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Timber Framing Terms

By Margaux Friant on November 19, 2013

After you admired your first Timber Frame Home or Barn, and became more interested in the craft of Timber Framing and considered possibly constructing one of these beautiful structures for yourself, you probably encountered a lot of terms that you may not have heard before.

In this post, we’ve compiled a list of common Timber Framing terms and definitions so that whether you’ve loved Timber Frames for years or you’re new to this method of building, we can all be speaking the same language.

Timber Frame: A structure constructed using heavy timber that is fitted together, or joined, with mortise and tenon joinery. Timber frames are more complicated and have more intricate joinery than post & beam structures.

Post & BeamLike timber frames, post and beam structures are constructed with heavy timber or logs, but are more simple, using just posts, beams, and rafters.

Timber: A squared off piece of wood that is used structurally.

Bent: A pre-assembled structural framework of beams.

Post: The primary vertical timbers in a timber frame.

Beam: The primary horizontal support timbers in a timber frame.

Rafters: Series of timbers that are used to support roofs.

Brace: A diagonal piece of timber used to support beams.

Joist: Horizontal timbers used to support floors and ceilings.

Purlin: A horizontal roof beam that supports rafters and spans the distance between gable ends.

Chord: The bottom horizontal timber in a truss.

Gable: The triangular upper part of a wall that connects to a pitched roof.

Collar Tie: A horizontal beam between roof rafters that reduces spreading or sagging of the rafters.

Tension Tie: A tension tie is a steel rod that acts as the bottom chord for a truss and allows for large, open, arched truss designs because the rod carries structural loads.

Post Base: The connection between the bottom of the post and the concrete.

Glulam: Layers of 1 or 1-1/2 inch boards that are glued together to form a beam.

Hand Hewn: A beam that has been handcrafted with an adze and a slick to get a scored, decorative texture.

Rough Hewn: Beams that have been reclaimed from old mill buildings and barns.

Rough Sawn: Timber that has not been sanded or smoothed, but is used as originally cut.

Shake: Shake is the separation of the rings in a piece of wood that occurs as the wood dries. Usually found in Hemlock.

Checking: Checking is a long crack that appears as the sapwood of a timber shrinks around the heartwood over time. Checking is not a structural problem and usually occurs only on one or two sides of a beam.

Adze: A tool with a long wooden handle with a steel plate at a right angle used to make decorative cuts in heavy timber.

Slick: A tool used to clean the surface of hand hewn beams.

Truss: A structural framework used to support external loads.

King Post: A truss with a center vertical beam with an angled support beam on each side of the vertical beam.

Queen Post: A truss with two vertical beams that each have an outer angled support beam.

Scissor: A truss shaped like scissors with bottom chords that cross each other.

Hammer BeamA truss with short beams that extend from and transfer loads to the wall and roof. Because the truss transfers its load to the outer walls and roof, it is able to have an open, arch design. The hammer beam truss design originated in old European cathedrals.

Joinery: Two or more timbers that are connected. The combined components of a timber frame.

Mortise: A notch, hole, or cut in a piece of wood into which a tenon is fit to join two timbers together. This is the female part of a joint.

Tenon: The cut end of a timber that fits into a mortise to join two pieces of timber together. This is the male part of a joint.

Dovetail: A mortise and tenon joint shaped like a dove’s tail.

Gusset: A metal plate attached to one or both sides of a joint to strengthen the joint.

There are, of course, many more timber frame terms. After all, this craft has been around for thousands of years. Have questions about any of these terms or about Timber Framing? Submit a question on our Ask the Experts page.

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  1. Sandy Connolly says:

    Holy Moly, great post Margaux, wow! Timber terms all over the place 🙂

  2. Thanks Sandy! So many, but I’m just realizing I left out the terms “thingy” and “whatsie.” Those can be useful too 🙂

  3. shefali says:

    Thank you Margaux, very useful!!

  4. Stephen says:

    adze: usually used for squaring a timber by hand. (watch your toes)

  5. stephen says:

    forgot, those “decorative cuts” are the normal with this tool

  6. Stucco says:

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

  7. Reach us out says:

    One of the most distinctive characteristics of a timber frame is the unique joinery that holds the timbers together.

  8. Timber frames a lot stronger and long lasting, I know of a house that’s centuries old with timber support frames

  9. Timber that has not been sanded or smoothed, but is used as originally cut.

  10. Great article-super interesting thanks

  11. visit us says:

    Thanks for sharing this great article here.

  12. John says:

    What an awesome list of terms! Thanks

  13. Ken says:

    great list of terms. everything was explained very well

  14. info says:

    Great article you shared here. Keep it up!

  15. Very useful information, This will help a lot to explain to customers and new comers, thanks!!

  16. Excellent show of knowledge on timber frames

  17. Timber frames a lot stronger and long lasting, I know of a house that’s centuries old with timber support frames which is really amazing

  18. Great info! We work alongside carpenters whilst Concreting on residential properties in Perth and it’s great to learn some of the lingo, thanks!

  19. Ivy Smith says:

    For those venturing into Timber Framing, familiarize yourself with these essential terms to better understand the craft. Whether you’re admiring your first Timber Frame or planning to construct one, speaking the language of timber framing will enrich your experience.

  20. Understanding timber framing terms is crucial for anyone involved in construction or woodworking projects utilizing timber. From joinery techniques like mortise and tenon to structural components like posts and beams, timber framing encompasses a diverse vocabulary. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a novice enthusiast, familiarizing yourself with these terms ensures clear communication and successful project execution.

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