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Vermont Timber Works Blog

Heavy Timber

By Sandy Connolly on September 30, 2014

In the building industry, the word timber alone can mean wood used for dimensional 2″ x 4″ framing. In our industry, timber means “heavy timber” and heavy timbers are wood beams that are larger than 3″. Although, we don’t typically see beams smaller than a 6x.

Did you know that a 2″ x 4″ doesn’t measure 2″ x 4″? I learned that one the hard way…..enough about that.

Timber Frame Business Council - Cool Logo!

Timber Frame Business Council – Cool Logo!

Heavy timbers can be rough sawn, hand hewn, or planed smooth.  Rough sawn and hand hewn timbers are named for what they actually measure — an 8” x 8” beam measures 8”x8”

If you prefer a more finished look, planed timber might be your choice.  Unless you ask for planed to full dimension, an 8″ x 8″ with measure 7 1/2″ x 7 1/2″. Sounds simple enough, but if you are unfamiliar with heavy timber construction, you may not know this.

Rough Hewn – Planed and Chamfered – Rough Sawn Easter White Pine

Eastern White Pine and Hemlock are native to the New England area. For many designs, due to engineering requirements, native timbers are not available in the needed size. The trees just don’t grow large enough! In these cases, we order Douglas Fir timber from the west coast.

One way to guess if one species of timber is stronger than another would be to lift a same-size, sample piece of each. The heavier piece would be the stronger timber, because it’s more dense.

Douglas Fir Timbers, Planed and Chamfered

Douglas Fir trees can yield very large logs with various grade options. The grades look different and have different densities. I believe the largest Douglas Fir beam I’ve seen to date was 52 feet long and arrived to the shop on a flat bed. Oversize load!

If a beam is needed in a width or length that can’t reasonably be sourced from a Douglas Fir mill, then glu-laminated beams are always an option.

As always, thank you for stopping by our Timber Framer’s Blog. If you have a timber frame project in mind, or any timber questions, we invite you to get in contact, ask an expert, or share your thoughts in the comment section below!

2 comments
  1. Joe says:

    Interested in basic timber frame planning and low cost steel plate joinery. Seeking help with the engineering plan for a small detached garage.

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