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It’s no secret that a structure is only as strong as the materials it is made of. That’s why it is essential that your timber home is made of a wood species that has been tried-and-tested
in the timber frame world — the entire weight of the house (and everything in it) will rest squarely on its post-and-beam system.
Five types of wood have emerged as the front-runners in the timber framing industry: Douglas fir, white pine, red/white oak, cypress and cedar. While each of these species has its own inherent strengths and limitations — Douglas fir, for example is known for structural stability and minimal checking, while white oak is popular for its decay resistance but has a moderately high rate of shrinkage — the Fab Five are recognized as having the qualities needed to produce a lasting, high-quality timber frame home.
But it isn’t just these practical characteristics that should inform your decision about which wood species to choose. Because your timber frame will be on display every day (having a significant impact on the look and feel of your home), it’s essential that the aesthetics of the wood you choose suit your style preferences
. For a streamlined, modern approach, look to the uniform, straight grain of Douglas fir or cypress. For a rustic-cottage appearance, a knotty pine or red cedar fits the bill.
So how do you know which is right for you? “If you get down to it, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer,” says Mack Magee, executive director of the Timber Framers Guild. Because the most suitable type of wood for your project will depend on the specifics of your budget and location — affecting both material availability and climate considerations — it’s essential to discuss your new-home project with a knowledgeable timber framer. Mack continues: “A good timber framer will have worked with multiple species and can walk you through the pros and cons of the various materials.” For more information about wood selection and the ins and outs of timber framing, check out the Timber Framers Guild at tfguild.org.