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Timber frame house – from Welsh Borders to Scottish Borders

Last week Jake, Sylvan and I ventured to the border with Scotland to put together a large house frame we have been building for Andy and Sue a couple of miles from Gretna Green.

Castle Ring Oak Frame workshop Presteigne

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Rob and Alithea Dawson Castle Ring Oak Frame

The oak frame stacked and ready for collection here in the yard at Castle Ring

As usual with frame raisings, as the time approached, so our apprehension grew. So many things have to come together for a raising that at times it feels an almost impossible task. Will the groundworks be accurately set out to receive the frame? Will the scaffolding have been erected correctly? Have we made enough oak pegs?

oak pegs timber frame house

700 oak pegs laid out to dry

Have we remembered the oak pegs? Will the crane turn up? Will the weather be kind to us? Would there be any tea and biscuits? See what I mean?

We motored past the Lake District along the M6, taking in the spectacular Cumbrian scenery, and arrived on Monday evening in time for a quick site inspection with Andy and Sue, ready for an early morning start the next day

You’ll be pleased to know the groundworks were spot on, the scaffolding perfect, and the oak had already arrived and been offloaded. So far so good

Next morning the crane arrived with Graham our operator for the next 2 days, and we ran into our first real issue – the crane’s stabilising outriggers on the one side were pushing through the stoned ground and disappearing into peat bog! If we couldn’t safely stabilise the crane, the frame wouldn’t go up. We needed railway sleepers. Lots of them. Strangely and fortuitously enough, Andy had an impressive railway sleeper collection in his garden which we were able to pilfer, and we kept stacking them below the crane’s outriggers until they stopped sinking. We had lost valuable time at the start of the day, but at least we could begin to assemble the frame

The weather was set fair, we pinned up the drawings, sorted out the multitude of curved braces and made a slow and steady start. As is usually the case when we raise frames, taking photos of progress gets forgotten due to time pressures and our frame sequence generally follows the same pattern 1) picture of open site ready for frame 2) picture of completed frame. This frame was no exception

So here’s a picture of the scaffolding….

Castle Ring Oak Frame

And 3 days later, here’s the completed frame:

In between times we lifted in bay posts, girding rails, floor beams, wallplates, trusses, floor joists, purlins, ridges and rafters, at times in the dry, but more often than not in the driving rain. By the end of the first day we had raised the main frame including the trusses, on the 2nd day we lifted in the double purlins and ridge using the crane, along with all the floor joists by hand, and finished knocking in the 700 oak pegs. By mid afternoon on the 3rd day we had fixed the common rafters to the roof and invited Andy to “top out” the frame with an oak branch scavenged from a nearby hedgerow.

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Jake sorting out the numerous braces

Double jowled ground floor post with multiple braces

Oak frame house

More rain

Oak floor joists

Floor joists dropped into their housings

Castle Ring Oak Frame Rob Dawson

Making a start with the rafters

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Andy helping out on the roof

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Chunky curved sling brace in the master bedroom

Rob Dawson timber framer

Rob fixing the last rafters

Castle Ring Oak Frame Welsh Borders

View through the upstairs

Topping out timber frame oak

Andy and Rob topping out the frame

Castle Ring Oak Frame

The roof is done

Oak frame house

View from the top

Sue kept our spirits up and our soggy bodies going throughout with a constant supply of bacon butties, cups of steaming hot tea, muffins, scones, tea cakes, haggis (yes really!) and best of all, the amazing, never to be forgotten self-filling box of chocolate biscuits, which replenished itself constantly and mysteriously for three whole days.

Jake Castle Ring Oak Frame

Timber frame

The magic chocolate box – every frame raising needs one

Thanks to Andy and Sue for their kind hospitality and for giving us the opportunity to play a part in building their new home


Outside of the comfort zone

Sculpture project for Studio Morison

We are timber framers. We generally work in a warm and dry workshop with a more or less flat floor, more or less square and straight timber, interpreting more or less decipherable frame drawings that have been prepared in autocad by a more or less qualified frame designer, building more or less recognizable traditional buildings with walls and a roof.

We are definitely not sculptors. Oh no.

So, imagine our surprise when Ivan and Heather Morison of Studio Morison contacted us to see if we were interested in building a large roundwood sculpture that they had designed and which had been commissioned for a new amenity space near Cambridge.

How large? What? Where? Why?

Our curiosity got the better of us and we made the mistake of taking a trip to the Morison workshop in nearby Weobley to meet Ivan and Heather to talk things through. We looked at their plasticine scale model, inspected the debarked chestnut logs coiled and stacked expectantly outside, scratched our heads and ended up feeling excited by the whole idea.The bait had been set, and before we knew it, we had shaken hands and agreed to fabricate the “Bronze House” – it even had a name…


This was of course the key question that now started to occupy our minds. Night and day. Thinking about constructing a 9m tall structure out of seriously wonky roundwood ended up being quite stressful but with the help of Greg Cohen, the responsible structural engineer, we came up with what felt like a suitable theoretical jointing method. Now we just had to put it into practice.

sculpture Studio Morison Castle Ring Rob Dawson

Castle Ring Oak Frame round timbers
The timbers were duly delivered to Castle Ring for fabrication (a mere 25 tons in all) and we were confronted by the enormity of what we had undertaken. In reality however, making a start meant we could stop worrying and start doing. The sculpture is based on 4 tripods with a dozen or so connecting timbers all of which had to be positioned to match the model. This was critical for the final positioning on site in Cambridge.
So we picked the first tripod. We created a flat on the first log with a chainsaw and planer, and laid up the second log so that we could scribe shoulders and a tenon. The mortice and tenon is secured with oak pegs and reinforced with stainless steel rod, washers and nuts. Now things got trickier as we had to find a way to correctly position the foot of the 3rd leg relative to the other 2. Up in the air! All this before we could scribe and cut the joint. As you can see we used the telehandler for lifting, with ropes tied to the correct lengths at the feet to form the base of the pyramid.
Castle Ring Oak frame
Rob Dawson

Castle Ring Oak Frame Castle Ring Oak Welsh Borders Oak Framers Herefordshire Jacob at Castle Ring Oak Frame timber

Studio Morison sculpture Castle Ring Rob Dawson

It worked!

With the 4 tripods now jointed on the ground, it was time to think about erecting them in the yard so we could continue working on the connecting timbers. We booked a crane, 2 telehandlers and a cherrypicker and prayed for a calm clear day, not always a given at the beginning of November…. We got lucky, and were able to successfully assemble the tripods in the air, taking care to brace the feet with 6″ x 2″ timbers to avoid stressing the joints. The tripods were then lifted independently and repositioned relative to each other. I’ve got no idea what the neighbours thought we might have been up to….. Castle Ring Oak Frame Castle Ring Oak Frame team Rob Dawson With the fundamentals of the structure in place, we could now focus on jointing the upper connecting pieces in place. Everything so far had taken place with the security of the earth beneath our feet, but now we had to step even further outside of our comfort zone with scribing and jointing happening 30 ft up in the air. Painstaking and dangerous work for sure, but slowly, piece by piece the sculpture took shape and 2 weeks ago, we were able to show off our work with an open viewing attended by over 80 interested and inquisitive spectators. Rob Dawson timber framer chestnut round timber The Bronze House sculpture wood Castle Ring Oak Frame chestnut timber Rob Dawson Ivan Morison sculpture timber frame Oak frame workshop Castle Ring Oak Frame sculpture

We’ve enjoyed making it, living with it, walking underneath and round it. It’s been all consuming at times and has pushed us far beyond our normal physical and technical limits. But we did it, and the warm glow of achievement hasn’t quite worn off yet, even though it was dismantled recently to begin it’s final journey to Cambridge. If you’d like more info on the project and where it’s going, head to Hobson’s Square in Cambridge.
Special thanks to our brilliant photographer Alex Ramsey for finding the time to capture it before it disappeared – his wonderful photos are here below and top image:
Alex Ramsay
20 Alex

Alex Ramsay Alex Ramsay sculpture


UPDATE – May 2017

The Bronze House – raised!

Last week we went to Cambridge to raise the sculpture which we built for Heather and Ivan Morison. The chestnut timbers had been scorched by the Morisons with a giant blow torch, then tarred and finally rubbed down by hand with a wire brush. The large-scale public sculpture was raised on Hobson’s Square, Trumpington in Cambridge. It sits at the centre of the square referencing the Bronze Age archeology found on the site.

Castle Ring Oak frame studio morison cambridge

Castle Ring Oak Frame sculpture

Bronze house cambridge sculpture

Studio Morison Cambridge


Retired? Not likely!

An oak framed barn in Herefordshire

A couple of weeks ago we put up a glamorous rural tractor/storage shed near Leominster in Herefordshire, a stone’s throw from our base at Castle Ring. Richard and Christina commissioned the frame as part of ongoing work and projects associated with their house and grounds. Most people of Richard and Christina’s age might possibly be winding things down and heading for beige knitted tank tops, but not this intrepid couple. Both were positively excited and energised by the whole idea of an oak framed barn to home their vintage Massey Ferguson and visited us in the workshop to see at first hand their frame being built.

Timber Frame Barn

Day one

After a couple of weeks in the workshop we were ready for the frame raising in the corner of their bountiful orchard of apples, pear and ripe plums. Christina had given strict instructions to preserve, if possible, a delicate fruiting apple tree right beside the foundations. Would it survive the rigours of a Castle Ring raising? Would there be any apples left by the time we’d finished?

The frame went up smoothly and by 4 o’clock we had finished the main 2 bay structure, complete with a joisted floor platform, single purlin, ridge and windbracing.

timber frame barn

oak frame barn

oak frame

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Christina and Richard kept us plied with tea and home made cake, which along with all the fruit in the orchard meant we could barely move all day.

Day two

We were more than happy to return to finish off the roof the following day, which involved fitting the common rafters ready to receive the roofing batten and slates.

common rafters oak

oak timber frame barn

timber frame barn by Castle Ring Oak Frame

A lean to structure at the rear of the  building will be used to store and dry logs. A stone “staddle” or plinth was still being sourced for one of the posts, so we made do with some temporary blocks of wood.


By early afternoon we had “topped out” the frame:

topping out a timber frame

…managed to not kill Christina’s precious apple tree:

timber frame barn in orchard Herefordshire

 …and Richard and Christina were chilling out in their stunning new barn. 

We enjoyed the whole experience as much as they did and look forward to seeing the the barn finished. But please. No more plums!


The Bromyard balcony

An Oak Frame balcony

A recent project: the “round the corner” balcony for a new build in Bromyard, Herefordshire, which featured the longest scarf jointed plate we have ever made here at Castle Ring. The house has a contemporary split pitch roof design with lots of modern features. 

3D model of the frame –Oak balcony timberframe

Before we started work on the balcony the builders prepared the bases for the concrete staddle stones and posts. Galvanised brackets were built into the wall to receive the tie beams – this means there are no posts against the wall. The brackets have to be millimetre perfect for the balcony to fit. You can’t tell, but behind the camera there’s a lot of stress going on at this stage!

Balcony oakframe oak frame

Work begins in the workshop. Here’s Rob chisel marking the joints.

chisel marking

Cross frame “3”.

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Frame “4” with table scarfed plate, post and curved bracing all held together with podgers:

timber frame podgers

Possibly the longest scarf jointed plate we have ever made – over 16m! Poking out the workshop here at Castle Ring:

scarf joint timber frame

Balcony scarfed wallplate with rebate. Notice the central mortice which receives the tie beams from the top of the post to the wall bracket:

timber frame joint carpentry

Wall frame of the balcony finished and ready to come apart for the raising. We left the posts long so that we could cut to length according to the “staddle stones” on site.:

timber frame oak frame workshop

On site:

Oak balcony

Castle Ring Oak Frame balcony

Table scarf and braces for crossframe 5. Roman numerals much easier to chisel.

Table scarf and braces for crossframe

The neighbour’s development with a balcony we supplied a few months previously:


The balcony deck will be dropped into the 30mm rebate set down into the oak beams. You can’t see from this photo but the joists drop in with a dovetail joint:

View out from the upstairs living room through the sliding doors.


If you’re worried about the balustrade (or lack of….) it’s going to be made of glass so as not to obstruct the beautiful southerly views of the Malvern hills:



Swansea hipped roof

Some of you with long memories may remember anenormous hipped roof we assembled (in 3 stages) in the workshop a some time back – here are a few reminders:

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Hips and jack rafters

After myriad problems down on the building site, adding up to a full 9 months delay, we finally got to truck the timbers down to Swansea for the raising. It can be difficult, even disappointing, to break the flow from the workshop to the raising as we are always keen to “finish” the process so that we can properly move on to the next frame. Gnawing away is always the thought that the frame might not fit, or that we’ve lost some vital components somewhere amongst the piles of timber filling up the yard…..or more seriously that we’ve forgotten how it goes together!

Before we could worry too much about such trivial matters we had to worry about the rain. LOTS of it. And then some more. We’d been lucky with dry raisings for a while but now our luck had really run out. On an exposed site looking down towards a misty coastline, we took a soggy battering but had to grit our teeth and keep going as the crane was booked for the day. A couple of strategically placed temporary downpipes ensured that we occasionally received a cold spout of water down the back of the neck to keep our squelching wellies topped up to the brim.

Swansea oak frame

Up and over through the mist

Swansea oak frame raising

Somehow we survived and made slow but steady progress, assembling the 4 trusses and craning them over the top of the building to the other side through the mist and rain. The trusses were located onto the oak soleplate on the one side, and into holes cut in the masonry on the other. Four “dragon ties” at the corners provided the base for the “hips” and a beautiful internal feature.

Dragon tie oak frame timber

Dragon tie with simple decorative detail

Fitting the heavy 6″ x 4″ rafters turned out to be harder and more time consuming than planned – in fact a whole day more time consuming, but on the plus side by the time we had finished, it had stopped raining long enough for us to take a few photos of our work.

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Jake and Florian fitting the jacks

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Castle Ring Oak frame

Huge prow ready to be glazed.


Oak truss Castle Ring Oak Frame

Shallow pitched truss with brace to ridge

Castle Ring Oak Frame



A douglas fir timber frame and reluctant machinery

Well we’ve somehow survived our latest batch of raisings – 3 in the space of a week so we thought we’d share with you in a bit more detail what went right and what didn’t, plus what was fun, and what really wasn’t.

We started off with the raising of a douglas fir frame near Knighton, Powys, with the help of our friend Angus from the local village and his telehandler. The 10 minutes drive from our base at Castle Ring was always going to make this raising relatively stress free; knowing that you can realistically forget stuff and get away with it takes a lot of pressure off….and yes, we were half a dozen pegs short at the end of the day, so no dramas.

What went well? The weather (calm and balmy), douglas fir (less than half the weight of green oak so nice and easy on the back), very local (extremely civilised 8.30 morning start).

Douglas Fir timber frame

Nice, light douglas fir…

Assembling the trusses.

Assembling the trusses.

Timber frame pegging trusses

Pegging the trusses

Remembering to install the handrail and balustrade which is part of the frame...

Remembering to install the handrail and balustrade which is part of the frame…

Floor joists in place

Floor joists in place

What didn’t go so well? Angus’ telehandler had a strop and its stabilising feet literally dug its feet in and refused to cooperate from midday. Angus is never one to panic however, and after some grunting and tinkering with a spanner and an oily rag, he was able to temporarily fix the reluctant beast so that we could at least crane the trusses into place.

Lifting the trusses into place

Lifting the trusses into place

We gave up after that and resorted to manpower to install the purlins and ridge. Again we were more than thankful that it was a small frame and that we weren’t dealing with weighty oak.

Douglas fir for timberframe house

Angus helping out after his telehandler woes

Resorting to manpower

Resorting to manpower

When we raise a frame we are generally fairly relaxed about its initial positioning as experience has shown us that we can move it to its exact location at the end of the day. This we do by “tapping” the posts a tiny fraction at a time. Unbelievably you are able to shift a 20 ton frame by an inch or more if you need to.

We expected to be able to do the same with this frame, especially as it was much lighter. No chance. The friction created by the rear and side plates bearing on the masonry walls meant the frame wasn’t going to budge – a bit like Angus’ telehandler. It was stuck fast and we still had 40mm to move! After a brief pow-wow during which we considered ever more outrageous options, including the use of Chinook helicopters, we decided to try and put some tension on the frame.

There were no available trees so we attached a 5 ton ratchet strap to the back of the pickup while we tapped the frame over. It took about an hour, and involved a great deal of jiggery pokery, but we got there in the end.

Gently helping to move the frame

Gently helping to move the frame

Lesson learnt.

Bright orange frame....you can probably see this from outer space.

Bright orange frame….you can probably see this from outer space.


Here’s a handful of photos of this frame in the workshop at Castle Ring:

Douglas Fir timberframe

First crossframe assembled in the workshop with the scarfed soleplate laid up and ready for scribing

Chaos in the workshop as all the component timbers are separated to be tenoned, morticed, drilled...

Chaos in the workshop as all the component timbers are separated to be tenoned, morticed, drilled…


..then it is all reassembled one last time

The douglas fir frame has a fully joisted floor. Here the joists are laid up on the floor beams ready for scribing

The douglas fir frame has a fully joisted floor. Here the joists are laid up on the floor beams ready for scribing




Photo diary – Oak frame house Dinedor

A bespoke oak frame – step by step

It doesn’t look much at the moment but this is the arrival from Normandy of the oak for Dave and Viv’s new house in Dinedor Hereford. A detailed cutting list was sent to Granville Bois sawmill three weeks previously and now we’ve got something to get our teeth into in the Castle Ring Oak Frame workshop.

French oak

It doesn’t take long to unload and there’s a pleasing symmetry about stacking a pile of oak in our own planted woodland here at Castle Ring:

oak for timber frame house

Once we’ve ferried the timber up to the workshop we can begin the process of getting organised for the weeks ahead:

Castle Ring Oak Frame wood

Before we can start the timber framing per se, we spend a day or 2 sorting out the curves. As you can see they arrive “slabbed” through, complete with bark and sap wood….

bark and sap wood timber frame

…so we shape the required curved braces, collars and slings with a portable bandsaw. Care is taken to follow the grain of the timber which maintains the inherent strength of the wood grain whilst adding a unique quality to the curves. On the downside it is backbreaking work!

Using a bandsaw timber frame

Now we can start to lay up the timbers and begin the “scribe rule” process. This is an esoteric and mysterious art that is only revealed to a chosen few……and involves….well I can’t really say. Oh what the hell…., it involves the vertical plotting of the joints of one timber down (or up) into another, usually with the aid of a plumb bob or spirit level.

Lay up scribe rule timber frame oak frame Castle Ring

Here we have started on the first of many crossframes and the collar is being scribed down into the principal rafters and king post.

Cross frame in workshop Castle Ring Oak Frame

Dave and Viv’s design is a “storey and a half” with dormers, which means that the tie beams are interrupted upstairs with a raised collar to allow access through the partitions.

New timber frame house dormer

We cut the tenons with hand held circular saws and the mortices with this nifty beast…the chain morticer! Not to be messed with.

chain morticer

Once the joints have been cut, we reassemble everything to check they fit and that the overall dimensions of the frame are correct. Stainless steel tapered framing pins or “podgers” which act as removable oak pegs, allow us to pull the joints in nice and tight. This joint is a for a floor beam which benefits from a bevelled housing for extra support.

Podgers in timber framing

Almost without realising it things are starting to take shape:

Timber frame Castle Ring Oak Frame

One of the upstairs bedrooms of this 3 bed house has some particularly lovely curved braces:

Curved braces oak frame

After 5 weeks in the workshop the frame is now ready to go to site and is loaded up for it’s final journey from Castle Ring:

Castle Ring Oak Frame

On site Russell Davies from Hereford is manning the crane for the frame raising:

Timber frame raising with crane

Pegging up a feature truss with sling braces:

Oak truss with sling braces

Sometimes it makes sense to put together a whole crossframe rather than lifting in each piece at a time:

timber frame raising

Purlins jointed into the truss rafter with a pegged spline:

Oak purlins timber frame

Taking shape:

Oak frame being raised

Wallplate scarf and cog awaiting tie beam.

Wallplate scarf and cog awaiting tie beam.

This is how far we got by lunchtime:

This is how far we got by lunchtime

The ridge height of the L shaped wing comes in at a lower height.

Oak roof ridge

Roof frame with central purlin, wind braces and ridge.

Roof ridge

Nice view of all the king posts.

Oak king posts

Curved sling braces in the upstairs bedroom.

Curved sling braces oak frame

My feet (not to scale!)

Timber frame raising

Beautiful patterns.

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Topping out the finished oak frame. Dave attaches a fresh oak branch to the highest truss – read more about this timber frame tradition here.

Topping Out Timber Frame tradition

Chatting with Dave, Viv and Jake at the end of a successful frame raising.

Rob Dawson Castle Ring Oak Frame

Raised in a day!

Oak timber frame

“It has been great to work with you. The frame is amazing; far more than we imagined. We are grateful to you for being so helpful, straight forward, flexible and easy to work with – a real pleasure.”
Thank you too Dave and Viv.


Woodturning – timber framing cheats

Finding efficient ways to move big lumps of oak around the workshop is something we take quite seriously, especially as the consequences of not doing so are pain and discomfort, not to mention perspiration and effort. It’s not that we don’t like to build up a healthy warm sweat to keep off winter’s chill on a cold fresh morning………it’s just that sometimes, you just want an easy life!

A large part of the process of timber framing involves flipping over timbers so that we can mark and cut the underside, and then flipping them back again (endlessly). All very well with 6ft studs but not so easy with a 20ft 12″ x 10″ floor beam. Brute force will get the job done (we have the callouses and stretched arms to prove it) but so much easier with some little timber framing cheats.

We use some gigantic spanners to ease the pain, and then as soon as a mortice appears, it’s the perfect place to insert a suitable lever.

Castle Ring Oak Frame


Castle Ring Oak Frame


Castle Ring Oak Frame House


Castle Ring Oak Frame Jacob timber framer


Castle Ring Oak Frame at Homebuilding and Renovating Show at the NEC

For the first time we are going to be exhibiting at the Homebuilding and Renovating Show at Birmingham’s NEC. The show runs from 14 -17 April and we can offer two FREE TICKETS if you follow the link HERE or click on the image below. Come and visit us on stand F103.

Castle Ring Oak Frame Home Building show


Needless to say we have been extremely busy getting our stand prepared and decided to build an entire small oak frame to take with us – photos below:

Castle Ring Oak Frame Cruck

Working on the cruck frame

Cruck frame in workshop Oak Frame

Oak cruck frame

Cruck frame complete



Castle Ring Oak Frame Homebuilding exhibition NEC


All Hands On Deck

Oak framed deck

The stonework at Parks Cottage has recently been completed which means we finally got to install the outside decking area on the south side of the newly built oak framed house

The views down the valley are mildly spectacular on the worst of days, and so when the sun is shining the 30m2 of oak framed deck area is going to be hard to resist

The frame is short and stubby, so as not to require a handrail which would disrupt the views from inside the house……we still just managed to squeeze some dinky bracing in though for stability.

Jake and I installed the chunkily joisted frame on day 1, cutting the posts on site to suit the concrete pad levels.

Oak frame decking
How to lay Decking
Jacob oak frame Presteigne
Oak framed house decking
On day 2 we cut and fixed the dry oak decking boards with a 10mm spacing and 3″ stainless steel ring shanked nails, all piloted. Nice to do really repetitive work for a change and to give the brain a rest!
How to lay a deck
Decking oak framed house Presteigne
decking fixing boards
Decking edges
Like it? We do.
Decking Herefordshire Powys Shropshire
READ Rob’s blogs about the building of Parks Cottage on Homebuilding and Renovating here