Timber Frames: The Fabrication Process

At Mid-Atlantic Timberframes, we insist on using the best-grade lumber available. All of our timbers come from sustainable, well-managed forests, and we use a variety of woods for our homes and timber-framed buildings — mainly Douglas fir, eastern white pine, red cedar, and oak. Each species offers unique character, from the beautiful grain to natural aging, and we handcraft our timber frames to suit the needs of each client with a style that appreciates fine detail and superior quality.

But how exactly do these sourced timbers arrive in Paradise, Pennsylvania, and then make their way to your project? What does the fabrication process look like for our timber frames? And what sort of tools and machines are involved in developing detailed drawings into the perfect timber frame project for you?

For the purpose of this blog, we’re going explore the step-by-step process of how our timber frames are fabricated. Our hope is to illustrate the great deal of care we take in not only sourcing the best possible timber out there, but also producing and fabricating a top-quality product to exceed our customers’ expectations.

  1. Arrival & Sourcing

To begin, all of our timbers are sustainably sourced and harvested from the Pacific Northwest here in the United States. The timbers are then delivered to our facility in Lancaster County via railcar. Railcars can hold the equivalent of four truckloads, and during our busiest times, we receive up to two railcars a month. When the timbers arrive, they are simply square rough-sawn beams. Rough-sawn timber is wood that is cut to a basic size, with edges and sides that have not yet been smoothed. On average, we process over one million board feet of timbers in a year. For some perspective, that’s equivalent to 15-plus railcar loads or more than 60 truckloads! 

  1. Planing & Surfacing 

From there, the beginning of the fabrication process starts, with each timber planed to a desired size. A planer prepares wood by smoothing out a beam’s edges and sides to straighten and level them, and it eliminates splinters. Timber frames should be even all around. Our planer is from the 1920s and is capable of processing timbers of all sizes. Interested in seeing it in action? Click here!

  1. Design & Fabrication

After planing, the timber frames move to the CNC machine. The CNC machine provides the most versatile and accurate joinery, reduces costs and waste, and increases overall efficiency. About 99 percent of our timbers are cut by CNC machine, with the exception of large laminated curves. 

At this step, design plans for projects play an essential role, determining timber dimensions, post lengths, and truss configurations. Beams must be marked and double checked to make sure they match the plans before the cuts are made. Each project that comes through our doors is designed or reviewed by our in-house team to ensure every joint in each beam is closely evaluated to withstand whatever forces it may be subjected to, such as snow loads, for example. 

Our CNC machine can handle a large volume of beams each day. For simple rafter or joist beams, more than 100 beams can be cut in a day! Take a closer look at how our CNC machine makes the necessary cuts.

  1. Fitting & Finishing

From there, the beams are then finished with either an orbital sander or a rougher head finishing process. Then the timbers go through test fitting for our quality control evaluation. Because we utilize traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery, we must check the configuration and assembly to ensure each joint is a tight fit and has been cut correctly. If a client has requested a stain for their timber frames, it’s at this point that any pre-staining is included as well. Watch timber frames go through our quality control and hand finishing process.

  1. Packing & Delivery 

Finally, once every beam has been cut, double checked, and expertly finished, it’s time for delivery and installation. A project manager coordinates the delivery and timber erection process for all of our projects. The timbers are marked and separated into bundles to minimize moisture accumulation and mold growth. All the bundles are then shrink-wrapped to protect the timbers during storage and transit to job sites, and then they’re on their way for a timber raising to be someone’s next home, party barn, or pavilion. 

We have a team of highly skilled professional timber frame designers ready to assist you in designing as well as developing your timber frame plans for production. You can rest assured that a Mid-Atlantic Timberframes professional will be there to walk you through every step of the process — from initial design to final inspection. Contact us to discuss your project and learn more about the timber frame fabrication process.

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