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Lancashire Hot Pot – a new oak framed home

Janet and Peter met us at the NEC Homebuilding and Renovating show in 2015 with the vague notion of incorporating an oak frame into a budding self-build project.

Nearly 2 years down the road, we finally delivered their oak framed house from our workshop to Leyland in Lancashire last week, and spent 2 days erecting the fruits of our labour.

By way of introductory context, Janet and Peter are an extraordinarily intrepid couple who (amongst myriad other things), find the time to be practically self-sufficient, have been running a wood turning business for 40 years, and can build narrow boats from scratch to sell on – they have just completed their 4th! All these activities may need to be set aside for a while, as they get to grips with their new project: no doubt they will be launching into as many aspects of the self-build as is humanly possible!

Loaded up at Castle Ring

We travelled up to Leyland on the Monday night and were greeted on Tuesday morning by the clear dry and still weather we had been praying for. We forgot to ask for a bit of warmth and so obviously it was punishingly cold…..but you can’t have everything.

Once the crane was rigged and positioned, we spent a good hour sorting the packs of wood: sod’s law…..everything you need is always at the bottom of the stack, and were ready to start erecting the frame by 10am.

The house comprises 7 crossframes, so we start at one end and keep going until we run out of components at the other. Post, beam, post, rail, post, wallplate, beam, post, rail, wallplate – and of course, not forgetting the braces. Concentrating on one timber at a time can be meditative and helps to prevent worrying about whether you are on schedule or not, and before you know it, there’s a big structure taking shape.

Castle Ring Oak frame

Dropping in a wallplate

Timber frame house

Jake and Sylvan inserting podgers to temporarily hold the frame together

Oak Frame house

Working along the frame

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Mexican standoff

Castle Ring Oak frame

Meeting of beam, post and brace

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Down tools, lunchtime Day 1.

Another of Janet and Peter’s skills was hospitality and we were treated to epic homemade catering fests. Day 1 featured hot dogs, jacket potatoes, baked beans and cheese (perfect for a cold winter’s day) Day 2 was possibly even better – Lancashire hot pot (what else?) all washed down with homemade cake and lashings of hot tea. On Tuesday evening, Rob, Jake and Sylvan were treated to a Lancashire Fondue (?) with various home brewed beverages – cider, strawberry wine and blackcurrant gin!

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Hot Pot – Jake, Sylvan and Shawn the crane driver tucking in.

By the end of Day 1, the main structure was up, and the trusses in place.

Day 2 was equally generous, and we enjoyed the same clear skies and frosty morning. By mid-morning we had installed the purlins, ridges and wind braces. The single storey “extension” was in place by lunchtime and then all that remained was to drop in the joists for the gallery/walkway, peg up and take some photos in the fading light.

Oak framed house

Flying in the purlins

Castle Ring Oak Frame

Castle Ring Oak frame

Castle Ring Oak frame

Oak frame extension

Single storey bedroom extension

Castle Ring Oak frame

Joisted gallery and walkway

Castle Ring Oak Frame

We were sorry to say goodbye and left bearing gifts and fond memories.
Thanks Janet and Peter for a great raising.


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


Building a roof under cover of a ….. roof‏!

Yes, it’s been unseasonably warm, but it’s also been seasonably wet!

We’re thankful we haven’t had to endure anything on a par with Cumbria but close inspection of our feet reveals we are beginning to notice the appearance of webbing between the toes.

We’re grateful to have a warm and dry workshop to float about in and thankfully it’s just big enough to accommodate our latest project, a large, shallow pitched, hipped roof which is to be part of a new build home near Swansea

We can’t get the whole thing in and up in one go so we’ve broken it down into 3 sections for practical purposes

There’s quite a bit of tricky joinery to work out, framing up the “dragon ties”, “hips” and heavy 6″ x 4″ jack rafters, but it makes much more sense to be getting this done in the warm and dry with the advantage of the gantry and block and tackle, rather than on site in the wind and rain

How are we going to get it out the workshop?

Oak hipped roof timber frame


Oak frame hipped roof Castle Ring Oak Frame


Oak framed house


Oak framed house


Oak framed roof Castle Ring Oak Frame


Oak frame hipped roof




Come and build your own oak frame!‏

A few months ago you may remember we travelled down to Essex to add a complicated oak framed extension to an existing cottage for clients Richard and Abby. The raising day had been inked in, cranes, lorries and hotels booked, only for some stormy weather (the remains of a Caribbean hurricane apparently) to scuttle in accross the Atlantic.

There was to be no escape or shelter from the wind, especially as the cottage was on the site of an old windmill, and sure enough we had no choice but to postpone everything until hurricane Mabel (can’t remember what she was called but that will have to do) had blown over. Putting up an oak frame is hard enough without the added excitement of hanging onto wildly swinging timbers 30 feet up in the air.

Everything went smoothly, as I hope you can see from the photos, and Richard (who works in construction) and friendly neighbour Jerry mucked in wholeheartedly with the raising. Indeed, one of the highlights of the trip was the sight of Richard “adjusting” an existing dormer window to make room for the new oak frame with a………… chainsaw!

A few weeks earlier we had been able to witness at first hand Richard’s enthusiastic approach and more refined carpentry skills. At Richard’s request, he came and spent a day with us in the workshop getting to know his frame and actually making some of it! Along with sweeping up sawdust and making the tea, we had him scribing and chiseling out joist pockets for the floor layout.



Drilling Holes

One of the countless ways we manage to turn timber into sawdust or shavings is by drilling holes in it. These are so that different timbers can be joined together using offset oak pegs (a process called “drawboring” – see this previous blog on the subject). Most of the holes we drill are either 25mm (1 inch) or 19mm (3/4 inch) depending on the size of peg required for the forces within the joint, for example whether it is in compression or under tension. All when and good so far ………the tricky bit is being able to drill the hole vertically, through a piece of oak that might be a foot deep. If, using a long auger bit, you get the angle wrong to start with, there is no way to correct it, and it might emerge half way towards the next parish. Not good. That is why all timber framers display a “concentrating” “serious” face when drilling…

welsh oak frame Castle Ring

Castle Ring Oak Frame oak framed house


A Timber Frame Raising (Part 1)

Some of you may remember a house oak frame we put up last summer in Durham from a blog I wrote. Well, recently clients Phil and Kay took a break from project managing the build and sent a stack of photos that they’d collated over the day and a half that it took us to erect the oak frame. I thought it might be a nice idea to revisit the raising and to walk you through some of the typical steps involved. So here goes….

groundwork footings for timber frame Prior to the oak and the crew turning up, the site groundworks have been prepared to tight tolerances to receive the frame, and the scaffolding readied. It goes without saying that the frame and footings must match perfectly. Everything looks good, the site is well organised, and it’s not raining. In fact the forecast is brilliant for the next few days.


Timber frame transport We arrive on site in the evening after a mammoth road trip at the same time as the articulated lorry delivering the frame with just enough light left to unload the 15 tons of oak and barely any time left to worry about whether we have left anything back in Wales.


Timber frame transport Having got the lorry as close as possible, the next hurdle is to see if we can actually get the packs of oak onto site, hedges and trees notwithstanding. Bit of a squeeze but we made it .


Oak timber frame assemble There are over 300 pieces of oak for this frame all of which are unique and non interchangeable, so sorting them out is not only essential, it makes the whole process run much more smoothly. The traditional chisel marks that were applied in the workshop aren’t just for show, they help us to find the right timbers and to orientate them the right way .


Self build timber frame The next morning we’re all on site and raring to go after surviving the night in a dodgy b and b (Tripadvisor has a lot to answer for!) The crane turns up and there’s no turning back. It’s great to get the first piece of oak in place, finally, after months of planning, and months of carpentry .


Timber frame raising Getting the frame started is not easy for a couple of reasons. Firstly, where do you start? It’s important to position the first crossframe posts correctly as they will dictate where the rest of the frame ends up. Moving 15 tons of oak at the end of the job, even a few mill is not ideal. Secondly, it takes a while for the frame to start to be self supporting – and until it is, timbers need to be temporarily secured to the scaffolding.


Self build oak frame Things are starting to take shape now. 2 crossframes are in place, and we are in the process of connecting the 3rd crossframe jowl post to a girding rail making sure we don’t forget to insert the braces in the process. Adding them at the end is not an option! You’ll notice that we temporarily “peg” the joints with metal framing pins until we’re confident everything is in the right place.


Self build oak timber frame Signalling to the crane driver is crucial for fine movements.


Self build timber frame Phil the client (that’s him in red) is keen to get involved in the raising and it doesn’t take him long to start bossing us around – well it is his frame.


Castle Ring Oak Frame Not a lot to say about this one is there? By lunchtime we’ve got all the crossframes up ready for the wallplates so time to kick back for a few minutes. Kay and Phil have a laid on a tasty and wholesome spread from the confines of their onsite caravan. And yes, that is a hot tub.   Read part 2 of our blog (coming soon!) to see whether we end up in the hot tub…


Timber frame videos

A selection of our recent timber frame videos – from frame raising to the Castle Ring Oak Frame team in action in the workshop.


Sex, Lies and Measuring Tapes?

Sex, Lies and Measuring Tapes?

In the workshop at Castle Ring we spend 50% of the time measuring stuff and the other 50% of the time re measuring stuff to make sure it’s right. Building a beautiful oak frame that doesn’t fit would be funny for a nano second and catastrophic for a very long time, not to mention costly.

Finding the right set of measuring devices is therefore critical, and having as many as possible to hand, essential for the mental wellbeing of the stressed out timber framer.

As you can see, Jake and I have embarked on a Tolkeinesque quest to collect as many different tapes and rulers with which to clutter up the workbench. They all have different qualities – weight, colour, length, ergonomic design (whatever that is), imperial, metric, magnetic etc

If anyone else out there suffers from a similar affliction, you’re not alone!

Oak framed house


In defence of green oak

People often ask why it is that we make oak frames out of freshly sawn green oak with a high moisture content rather than using more stable dry oak.

Well, having laboured hard this week over a small glazed gable frame made from bone dry oak, I’m feeling well placed (and motivated) to answer.


Green oak will bend to your will, cleave along the grain, respond compliantly to a reasonable sharp chisel or saw, and pretty much do what you ask it to do. Air dried oak on the other hand will sap your strength, blunt all your tools in a heartbeat, mess with your mind and leave you weeping on the workshop floor in a dusty heap.

Here’s the fruit (dried?) of my labour:-

Oak Frame Gable by Castle Ring Oak Frame


Double Jowl

A post with a single “jowl” is a fairly common occurrence in timber framing (see our very first blog post about the English > Tying Joint ) but a double jowl? Does such a thing exist?

Well yes, although a rare and secretive species, double jowls have been spotted this side of the Welsh border. Usually found in small groups, here we have an example of 5 double jowl posts cosying up to each other.

Castle Ring Oak Frame

The upper jowl or flare is designed to allow a tenon to insert into the tie beam whereas the lower jowl’s purpose is to add bearing support to a heavy floor beam. It also of course adds some beautiful curves to the whole structure which is never a bad thing.

If anyone ever comes across a triple jowl, please send me photographic proof!