One of the most impactful choices you’ll make during the process of building a timber home is selecting the texture of those timbers. While it may not sound as exhilarating as designing the floor plan or choosing a cabinetry style, the exposed frame will have a direct effect on the look and feel of your interior, making texture one of the most important and visible features in the house.
The pressure is on! Fortunately, we’re here to help with a rundown of three popular options and a little guidance on the best pick for your new home’s posts and beams.
Hand-hewn timbers are the grand-daddy of all wood finishes. Before the introduction of sawmills, timbers were cut by hand; trees were chopped down with axes, peeled with drawknives and shaped with an adze or broad ax. The art is still practiced today, and the resulting timbers, with their trademark rustic appearance, are a perfect fit for a mountain-lodge or western-style home. A note of caution, however: In addition to higher costs due to the craftsmanship and amount of hands-on labor, keep in mind that the distressed texture may make it tricky to wipe down dust that could accumulate in the crevices of the wood.
Planed timbers — also known as S4S (surfaced, four sides) — have a smooth, clean finish that makes them ideal where a refined or contemporary style is desired. The wood grain shines with this type of texture, so many owners choose to treat them with only a clear sealant, though their smooth surface makes it easy to apply stains, giving them an edge on color customization over other types of timbers. In addition, they are splinter-free and easy to clean.
If you want your new build to have an instant sense of history and permanence, look no further than reclaimed timbers. Antique wood, with its surface splits, notches and nail or bolt holes, has a mysterious, storied past that infuses any space with authenticity and character. Most often found in hand-hewn or rough-sawn finishes with a worn and weathered texture, salvaged beams are ideal for rustic spaces, though they also can be re-sawn and polished to add subtle architectural interest to more contemporary homes. While some salvaged beams offer enough strength to be used as load-bearing parts of a timber frame, they also can be repurposed as purely decorative elements to add style without the burden and amplified cost of structural considerations. A bonus: They’re an eco-friendly option, as they give new life to old wood.
P.S., On the fence between hand-hewn and smooth-planed timbers? Some companies offer semi-sanded timbers that feature a rough-hewn appearance with intact saw marks but are still relatively smooth to the touch.
See also: Essential Timber Frame Key Terms