constituted art, in its natural, simple state."

". . . The work these men did was in perfect harmony with the spirit of the earth, closely allied in nature and quite free from hard and fast convention. The beauty of it was that they men had never learned what is termed the higher order of the carpenter's craft. They continued to work on primitive lines, with the axe and saw, and a few other elementary tools."

"Thus they had never become enslaved to line and level; their minds had not be trained to revolt if their work deviated from the square, or if it was slightly on the twist and the faces of the joints not absolutely flush. They themselves made no claim to art - I doubt if they knew the meaning of the word. But the work they did was part of the beauty of the countryside . . . with the bark left on in places, and the rough knots trimmed with axe or drawing knife."

"These old workmen had never been separated from the land, and so they understood the ways of the farms and the needs of the farmers as no town carpenter could possibly have done. They know from long experience all there was to know about the erection of new farm buildings and repairs to the old."

The tools they possessed were primitive - a good axe and saw, a clawed hammer, shell augers of different sizes with a mallet and gouge for cutting a disk in the wood whether the hole was required to be bored, a few "parsors" (sometimes called gimlets), and a bradawl. Add to these a smoothing plane and a few strong chisels, an iron square, a rule and a chalk line wound on a wooden reel. All these were arranged in a large flag carpenter's basket lined with canvas, in the inner pocket of which would be found a nail punch, a pot of grease for the saw and a file for sharpening it."

"The carpentry of the open countryside ought not to savour too much of the joiner's bench. In fact it is a separate craft and should be kept so."
_________________________
Bill

The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity

While

The Optimist sees Opportunity in every difficulty

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#6665 - 03/12/99 10:10 AM Re: UK vs. US framing techniques
Paul Denney Offline
Member

Registered: 03/12/99
Posts: 3
Loc: UK
In the uk and europe we can trace the progression of timber framing from the iron age to the present day. We are lucky enough to have a wealth of archological evidence which spans many thousands of years. This wealth of knolage is being carried forward and is used every day by framers all over europe.

As most of the early settlers of the US were European it should follow that the framing techniques both in the US and here should be the same. So why is it that the American system is so totaly different? This is the sixtyfour million dollar question.

I shall put forward my own theory, shoot me down in flames if you wish.

From the ice age on the forests of Europe have been affected by the presence of man. First they were cleared for farming and later they became used for ship building, housing, charcoal, furniture, etc, etc. By the time the pilgrim fathers set out for America good quality timber is as hard to find in Europe as rocking horse S""t. Ariving in America the settlers are faced with a continent covered with trees, millions of them (native americans not having much use for them they have survived well). Suddenly there is know need to use every last scrap. All you need to do is knock the corners of and saw your logs up into nice square beams.If you cant make enough square bits from one tree you just cut another one down. As far as I can tell this is still the case today (timber being much cheaper in the states than hear).

Timber in the states also seems to be of better quality (lots of nice tall straight trees).

Both of these factors lend them selves to the square rule system, which was developed (i think) in response to the abundance of free timber.

In europe however, with are small stunted and rare trees we had to use every last bit. Not for us the luxury of lovely straight beams hence the scribe rule.

This may all be twaddle, however I cant think of a better explanation.

Paul Denney


PS excuse spelling, no spell checker.

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#6666 - 03/12/99 11:45 AM Re: UK vs. US framing techniques
Joel McCarty Offline
Member

Registered: 03/13/02
Posts: 344
Loc: Alstead Center NH USA
Paul, I think you are mostly correct; that is, I have come to believe something similar. When the first foreign joiners arrived in the North American forest they probably all had stiff necks and slack jaws from astonishment.

Unfortunately, North Americans still behave as if we had an infinite abundance of tall tress, in spite of our government's (we get the government we deserve) efforts to subsidize the discounted removal of the remainer of the quality forest. It's enough to make a fellow cynical.

Let me correct the impressions advanced in your note about timber quality and cost in the UK. During my recent adventures in Scotland I had the pleasure of discussing these matters with a charming timber merchant or two. After much finger counting and napkin figuring (converting pounds to dollars and cubic feet to board feet) we concluded that heavy timber pricing is at least similar. Either that, or we were the unwitting receivers of a generous mark-down.

As for quality, my Guild brethren share my astonishment at the quality of the oak we were permitted to drag through the mud.


[This message has been edited by Joel McC (edited 03-12-99).]

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#6667 - 03/12/99 11:55 AM Re: UK vs. US framing techniques
Bill Keir Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 02/24/05
Posts: 0
Loc: England UK
I think you have short memorys

10 years ago I was knocked out by the quality of timber you guys were using, and it appeared to cost half of what we had to pay. (and it was 4 sided, and stright, and square, - )

I'm a bit worried that you might have used it all up?
_________________________
Bill

The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity

While

The Optimist sees Opportunity in every difficulty

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#6668 - 04/03/99 02:47 PM Re: UK vs. US framing techniques
Ben Beers Offline
Member

Registered: 04/03/99
Posts: 1
Loc: Washington State, USA
I must comment on Paul's reply about the differences between US and British framing. He mentioned that the American natives did't have much use for the trees and there were plenty left for the European emigrants to use (plunder actually). That is highly inaccurate! The natives used trees for housing, tools, utensils, etc. just as we do today. They just had a respect for nature, and used things from nature in a more sustainable way. As my heritage is both Alaskan native and European (Some direct descendents were on the Mayflower others were enjoying themselves on the Aleutian Islands.), I seem to be drawn towards both styles of using wood.
Here on the west coast their is a rich history of architecture from the native residents. Unfortunatly there is not much interest in understanding it or influence from it in our local building. Most timber framers here are building Eastern style, or European influenced homes. In fact the timber framing community in the US seems to be very driven by East coast ideals.
My new home, which I am currently framing, is influenced by another west coast style, Arts and Crafts. Bernhard Maybeck did it best. I couldn't talk my wife into the long house inspired home I designed for us (Must be her British and Irish ancestry speaking from her bones), But I am looking for that perfect client who would like to have something unique and West Coast Indian inspired.
Also here on the west coast, we have very early British examples of architecture. Here in Tacoma at Point Defiance park, we have an old British fort, with some original buildings still standing. Very interesting timber stave construction, Unfortunatly not getting proper care. Another pursuit of mine.
Well I've rambled on, but I have strong feelings on the subject of native architecture and am sad when it is overlooked, and not remembered. Ben Beers.

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#6669 - 04/06/99 09:56 AM Re: UK vs. US framing techniques
Paul Denney Offline
Member

Registered: 03/12/99
Posts: 3
Loc: UK
Dear Ben

Yes you are quite right Native Americans of course used timber for building, boats, tools etc etc. I think what I was getting at is that they did not use it to the same level as Europeans did ships, charcoal for iron production, very large buildings etc etc.

Good luck with Defiance park.

Regards
Paul Denney

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#6670 - 05/08/99 08:15 AM Re: UK vs. US framing techniques
Paul Price Offline
Member

Registered: 05/08/99
Posts: 3
Loc: Lintrathen, Scotland
A couple of notes to add some points on the lines of Jerry Weir's original question especially in relation to the history of UK versus North American framing techniques.As Paul Denney and Ben Beers note, both Europeans and North American native peoples have been using timber for building for thousands of years and what is interesting is the particular methods, techniques and detailing that are unique to a particular area and time. The fantastic cedar structures of the Pacific Northwest and the great medieval frames of Europe are good examples. The characteristics of a type of building develop initially as a response to materials, tools, climatic, social and economic factors but once they have been found to be effective they endure because they form a successful building system until those factors change drastically. Here in the UK, Richard Harris (author of "Discovering Timber Frames", great little book on UK frames) follows the language analogy in describing a set of "grammatical" characteristics which describe a British carpenter's accepted language, often followed unquestioningly, just like the grammar of our everyday speech, which was basic to the way in which the carpenter went about building. Thus although English timber frames often have very different forms through time which often followed regional boundaries the grammar remained stable throughout much of the history of British framing. For example one of the defining set of characteristics for British frames Richard identifies is the tie beam lap dovetail assembly- the tie beam dovetails into the top of the wall plate and a jowl post beneath frames into both. There are several other points which make up the set. So how long has the timber framing set of languages (using pegged mortice and tenons for construction been about? In the UK, archeology shows that the Romans were building along these lines but then the Saxons, Vikings and Normans came along and none of them did. Instead their wooden building techniques were based on axe and wedge producing hewn and cleft material. Axe cut laps and notches were the key joints and posts were usually earthfast. Recent archeology digging up waterlogged timber structures buried in London mud has discovered that mortice and tenon carpentry only arrives in Britain as of about 1180 after the Norman conquerors have turned into the Plantagenet establishment. As yet no one really knows why which is very intriguing. The key things are probably increased European stability thus trade thus excess wealth to do stuff like gothic architecture, contacts with the Mediterranean where timber framing was perhaps still in use and developing from Roman times, and Arab worlds with their geometry and, who knows, probably scribe carpentry. Anyhow timber framing utilising hewn and, especially, rip sawn squared timbers almost certainly arrived from France where gothic architecture was being invented during the 1100's. Timber frames were raised off the ground on masonry walls and piers for increased durability. These elaborate structures used drawbored M&T joints and pegged laps. This form of carpentry arrived in England changed to adapt to local conditions and then endured right through until the 1800's. Europeans brought their various forms of scribe carpentry to North America and these too adapted again to climate and big trees and mixed to become local carpentry types. Expansion brought demand for barns and houses that could be built quickly and so square rule evolved to simplify timber framing, allowing simple template production of identical braces and studs. As you can work on one stick at a time rather than the full scale 2-D frame layups of scribe its good for small shops and snowy winters. One other big difference between many North American frames and UK ones is the assembly. In England, frames were typically put up piece by piece by a team of professional carpenters who had framed it and knew how the numbered, scribed frame went together. Because of the tie beam lap dovetail jointing the walls were erected first. Only A-shaped cruck crossframes were probably reared preassembled in the way that NA bents were. There was certainly a raising celebration and ale for the carpenters in Britain but not the "Witness" style raisings of NA. In NA, the square rule frames might require only one or two professional carpenters for layout with others to cut the frame and quite often the whole local community to raise them. Again the interchangeability of secondary parts eased raisings. As Rudy Christian says under Timberframe Design: Square Rule Design industrialisation started producing well milled, straight, square timber and square rule gave way to what he calls "mill rule". Soon enough of course there was regularised timber, abundant nails and thus balloon and platform stud framing. (And now CNC framing is changing things again). Back in Britain scribe carpentry gave way more slowly to simple carpentry based on metal connectors and milled timber. Among some of us it's given way to occasional hewing, pitsawing and the joy of real scribe.When it comes down to it of course carpenters are in the same boat wherever they are, its all about using good references to get your cut lines in the right place. [This message has been edited by Bill Keir (edited 05-10-99).]

[This message has been edited by Paul Price (edited 05-10-99).]

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#6671 - 05/28/99 07:36 AM Re: UK vs. US framing techniques
Chris Madigan Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/13/03
Posts: 0
Loc: Alstead, NH
The scribe rule system of building was followed well into the 1800's in the US and the joints used in this system are generally not housed. I have seen major load bearing bent girts (30 feet long) with tapered shoulders, but generally all girts have just a two inch tenon and no housing, even summer beams where the tenon is horizontal.
The "square rule" was developed about 1800 and the first squre rule building which we have been able to find was built in 1801 (identified by Jack Sobon thus winning a free TTRAG conference next year). In the account of the raising of this building the author noted the scepticism which the towns people and especially the older craftsmen greeted this new technique. Everyone came to see the young man fail and were amazed to see the building go together without a hitch and without the labor intensive prefitting of each and every piece.
The key to the "square rule system" is the housing. The post is reduced to a given dimension at the joint location creating a housing which is square to the referece face. By this method it is possible to mathematically predict the length of a girt or brace, and the axis of the shoulder cut. The ends of any girt could then be reduced to a predetermined height so that it was not necessary to fit the girts to complete the mortises in the posts. The housings and tenon sizing are the typical tell tale signs of a square rule building. This would be the first extensive use of housings in timber framed construction.
During the current revival of timber framing in the States it was the ability to have oak timbers planed S4S at the mill which allowed us to predict the size and shape of every joist,purlin, post and girt. This was a huge savings in layout time in the shop as before this we were "mapping" (recording the dimensions)each piece after we had planed the rough sawn timber square by hand using a 6" Makita power planer. It was clear that the timber sizer was better, more consistant and cheaper than we were at this. Prior to S4S timbers all joists and purlins were dovetailed into a girt or rafter. If the girt was out of square slightly the shoulder did not fir tightly. To remedy this we would "kerf the joint". This is a technique of running a handsaw along the face of the girt and guided by the girt cutting the shoulder of the joist or purlin to the dove tail in an effort to get a tight fit. In retrospect the intention was good but the idea was flawed for a number of reasons. First by kerfing the shoulder we shortened the piece changing the length of the building slightly and more importantly we loosened the dovetail. It must also be said that there are dovetails out there that were reduced in strength by an over zealous framer who kerfed too far. The remedy for the dovetail not fitting tightly was to wedge it from above. When the S4S timbers became available we step by step adapted and adopted the "housed dovetail" which eliminated kerfing, was clearly stronger, and moved the visual effects of timber shrinkage from one place to another. So it might be fair to say that the use of housed joinery in modern times is the based partly in available technology (a timber sizer)combined with reasonable efforts to simplify our layout system, an anal desire towards perfection and the natural adversion of the mind and body to spending days "kerfing in a frame".

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#6672 - 06/22/99 05:36 AM Re: UK vs. US framing techniques
Paul Denney Offline
Member

Registered: 03/12/99
Posts: 3
Loc: UK
Dear all

I recently saw a program on the smithfield rifle which may have some bearing on our current debate. It seams that one of the most important factors in the development of mass production (of which the smithfield rifle was the first example) was a lack of skilled craftsmen. As soon as someone was trained they were off into the vast continent to find their fortune (or die trying, as many did).
Now I am not saying that square rule is less skilled than scribe, but it is faster to learn and with nice square timbers faster to produce a frame. Maybe the need for speed (both in production and learning) lead to the adoption of the square rule technique across America? What do you recon?

Paul D

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