Wood used in our Timber Frames

Wood used in our Timber Frames

North central Massachusetts has an abundance of timber resources. In fact, Massachusetts has more timber land now than it did 150 years ago. Almost 85% of the state is forested; in the 1850 about 85% of the state was farmland. The major lumber species in our area are white pine, eastern hemlock, red oak, and white oak. We have used all of these woods for timber frames. Each have their own unique qualities.

We advocate and practice the use of sustainably harvested local timber and support local forestry and mills. We are fortunate to be in an area of healthy forests and responsible sawmill owners.

The majority of the timber land that produces our timber is privately owned and used for more than timber production. The owners are interested in the long term health of the forest and sustainable harvesting. Massachusetts state laws do not allow clear cutting or high grading of timber.

Eastern White Pine
White pine is the largest growing and tallest native conifer in eastern North America.

It usually reach 50′-90′ high but the first European settlers saw white pines reaching 200 feet and 10 feet in diameter. White pine is very stable and has one of the lowest shrinkage rates of northeastern trees. It is one of the easiest-working woods for timber frames.

Eastern Hemlock
Eastern Hemlock is native to southern Canada, the northeastern United States, and all of the Appalachian Mountains down to Georgia.

It thrives on the north slopes of hills and mountains or tucked into ravines, where there is more shade, cooler conditions, and more moisture in the acidic soils. Size varies tremendously based upon local growing conditions, but in general Eastern Hemlock slowly reaches 70 feet in height by 35 feet in spread at favorable sites. Specimens can achieve twice that size under optimum conditions, When green, hemlock is heavy but works easily, but the knots are very tough on chisels. Dry hemlock is light but difficult to work with hand tools.

Red Oak
The oaks have been key in America’s industrial transformation: railroad ties, wheels, plows, looms, barrels and, of course, furniture and floors. The oaks are by far the most abundant species group growing in the Eastern hardwood forests. Red oaks grow more abundantly than the white oaks. Unfortunately, red oak is not resistant to decay like white oak. Because of its color and strength, it is one of the most-used woods for timber frames.

Average tree height is 60 to 80 feet.

White Oak
White oak is heavy, strong, and very resistant to decay. Its shrinkage rate is v ery high and it is more difficult to work than red oak.

Douglas Fir
Douglas fir varies in color from brown to red, and is available in various grades, from rustic to very clear.

It is also available kiln-dried and resawn from antique and reclaimed stock. It is very strong for its weight, but somewhat brittle.

Southern Yellow Pine
Also known as longleaf pine. It is harder and stronger, as well as more insect and rot resistant than white pine, with a more pronounced grain and darker color. It is available green, kiln-dried, and from antique stock. Old southern yellow pine is in high demand for flooring.

Black Cherry
Black cherry is a very rot resistant wood suitable for sills and exposed beams. In old-growth forests black cherry grows to 3 feet in diameter and over 100 feet tall. The even grain and color make it a good accent wood in a light colored timber frame. We have used it for carved braces and other small timbers.

Yellow birch
This is the most valuable of the native birches. It is easily recognized by the yellowish-bronze exfoliating bark for which it is named. The inner bark is aromatic and has a flavor of wintergreen. Other names are gray birch, silver birch, and swamp birch. This slow-growing long-lived tree is found with other hardwoods and conifers on moist well-drained soils of the uplands and mountain ravines.

All woods will check and twist as a natural part of aging, and from the effects of seasonal humidity. All species benefit from natural air-drying prior to the frame being occupied and heated.

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.