FAQ with Answers

Dulcimer

This dulcimer and matching case were featured in the first Fine Woodworking Biennial Design Book. The case and body of the dulcimer are made of rare plum pudding grain mahogany. The soundboard of the dulcimer is made of spruce with parchment rosettes.

Why should I choose Royalston Oak to construct my frame?

A good timber framer must have an understanding of the entire construction process as well as timber frame construction. We have been building and designing timber frames for over 35 years and know the “big picture” of home building. We are a small company with a very personal approach to timber framing. The person you talk to you at the beginning of your project will be the one to cut your frame and see it through to raising day. We like to get to know our clients and develop a relationship with them that is professional yet goes beyond the frame to that of a lasting friendship.

How many people are needed to raise a Royalston Oak frame?

A typical timber frame can be raised with as few as three people, one of our supervisors and a crane. We have supervised contractor’s crews, the owner’s friends and family and community volunteers.

What type of foundation is required for a Royalston Oak frame?

Almost any kind of foundation can be designed to support a timber frame at little or no additional cost.

Are solar designs possible?

Royalston Oak timber frames are ideal for solar designs, especially when stress skin panels are used as insulation. The large space between posts allows for open floor plans and encourages natural convection of warm air.

Is it easy to add on to a Royalston Oak frame?

Traditionally, New Englanders often added to their homes in the form of ells, sheds and even barns. Because timber frame structures have widely spaced posts, and no structural interior walls (walls needed to support the frame), it is easy to make additions without having to disturb the original structure. All that is required is proper siting of the house on the land with an eye toward the future.

Are the timbers used in the frame rough sawn?

Each timber in your frame is planed smooth, the edges chamfered (beveled) and then finished with tung oil. The finishing process brings out the strong grain and warm color found in the timber. Our frames blend beautifully with wooden cabinetry or furniture and never has a “barn” appearance often evident in houses using rough sawn timbers.

Does Royalston Oak build the entire house?

Royalston Oak provides a well-crafted timber frame. We use a high grade of timber and our frames will rival the finest wooden furniture. Once our frame is assembled on your foundation a local contractor can carry the project to completion.

How does the cost of a Royalston Oak timber frame home compare to other methods of construction?

We contend that our timber frames, combined with stress skin panel insulation, should not cost more than any other type of construction that is equal in structural and insulation quality. A standard stick frame house will cost less than a timber frame because a stick frame is designed to meet the minimum building code, and standard insulation does not compare with stress skin panel’s energy efficiency.

How is timber frame construction different from other methods of construction?

Timber framing is the ancient craft of building with large section timbers, connected with all wooden joinery. It was used extensively in medieval times all over Europe, and was brought to the new world with European settlers. It died out towards the middle of the 19th century, when balloon or stick framing was developed here in North America. Stick framing was brought about by a need to build houses more quickly, by less skilled hands, at a lower cost. By using dimensional lumber and nails, the need for complex three-dimensional joinery and large section timber was eliminated. Stick framing is not meant to be seen from the inside of the home.

Post & beam construction is often thought to be synonymous with timber framing. It isn’t. Post & beam is heavy timber construction without the use all wooden joinery. Instead, complex joints are avoided and metal fasteners are used to connect the timbers together.

Are there different styles of timber frames?

The New England style of timber framing, which is our normal framing method, is based on a simplified northern European medieval timber framing system. Other European framing styles include the French scribe system, and the German style. In the US a west coast style of timber framing based on the Craftsman/Greene & Greene style of architecture has developed since the timber frame revival of the 1970. There are also regional American styles as well as the Chinese and Japanese traditions of timber framing.

What is a hybrid design?

For reasons of design or budget, some people choose not to have their house designed as a complete timber frame. A hybrid design could be a great room that is timber framed, or just the ceiling of the great room timber framed. One wing or ell of your house can be timber framed. You might decide to timber frame the first floor of your house and stick frame the upper floor. Hybrid designs can also mean the use of a timber frame for part of your house and structural stress skin panels for another part of the house. Structural panels do not require a timber frame. We have also designed houses using structural stress skin panels to reduce the amount of timber frame roof rafters.

Is traditional joinery important?

Royalston Oak uses joints which have been used by craftsman for over 1,000 years. Time has shown that these joints work! Modern engineering and computer analysis have helped us understand and refine these traditional methods. If traditional timber framing is to have a future, it depends on the use and perpetuation of wooden joinery fastened with pegs and wedges.

What are the client’s responsibilities?

You will be responsible for the following:

  • Obtaining a building permit and notifying us of any local building codes that require an engineer’s stamp.
  • Hiring a general contractor for your project unless you take on those responsibilities yourself.
  • Prior to the delivery and raising of your timber frame, your foundation and sub-floor will need to be in place, and properly backfilled.
  • Making sure that there is access for the truck delivering your frame and as well as a crane truck.
  • Providing electrical power at the site.
How long does it take from the start of design to delivery of my frame?

We advise our clients that it will take a minimum of three months from design to delivery of a timber frame to your site. It would be to your advantage to plan ahead. A year is not too much time to allow for planning and frame fabrication.

What will the finished house cost?

The cost of an oak timber frame enclosed with stress skin panels will cost about $35 per square foot of living area. A general rule-of-thumb is that the frame and panel cost may be 25% to 30% of the completed house cost. This is only a generalization and will vary due to geographical area, house design, quality of materials, site conditions, etc. In 2011 in central Massachusetts new house construction cost was about $150-$200 per square foot and up.

Are Royalston Oak frames suited for completion by owner/builders?

A well-crafted timber frame completely closed to the weather with stress-skin panels can be a tremendous head start in an owner participation project. It should be emphasized that all interior partitions/walls are not load bearing. The placement or removal of walls will not affect the structural integrity of the frame. Door and window openings will also not effect the integrity of the frame. Many of our clients have successfully installed windows and doors, put on siding and trim and done interior finish work.

Are Royalston Oak frames engineer-approved to meet local building codes?

A licensed structural engineer reviews all of our frames before final drawings are drafted. We do not order timbers or start production until your local building official has approved the frame plans.

How many days does it take to assemble a frame?

Royalston Oak frames are precision cut in our shop, so that on-site work is reduced to a minimum. This also makes it possible for us to cut and deliver a frame anytime during the year. A finished frame can be ready to erect as soon as foundation and deck work is completed. Even an inexperienced crew can erect most frames in two days. We can erect your frame or provide supervision for your crew.

Is indoor air quality a concern in a stress-skin paneled house?

Stress-skin insulation has shown positive impacts on the quality, comfort and energy savings of structures, but also created the need for controlled ventilation. Many of today’s indoor airborne pollutants can be effectively controlled, actually increasing the comfort and livability of a structure. Mechanical ventilation has been proven effective in mitigating fumes from combustion appliances, radon, formaldehyde and even pollutants such as excess humidity and tobacco smoke. In order to remove the contaminated air, an exhaust system is essential. Typically, that exhausted air is replaced with fresh air from outside the structure.

There are several methods of accomplishing this, and you should consult a local heating and air conditioning contractor about the best system for your home.

Are there any fire concerns associated with stress skin panels?

Fire requires three components: fuel, ignition, and oxygen. Stress-skin panels have no “air” within their solid cores of insulation. The fire cannot “run up the wall” cavity even when balloon framed. Stress-skin panels have passed every standard fire test required of wood based or type V construction. A key element of fire safety is protection of the stress-skin panels and any other underlying structure with 15-minute thermal barriers, such as gypsum wallboard.

What are the advantages of using stress skin insulating panels?

Cutting and fabricating, based on your construction drawings, are done for you in a stress-skin manufacturing plant. That reduces site labor and time building materials are exposed to the weather on the job site. Stress-skin panels are also made in large sizes up to 8 ft by 24 ft so assembly on-site is faster, framing crews are more productive, and the project is dried-in sooner.

How do stress-skin panels compare with other insulation methods?

Stress-skin insulated buildings are vastly more energy efficient, stronger, quieter, and more draft free than other building systems, such as stud framing with fiberglass insulation. Fiberglass is sometimes used for furnace filters because air moves through so freely. Rigid insulation is used as solid component insulation in almost every industry for its inherent efficiency and lack of air movement. These attributes are built right into a stress-skin paneled building. Less air leakage means fewer drafts, less noise, lower energy bills, and a much more comfortable indoor environment.

What is the insulation value (R-factor) of stress-skin panels?

The R-value of a stress-skin panel varies depending on the thickness and type of foam core used. According to a study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the “whole-wall” R-value of a wall with a 3-1/2″ EPS core is 14 compared to 9.8 for a 2″x 4″ wood framed wall insulated with R-11 fiberglass insulation. When the performance of the whole wall system is considered, stress-skin panels perform better than traditional systems because they are manufactured in a controlled environment characterized by uniform fabrication of components without gaps or air pockets.

They are also designed for efficient field installation that reduces air infiltration, and there are few thermal breaks or penetrations in the panels that are typical of wood frame construction

What are stress-skin panels?

The term stress-skin is used to describe a three-layered insulating panel, which has specific structural qualities for strength as well as providing insulation. They are also referred to as SIPs -structural insulated panels. A layer of foam insulation is sandwiched between an exterior sheathing of OSB (oriented strand board) and an interior of gypsum wallboard (sheetrock). Stress-skin panels are a simple and efficient method of enclosing and insulating a timber frame. They are quick to install onto a timber frame because the interior finish, insulation and exterior sheathing are combined and installed in one operation. Stress-skin panels wrap a frame in an uninterrupted envelope of insulation.

This envelope helps maintain a uniform distribution of heat and humidity level, and an extremely low cold air infiltration rate.

Does Royalston Oak supply timber components for conventionally framed houses?

We have provided timber rafters, braces, trusses, and posts for use in conventional house designs. No timber frame job is too small for us.

Will my timber frame change as it ages?

As a natural material, timbers have slight variations in grain and color. Occasionally a crack, known as a “check”, will appear on the surface of a timber. Checking does not compromise the strength of a timber; it’s a naturally occurring feature that can happen when timbers contain heartwood (wood cut from the center of the tree). Checking can also occur if timber is allowed to dry too quickly. The surface of all wood will also darken with age. All wood treated with a clear finish will darken. You can expect the timbers exposed to daylight to darken slightly over time.

What alternatives are there to using “green” wood?

There are two alternatives to using green wood: recycled timber, and kiln or radio frequency kiln dried timber. Recycled timbers have become popular for use in timber frames for environmental as well as aesthetic reasons. These timbers are salvaged from old factories, mills, and railroad trestles. They are often of very high quality and are dimensionally stable from decades of drying. Recycled timbers are the most expensive timbers available at the present time. But the look and beauty of using antique cedar, Douglas fir or yellow pine cannot be duplicated. Radio frequency (microwave) dried timbers are new timbers that have been kiln dried to eliminate the majority of shrinking and checking.

Why is “green” wood used for timber frames?

Timber frames have traditionally been built using green timber – meaning timber that has a high moisture content because it has not been sufficiently air dried or kiln dried. There are several reasons for this tradition: As wood dries it become more difficult to work. Green timber is easier to work with chisels, and other hand tools. Stockpiling timbers until they dry would take two to four years. Most people are not willing to wait years for a timber frame. As green wood dries out it shrinks. We allow for this shrinkage in our design and joinery. As the frame dries, the type of joints we use maintains their tightness. All medieval and new world timber frames used the same type of joints we employ.

Timber also dries and shrinks in cross-section. This results in checking, and will always happen when a timber looses moisture too quickly. The checks do not pose a problem structurally. We help slow the drying process by sealing the end grain of our timbers. We also recommend that the frame not be heated and dried out excessively for one year after it is raised and enclosed. It can be slowed further by not keeping the house too hot and dry during the first year of occupation.

How is timber frame construction different from other methods of construction?

Timber framing is the ancient craft of building with large section timbers, connected with all wooden joinery. It was used extensively in medieval times all over Europe, and was brought to the new world with European settlers. It died out towards the middle of the 19th century, when balloon or stick framing was developed here in North America. Stick framing was brought about by a need to build houses more quickly, by less skilled hands, at a lower cost. By using dimensional lumber and nails, the need for complex three-dimensional joinery and large section timber was eliminated. Stick framing is not meant to be seen from the inside of the home.

Post & beam construction is often thought to be synonymous with timber framing. It isn’t. Post & beam is heavy timber construction without the use all wooden joinery. Instead, complex joints are avoided and metal fasteners are used to connect the timbers together.

Lute

Medieval English style lute built by Tom Musco.  The body is African mahogany, the soundboard is spruce.  The rosette is hand carved into the soundboard.  It is approximately 3.5 inches in diameter.

 
Tom Musco, the founder and principle timber framer of Royalston Oak, began his professional woodworking career as a musical instrument apprentice to Peter S Kyvelos in Belmont, Massachusetts in 1973. Tom spent several years making and repairing a variety of Middle Eastern and Western stringed musical instruments. One of his dulcimers was featured in the first Fine Woodworking Design Book in 1976. Tom and his wife Judy moved to Royalston, Massachusetts in 1977 and began building timber frames, an interest he discovered in a beautiful timber-frame barn on his in-laws farm in Petersham, Massachusetts. His first frame was for his shop and his second frame was for his house. He made furniture and timber frames until 1980 when his shop was struck by lightening and burned to the ground along with all his tools and machinery. He built a new timber framed shop with the help of his neighbors and began timber framing full time. Tom was a founding member of the Timber Framers Guild. He has done workshops in NE ( Pembroke workshop at TFG ) and England. In 1989 Tom and his crew participated in the famous Concord Barn Raising episode of This Old House. He has built timber frames in New York State, the Hamptons, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alaska, and all the New England states except Rhode Island. Tom has crafted almost 200 timber frames since 1977. Tom is also an excellent cook with an interest in food of Sicily, where 3 of his 4 grandparents were born. He has written a series of articles on Sicilian food which you can read at the website of the Umass Journalism in Sicily Program.