Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly do you provide?
We specialise in the design and manufacture of the structural timber frame element of your building. By using mastered traditional techniques we produce exceptionally crafted timber frames which many others try to imitate.
What this includes is the following; Drawings, manufacture of frame, supply of timber, delivery, assembly & fixings. We can also help with planning drawings and conforming with current building regulation standards.
To summarise, what we provide is Carpentry, not Joinery.
We believe the design of the timber frame is key to the overall look and function of the building, therefore recommend you get us involved very early in the design process. If not already supplied by an architect, we can also supply drawings for footing plans, wall sections & roof sections. We consider the design of these details key to the overall finish and quite often will supply them inclusive to the frame plans.
How much will it Cost?
The average cost of an oak frame is not calculated by the typical square metre system used for estimation. This is because the variation in detail can be huge. Typically the cost is proportional to the volume of timber and quantity and complexity of the joints. A simple frame may be just 10% of your budget, yet a fully featured frame may be as much as 40%.
What about the other building services?
There are many other trades that you will need to consider to complete your build, such as; bricklayers, general carpenters, roofers, plumbers, electricians etc. Depending upon whether you are self-building or would prefer a ‘turn-key’ package, we can recommend tradespeople to help you see the project through.
When can you start?
Be realistic: If you are planning a build that requires planning permission, you will need to plan ahead. Typically our schedule is booked up for six+ months ahead, so calling in January hoping for us to start in April may not be an option. We’d suggest anyone that can help at extreme short notice may not be the right person for the job. There are several factors that will delay progress, please read the process section below.
Be organised: If you are planning to project manage yourselves, get all your trades primed in order to streamline the process, the sooner an oak frame is closed from the elements, the better.
I called/emailed but you have not got back to me recently?
Please bear in mind that we get quite a few enquiries, some serious, some just asking advice and others simply going through the motions of a fantasy! We endeavour to communicate as best we can, but it is impossible for us to distinguish between serious enquiries and pipe-dreamers. So apologies if you are awaiting a call/email, please get back in touch.
Please also consider that a properly planned large frame may take up to a year (on average!) from getting in touch to us having a suitable slot for production.
What is your process?
Preliminary meet and design
Typically we arrange a meeting to assess the site and discuss ideas / look at drawings you may already have. We then supply (free of charge) some preliminary isometric drawings of a potential frame design. We offer you a chance to feedback on the design and modify accordingly.
At this stage we can accurately price to the design we have given thus far. We will provide variations on design and price to allow you to get an idea of how costs changes with detail.
Depending on the scale of your project, you may need to have structural calculations made for beam sizes. This is a requirement of building control. This is an additional service which we can supply, the cost of which depends upon the size of the job. Though we use experience to judge timber sizes, sometimes the structural engineer will increase sizes which will have a small impact on overall cost..
Revise design and order timber
We will have a final meeting where the design is modified to suit any structural changes and further aesthetic tweaks. The design is finalized and the timber placed on order, the timber has to be cut to a precise cutting list, so expect to wait a little while.
Make frame & assemble / raise
Depending upon the size of the frame, this process may take up to 2 months. If it is a large frame we will bring in extra help so that the frame is cut in good time, limiting shrinkage before being assembled. Assuming the footings are ready, raising only typically takes a few days.
What if I need to delay?
Don’t worry, being a small business, we are happy to work to your schedule without any penalties. Though it may not be possible to delay to your exact time-scale as we may have allocated time in the calendar for other frames.
How does the timber look?
Timber comes to us from the sawmill with a rough band sawn finish, with the odd scuff and ding where they have been handled. The timber is quite soft and susceptible to damage. The majority of customers prefer the this ‘raw’ finish but also arrange for it to be cleaned when the frame has been raised (see options below).
If you are after a much cleaner finish then machine planing is the way to go. Planing brings out the grain and leaves a very clean, almost clinical finish. This would be done before the frame is raised, but is still vulnerable to staining. This type of finish is very typical in joinery. There are variations on this theme; such as having the whole frame hand planed or go one better and get it hewn!.
Tannin staining is likely to occur after a frame has been erected and is exposed to rain. Water draws out the tannic acid from the oak, surface dust and small checks, which subsequently reacts (particularly with traces of mild steel) and causes dark brown staining. This tends to get worse over time and lower down the structure where the concentrations increase. Exterior surfaces will in time clean up in the open air (UV degradation, weathering). Special care to protect bricks and mortar must be taken as these porous surfaces are very hard to clean. More on finishes here.
How can I clean the frame?
We do our best to bring the frame to you as clean as possible. Any heavy staining or marking is removed when being cut in the workshop. Light pencil marks, feint ink lines and some required carpentry marks may be visible. It is very likely the frame will get further marks, dirt, water staining etc whilst the build is in progress. We would recommend cleaning the frame at the right stage within the build process.
Washing / scrubbing
If the frame has light water marks and a few stains, just washing with soapy water is very effective. This does require considerable ‘elbow grease’ so roll up those sleeves! We have found that pressure washing is also very effective, though can fluff up the surface slightly.
Similar to sand blasting, but much more subtle. Using crushed limestone as the medium it allows the gentle removal of marks, staining etc without turning the timber into driftwood! This can leave the surface whiter due to residual amounts of lime dust. *warning* – do not oil the frame afterwards as this may cause a reaction making the oak go very dark.
Dry ice blasting
As above but really expensive and not really that effective. Very good for light conservation work.
Oxallic acid is a liquid that is diluted and painted on the surface. The acid neutralizes staining and ink lines/carpentry marks etc. This is time consuming, but does not damage the surface texture. This is extremely toxic to the human body, use with caution.
We have been experimenting with steam cleaning. This appears to be effective on tannin stains, but tends not to unify the colour as effectively as a more abrasive method.
Though aggressive, belt sanding the face of timbers will no doubt remove stains and marks etc, but does leave a dull finish and is very time consuming.
Of course a combination of the above options may give you the results you desire. We have a full selection of sample finishes at the workshop.
What about surface finishes?
Various oils are available, such as linseed oil, tung oil or preferably a blend of oils know as ‘hard oil’ or ‘danish oil’. Oiling the timber will provide excellent protection from future staining and make for easier cleaning. Though, depending upon the blend and brand, will alter the colour of the oak. It tends to yellow the timber slightly, especially if linseed oil is used.
It is possible to apply a wax by hand to a smooth finish (planed), but very time consuming. Any lightweight furniture wax would be suitable. The alternative is a liquid based wax, such as carnauba wax. When painted on, this wax is absorbed and dries to a neutral finish.
Go on, paint it all gloss blue!
Will it get attacked by woodworm?
Oak, Sweet Chestnut, Larch, Red Cedar are just a few varieties of timber that are naturally resilient and durable to fungal and insect attack. This is why there are tens of thousands of oak frames standing from the medieval period. Though typically the sapwood and bark are not durable, especially when green. When the frame dries out, it makes the timber very much less attractive as food and subsequently any guests leave. Sometimes our timber contains live larvae, we will try to orient the timber in order to hide any holes. We tend to advise against nasty chemicals being applied to the timbers surface, after all you are likely to rub it onto your hands etc at some point. Please speak to us about treatment if you are concerned, though an exposed timber frame house may not be for you! The forestry commission have a great website about it here.
Someone down the pub said when it shrinks it will pull itself apart! we hope not!
Typically the timber will shrink by 10% across the grain at a rate of 1 year per inch. This means an 8” (200mm) square timber will take about 8 years to fully dry. Though in a dry modern house you may be able to half this figure. The effects will be dependent upon how the building envelope has been designed. For example, if a plasterboard wall butts up to the side of a post, expect a gap to appear and after a few years be as much as 10mm. There are ways these visual effects can be minimised, please speak to us when designing your frame.
It’s also worth bearing in mind the timber does not shrink perfectly uniformly, it may twist, warp and check (split) in completely unpredictable ways. Part of the framers craft is to orientate the timber with all these factors in mind when making the frame at the workshop.