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2007 Archive

Carpenter Oak & Woodland’s blogs on timber frames, building, design, architecture and timber craftsmanship.

Why oak?

December 04, 2007  · Posted by Andy Parker

It is interesting that so many people specify oak frames for their homes when a number of other equally suitable timbers are readily available. Quite a high proportion of people can't actually tell the difference unless presented with samples side by side and even then a good degree of uncertainly prevails. But it's us the manufacturers who need to make a better job of promoting alternatives. Certainly Douglas fir and chestnut are very good structural timbers, indeed on some fronts, better. They are lighter, cheaper and to all intent and purpose just as durable so long as the architectural detailing is up the job and this applies as much to oak framed buildings. Most of us are aware that many period oak framed houses still stand today; we know oak was used to build warships and we've seen examples of beautifully figured oak used in furniture. Consequently we have a sense of its solidity and beauty in a way that we don't for other timbers. Yet typically an oak frame won't display the dazzling medullary rays you see in furniture because to do so it really needs to be quarter sawn and planed, both a cut and finish rarely used in timber framing. So as Christmas is upon us how about giving the chestnut a look in!

More blogs by Andy Parker


Wood Awards

October 26, 2007  · Posted by Tim Burrell

I'm delighted that the Gridshell roof over the Orangery at Chiddingstone Castle was awarded 'Best Use of British Timber' at the recent wood awards.  For me, it is a lovely little project that perhaps would also have been worthy of an Innovation Award.

The roof is unique in that, while we have made a number of gridshells now, this is the first time that one was to be used to support a frameless glass roof, and therefore the interfacing of green timber which would move, and the glazing which could not, was critical.  For us, there was a further complication, which was that the sophisticated computer modelling that we employed could only predict that the finger jointed chestnut lath would bend uniformly - unrealistic, but critical at these fine tolerances.  The original design we inherited had impossibly tight radii, and we had to devise a way of getting the lath to bend where it would normally have snapped.  Normally when a gridshell is produced, it is accepted as inevitavble that the shell will 'find its own form'.  In this case, the glazing meant that was not good enough.  Let's just say that it's lucky that we believe in R&D!   

It was a great concept by the Architect Peter Hulbert, and the Trustees of the the castle were very brave to have commissioned this innovative project.  I wonder if they would still have gone ahead knowing the challenges that this presented.  The fact is that they did, and I'm pleased for them that this project has been recognised with this award.

Without people with this kind of vision, our architectural landscape would be all the poorer.

More blogs by Tim Burrell


Interbuild 2007

October 08, 2007  · Posted by Tim Burrell

Just a quick note to say that we'll be at the Interbuild show at Birmingham NEC from 28th October. ( www.interbuild.com ).  It will be great to see you if you can make it, but if you do want to spend any time with one of us, can you let us know in advance and we'll make sure we keep some time free for you.

Look forward to seeing you there.

More blogs by Tim Burrell


Interesting but useless fact..

October 08, 2007  · Posted by Tim Burrell

I just discovered one of those interesting but useless facts.  You've doubtless heard that the direction that water swirls round plug holes depends on which side of the planet you're on.  Well apparently trees do that too!  I always knew that trees naturally twist in a spiral (which is why when cut into straight beams, the tension in the twist is unlocked meaning they don't stay straight for long - and why the unskilled carpenter/CNC machine can't cope), but I never realised that the direction of the twist varies in different parts of the hemisphere.

Isn't nature a wonderful thing?!

(Yeah, OK I'll get on with pricing that project now??.) 

More blogs by Tim Burrell


Cost per square meter (and my wife's kitchen)

October 08, 2007  · Posted by Tim Burrell

During our recent CPD events in which we covered building with large section timbers, I was struck by the response to the section on 'what is the overall cost of a timber framed building?'  So much so, that I thought it worthwhile jotting down some quick notes on the subject.

In essence, there is really no reason why a post and beam construction in timber should cost any more than a characterless brick and block construction.  It's the detailing that makes the difference, and quite honestly the quality/cost (and yes I know these don't necessarily equate to each other!) of the fixtures and fittings.  This is why we come over all unhelpful when we are asked 'how much per square foot?!'

Here's an illustration.  In a 200m2 new build, the differential between brick & block and a feature rich oak frame is likely to be less than £100 per square meter.  My wife likes her kitchen and when we replaced our last sorry effort she insisted on a decent one (it's important for her to be in beautiful surroundings as she watches me cook and do the washing up).  So, we looked at a range of flat pack to designer kitchens.  The difference in cost, it transpired, was £10K - £80K.  That price differential of £70K would represent a difference of £350 per square meter.  Would that kitchen add three and a half times the value to a build than an oak frame throughout?  I doubt it. 

(By the way if you're interested in the rest of the kitchen story, we turned our back on the expensive one and commissioned a bespoke kitchen from a local guy who gave us exactly what we wanted - including my weird demands for oak, tulipwood and walnut, and in strange shaped units - and for little more than the flatpack.  He deserves a plug, so here it is: you want a really bespoke kitchen for a reasonable price, speak to Duncan on  www.dc-furniture.co.uk.  My wife loves the kitchen and the cost saving so much that she now feels justified in drinking champagne as I do the washing up.)

So, the moral of the story is don't just focus on one aspect of the build cost.  The costs of the build should be taken into account holistically, and by looking at 'value added' for each high priced item it's much easier to make choices between the competing demands on your cash.  The extra cost for one of our frames, if indeed there is any extra, has got to be the clearest example of bang for your bucks you can possibly get.  But then I would say that, wouldn't I?

More blogs by Tim Burrell


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