WoodCentral's Book Reviews

by Tedd Benson

Taunton Press: 2001
Paperback, 232 pp., $29.95
ISBN 1-56158-608-0

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     Timberframe construction is several thousand years old, according to author Tedd Benson, with one example in Suffolk County, England, still in use after its original wing was constructed in the late 1300s. 'Little Hall' has been continuously occupied for over 600 years.
     Brick chimneys were introduced in the 16th century, and timberframe construction was the standard in home building throughout western civilization, right up to the Victorian era. Then, Benson says, "Corner posts were chopped away, massive summer beams were encased in plaster, and the building's bones were deemed unsightly. This decorative 'cleansing' was coincident with the development of the wire nail, the circular sawmill and rapid expansion to the Amercian west. Stud framing soon took over..."
     A 1970s resurgence in interest of timberframe constructuion has given us soaring, open-beam ceilings designed with 100-yr. old salvaged timbers locked together with splines and pegs. This book is a gallery of fine homes. "Master woodworking skills were needed for the curved cornice-like treatment of a kitchen range hood, with diamond-shaped pegs of end-grain cherry."
     From Nova Scotia to South Carolina to Washington, architects have been redesigning old barns and starting from scratch, cloisterinng those who can afford it in domiciles reveling in the warm glow of wood. In British Columbia stands a 3500 square-foot home on a sloped site, the central corridor stepping down through all the home's living spaces under custom laminated, curved roof joists. The shape and slope of the building required each rafter to be a different length and pitch. The heavy entrance door was set to pivot one foot away from the edge for weight control and balance.
     Benson has gathered stunning examples of this exposed-beam style. Some show international influences in design, but for the most part, North American timberframe design is based on the medieval 'great hall.' "The biggest difference," Benson says, "is light. In timberframe building, the spaces between the timbers are literally framed openings, to be used in a variety of ways without compromising the strength of the structure."
     The book includes black and white illustrations of the basic construction and floorplans, with references to the builders and architects. The color photography is insipiring, and full interior room settings show some beautiful furniture pieces. This is a book to lounge through and wonder at.

. . . Barb Siddiqui