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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


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.


Shaping a Jowl Post

One of the first jobs on any new frame is to shape the jowl posts.

This is where the top of the main posts are flared at the point of intersection with the wallplate and the tie beam to the create the “English Tying Joint”, an ingenious medieval joint that holds the truss onto the main frame and stops the posts bending outwards under roof loads. All a little bit technical I know but the point is to use the natural curved grain of the timber which forms at the bottom of the growing tree and to stand the post on it’s head.

We used to cut the jowl with a chainsaw but now use a snazzy portable bandsaw, following the grain for maximum strength, creating a wonderful distinctive sweep.

Jowl Post


Jowl Post


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


Wood and Steel‏

Wood is such a deeply tactile and pleasing material to work with, full of interesting features, anomalies and imperfections. Unusual grain patterns, colours, knots and twists that all trace the timber back to a living and growing tree.

Contrast the sawn surface of green oak with the clean, phentermine med sharp, smooth and surgical lines of stainless steel makes for a magical combination. These oak and stainless steel trusses were designed by local structural engineer Donald McIntyre as part of a new build on the Isle of Wight, and fabricated here at Castle Ring. http://www.donaldmcintyredesign.com

Donald McIntyre and Castle Ring Oak Frame steel timber frameDonald McIntyre and Castle Ring Oak Frame steel trussesDonald McIntyre and Castle Ring OakCastle Ring Oak FrameWood and Steel timber frame

The Lightning Scarf‏

When purlins meet on the principal rafter, the timber framer needs to find a suitable joint that strikes the right balance – take too much out of either structural member and the roof might fail. No pressure there then….

The lightning scarf can be a good choice if the purlins are trenced down onto the principal rafters. It’s a classic scarf – a means of joining one timber to another along their length, and of course it’s also an opportunity not to be missed to show off with a bit of snazzy carpentry.

Scarf timber frame Castle Ring Oak Frame

Here are a shoal (collective term?) of lightning scarfed purlins waiting for assembly in the workshop, and one joint temporarily pinned with podgers.

Castle Ring Oak Frame Workshop


Purlins timber frame Castle Ring Oak Frame


Jack Rafters

Rafters usually span from the apex of the ridge to a connection on the wall plate and are designed to support the roofing material – slate, tiles, shingles etc. When a roof has hips, some of the rafters are shortened to land on the hip rafter – these are called jack rafters. They can either be designed to attach into the side of the hip rafter, or to connect to an opposing pair on top of the hip rafter.
Either way you are going to have to get your calculator out, dust it down and remember how to operate the trigonometry functions.

If only I’d paid more attention in maths lessons at school all those years ago. I didn’t realise that it was actually going to be useful for something one day!

Check out these douglas fir hip rafters on our new cartshed.

Castle Ring Oak Frame


Hip Rafters

When your old hips are worn out you need new ones. You can get them replaced on the NHS of course, or you can come to Castle Ring for a truly bespoke service for hips in oak or douglas fir that are guaranteed to see you out. No anaesthetic required.

Green buildingHip rafters are the 2 diagonal timbers that stretch from the ridge down to the corners or the frame. The jack rafters either bear onto the hip or they attach into the side.

Eco HouseString lines, sliding bevels, a sharp saw and a clear head are essential elements that all need to come together at the same time.

Eco House Oak Frame