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The Pole Barn vs The Timber Frame Barn

By Caitlin on May 29, 2019

People often call us asking for Post and Beam Barns, Pole Barns, or Timber Frame Barns, oftentimes using the terms interchangeably. While it’s understandable how people could get all the terms mixed up or think they were the same thing, today we’re going to break down the differences between the Pole Barn and the Timber Frame Barn so that you can know exactly which type of barn you’re looking for and can describe it accurately to whoever you chose as your builder or designer.

Read More: Timber Framing vs. Post and Beam Construction


A Pole Barn. Photo By https://www.flickr.com/photos/13384589@N00/ – https://www.flickr.com/photos/13384589@N00/2837721745/sizes/o/in/photostream/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26462722


How Does the Design Differ Between a Pole Barn and a Timber Frame Barn?

The overall design of the pole barn is going to be much simpler than the design of the timber frame barn. A timber frame barn design will incorporate trusses, beams, and posts which are connected using traditional joinery. Traditional joinery involves using mortise and tenons to connect the trusses, beams, and posts together. A truss system using traditional joinery is going to be more complicated and intricate than the design for the pole barn.

The pole barn design relies on Post Frame Building Methods, which involves poles, or posts, that are buried in the ground and used to support the barn. The rest of the pole barn will use some post and beam methods as well as conventional framing methods. The design for the pole barn will utilize smaller sizes of wood than the timber frame barn which will require heavy timber.

Read More: Barn Kit vs. Timber Frame Package


Timber Frame Horse Barn Aisle

Timber Frame Horse Barn Aisle


What Materials Are Used in the Pole Barn vs The Timber Frame Barn?

A pole barn will utilize conventional sized wood, while a timber frame barn requires heavy timber, which is of a much larger size. With a timber frame, you’re able to pick your wood species from Pine to Hemlock to Douglas fir. VTW mostly works with Douglas fir.

The pole barn will use a treated Southern Yellow Pine or treated Douglas fir, and with many pole barn companies, you aren’t able to specify which species you’d like. A pole barn is typically sided with metal, but they can also be done in wood as well. The beauty of the wood is not as important in a pole barn as it is in a timber frame barn because pole barns tend to be bare bones utility buildings where as timber frame barns are show pieces that blend form and function.

Besides the frame of the timber frame barn which is strictly made from heavy timber, the rest of the barn can be made from whatever you’d like whether that includes wood or metal siding or a metal roof.

Read More: What Wood Species Should I Build With?


3D Model of a Pole Barn

3D Model of a Pole Barn.


What is the Difference between building a Pole Barn and building a Timber Frame Barn?

Most pole barns on the market today are prefabricated. Many of the pole barn companies will have a few models to chose from in varying sizes, allowing the clients to pick from a list of designs and allowing the company to make a stock of these designs ahead of time so that when the client orders their barn they only have to wait for shipping.

At VTW, every timber frame barn we make is custom, so the after the client has decided on what kind of barn they’d like, we customize the design and the engineering to our clients’ needs, order the materials, fabricate the timber frame, and deliver it.

Preparing the building site can also be quicker with a pole barn. Most pole barns don’t require a foundation, and the poles are dug directly into the ground. A timber frame barn is a more permanent structure that will require a foundation be poured which is added time and labor.

Once the actual building can begin, a pole barn will be much simpler to erect than a timber frame barn. Using smaller pieces of wood, that take less skill and expertise to connect, a pole barn can be put up by a team of relatively unskilled workers under the direction of a builder or contractor. The final result is a simple utility building used for the storage of hay or equipment.

A timber frame barn relies on age old joinery techniques to connect the heavy timber pieces together and is ideally done by a group of trained craftspeople and skilled timber framers. The final result is a building that is both beautiful and functional; one that can used and enjoyed for generations.


Exterior of Traditional Oak Bank Barn

A Timber Frame Barn by VTW in Oak


What is the Difference in Durability Between a Pole Barn and a Timber Frame Barn?

Often times, “Durability” is in the eye of the beholder. The timber frame barn with its tight-fitting traditional joinery connections, heavy timber components, and solid foundation, will allow the timber frame barn to stand for over 100 years and remain in good working condition. In this way, timber frame barns can become heirloom structures that can increase the value of a property.

The pole barn will be able to serve the purpose for which it was built, for as long as the client needs it to. The pole barn will most likely not last 100 years, but many people don’t need them to. The function of a pole barn is more important than the form.

So when weighing the durability between the two types of barns you really have to think about your intentions for the barn, how you will use it, how long you intend to use it, and what you foresee the long term future of the barn to be.


3D Model Showing the Elevation of a Pole Barn

3D Model Showing the Elevation of a Pole Barn


What is the Difference in Price Between a Pole Barn and a Timber Frame Barn?

A pole barn will be significantly less expensive than a timber frame barn. There are a few reasons for this.

The pole barn kit itself will be less expensive than a timber frame barn package. This is because of the stock nature of the kit as well as the prefabrication. This allows the pole barn company to save costs on design, engineering, and labor.

Because all barns at VTW are custom designed for our individual clients, there are necessarily more costs associated with the design, engineering, as well as fabrication of the barn itself. Our clients receive a building that is made to order, to meet their specific needs.

The materials used for the pole barn will be less expensive than the materials required for the timber frame barn. Often they can be purchased from a local lumber yard. Because of the way the pole barn is constructed, it can utilize smaller pieces of pressure treated wood. Large size timbers and high quality wood is used for the timber frame barn. The timbers are logged and milled specifically for the project and sourced from specialty suppliers.

The pole barn does not require a foundation and that will save on labor and costs as well. The poles that make up the skeleton of the frame are simply buried in the ground. Connecting pieces are bolted to the poles to give the barn its form.

The labor costs to erect the pole barn will also be lower because it will not require as much technical knowledge and skill to erect.

Read More: How Much Does a Timber Frame Cost?


Timber frame detail view

Joinery Detail in a Timber Frame Barn


What are some factors to consider when deciding between a Pole Barn and a Timber Frame Barn?

When considering your options and deciding between a pole barn and a timber frame barn, you should keep in mind what you intend to use the barn for, how much time you have to build, and how much money you’d like to invest in the project.

A timber frame barn is going to be an investment both in time, money, and resources that will enhance the value of your property as well as give you a structure that can be used any number of ways for the entirety of your lifetime. If this is what you’re interested in, and you have all those things to invest than a beautiful, high-quality timber frame barn will not disappoint.

If you have an urgent need for storage, or livestock shelter, or something along those lines and need something quickly for little cost than a pole barn would probably be the appropriate choice. Pole barns fill a distinct and current need for the owner. They will not last forever or stand the test of time and look great for generations, but if you need a quick building for storage or shelter, they will be able to meet your demands.

Interested in seeing more Timber Frame Barns? Check out VTW’s Timber Frame Barn Page.

And if you have any questions about Barns or Timber Framing, comment below or submit a question on our Ask the Experts Page.


  1. Tom Davis says:

    I bought a piece of property that has a foundation that was poured to accommodate an earth home. The foundation has 3 sides and is 40″ deep and 50′ wide. I am wanting to build a timber frame, raised center home on it. The concrete walls would encompass the main living area. The raised center that would have a loft on one end with a gambrel roof. The front wall will be laid up with with a cord wood wall. Could you give e a cost to cut the timbers for gambrel roof and timbers to span the side roofs and purlins for the side roof a d gambrel roof.

  2. Dean L. says:

    You gave a great side-by-side look at timber frame vs. pole barn construction. As pole barn builder myself, I agree with all of your points!

  3. Dyck says:

    I never considered building a pole barn until the other day when a colleague of mine suggested i look into it. There is definitely much to think about here. Thank you for putting out the helpful info!

  4. Could you give e a cost to cut the timbers for gambrel roof and timbers to span the side roofs and purlins for the side roof a d gambrel roof.

  5. homeadvisor says:

    Thank you so much for your time in putting this together. I hope to work on a timber framing project soon.

  6. Thank you for providing a detailed comparison between Pole barn versus Timber Frame Barn. I also loved the fact that you recommended which wood is a better fit to use for each type of barn. Thank you for sharing.

  7. This is such a nice project!

  8. visit us says:

    Great article you shared here.

  9. Much obliged to you for giving an itemized examination between Pole horse shelter versus Timber Frame Barn. I likewise cherished the way that you suggested which wood is a superior fit to use for each kind of horse shelter.

  10. contact says:

    The quality of the materials looks really good.

  11. Mark says:

    I really love the way timber looks and its durability. We recently looked at plans to build a cottage with timber frame. The builder was very experienced and showed us why timber was the right choice. Pole or timber, I think either will work but I like timber a tad better.

  12. Laura says:

    We absolutely love timber frame homes or farms! We just recently completed a solar install for a couple on their timber home. Beautiful property!!

  13. Brahm says:

    Thank you so much for the breakdown and explanation. It seems like context and individual situation is a big factor when considering which material to build with. Both are great to build with but is best determined by how they will be used.

  14. David Cooke says:

    We have built a number of pole barns, garages and ports along with a few timber frame “garages” but more like additional housing lol. They were garages with a whole living/rec area. Pretty neat stuff!

  15. Beka says:

    Thank you so much for the explanation and breakdown. When deciding the content to use, it appears that context and individual circumstance have a significant role. Both are excellent building materials, but their suitability is best decided by how they will be utilized.

  16. Brad says:

    I have wondered what the big deal and difference would be. This really breaks it all down very nicely. Thanks for the solid guide. I’ll keep this in mind for our my parents’ new barn build.

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