What is timber framing?

Students sitting on top of timber framed structure during timber framing class

Timber framing has been used for centuries to build beautiful, stout structures that stand the test of time and don’t require any screws or nails to hold them together. This versatile technique can be applied to houses, barns, and even the roof systems of elegant cathedrals. It’s a unique, solid, handsome, and time-honored style of building. 

Timber framing utilizes heavy timbers instead of skinny framing wood (like 2x4s). These pieces of wood are connected by elegant and strong joinery, which interlocks the timbers and incorporates wooden pegs to secure them. Incredibly, this method of connection is way stronger and more durable than using metal fasteners, which, over long periods of time, can attract condensation and break down. The result of timber framing is a building with an open floor plan, flexible wall materials, gorgeous exposed beams, and great durability.

Students safely raising a timber framed building during class

Before the late 1800s, most buildings in the US and Europe were timber framed. That’s because timber framing doesn’t rely on metal fasteners and sawmilled lumber, both rare luxuries at that time. These days, timber framers practice the art for its beauty, durability, strength, and craft. Timber-framed structures are both desirable and valuable. 

Standing in a timber framed building is truly an experience; it’s like being embraced within the marriage of trees — their strength and beauty — and human ingenuity. You can feel the craftsmanship and love that goes into the joinery, and the breathtaking aesthetics of artfully exposed beams.

What our students say

Choose an 8-day Intro Class or a 14-day Intensive that Includes Raising the Frame

This year you’ve got two options for how to participate in our timber framing class. You can come for eight days and get a solid foundation in the craft, learning how to use tools, do layout, read plans, and cut and fit timbers. Or, you can dive into a full two weeks of intensive learning and practice. This longer option will include raising the frame at the end. If you choose the eight-day session, you will get to see how the pieces fit together to form elements of a finished frame, but you don’t see the project fully complete.

Step-by-Step Guidance on How to Fabricate a Timber Frame

Two students with mask on use chisels during timber framing class

In this timber framing class, we’ll work as a team to lay out, measure, cut, fit, and assemble a 28’X36’ Pavilion. Those who choose to stay for the second week of class will get to participate in raising the frame. 

In the beginning, we’ll have a pile of timbers, tools, and plans; by the end, we will have the elements of a beautifully crafted timber frame! Through demos, careful instruction, and hands-on practice, you’ll learn how to do each step, including how to use some of the unique tools of the trade, and how to cut snug-fitting mortise and tenon joinery.

This class is completely hands-on; you’ll walk away with experience in every step of the process of turning squared-off logs into an elegantly strong frame.

Part of the beauty of timber framing is that it has always been a group process. Ever heard of old-time barn-raisings? Those barns were timber-framed! Throughout this class, we’ll communicate with and support each other so that we can collaboratively craft a beautiful building. Then, at the end with those students who choose the longer class option, we’ll assemble, fit, and raise the frame with our collective strength, and the help of some big machines. 

Plans for timber framed building 2023 class
Plans for the May 2023 Timber Framing Class build

This is not a small frame – be a part of something epic!

This year during our timber framing class, we’ll be creating an elegant pavilion at our new campus. Most students in a beginner or intermediate class don’t get a chance to work on something so grand. In the past, we’ve done small cabins to keep things simple. This time we’re putting together a beautiful centerpiece building that is quite large. What this means is that the class will be longer (for those who choose the 14-day option), students will get experience with more different techniques, and you’ll have more time to practice all the steps of timber framing. It also means that your heart and hands will contribute to something truly epic that will hold and inspire many generations of future students.

Who This Timber Framing Class is For:

This class is appropriate whether you are considering timber framing as a profession, want to build timber framed buildings for yourself, or are a carpenter looking to expand your skills.

We’ll split up the class according to skill level so that there will be accessible lessons for everyone, no matter what skills you start with. Timber framing is a valuable and specialized skill. We encourage you to join this class if you envision yourself using timber framing for many projects to come. You don’t need any prior knowledge of timber-framing specific skills. 

What to Expect in this Timber Framing Workshop:

Learn the fundamental skills you need to be able to cut timber frames yourself. Be part of a team that creates a frame of great beauty and strength. Gain satisfaction and competence with tools and craft.

Students work inside of a timber framed barn during class

Orientation and tour of the timber-framed workshop

You’ll be working and learning at Ivy Creek Timber Frames, in the timber-framed workshop of lead instructor, Brian Snedeker. To begin the class, you’ll get a chance to explore the space, check out different aspects of the building, and experience a large timber frame in the flesh.

students in a timber framing class working together with mallets, mortiser, framing square, chisels

Learn how to layout, mark, and cut timbers for the frame

You’ll start by learning how to interpret the plans for this timber frame, then measure and mark where exact cuts will take place on blank timbers. After that, you’ll get plenty of practice with the tools of timber framing cutting exact pieces to be fitted together and raised into an epic frame (at the end of the 14-day session).

Square rule joinery at timber framing class

Intro to square rule joinery

As a foundation for this class, you’ll learn the principles and application of square rule joinery. This is a straightforward method of measuring and cutting timbers that utilizes a carpenter’s square. In reality, every timber will be slightly irregular, but with square rule joinery you can measure and cut based on a slightly smaller, “perfect” timber that exists within the actual piece of wood you’re working with. If this sounds complicated, don’t worry, your instructors will explain it in-depth, provide demos, and support you as you begin to measure and cut on your own.

Demonstrating safety while raising a timber framed barn

Safety in the shop and onsite

Working with large timbers can be intimidating, and safety is crucial. Throughout the class, we’ll place an emphasis on safety and communication so that everyone can relax and work together smoothly and calmly, even in the presence of sharp tools, big wood, and big machines. Even though we will employ machines during this class, we’ll also cover manual methods for moving heavy things safely, so that you can apply what you learn at home, even if you don’t have access to machinery.

closeup of hands using a draw knife and a shaving horse during Timber framing class

Tools for Timber Framing

The tools unique to timber framing are uncomplicated, and are similar to regular carpentry tools, but much larger. In this timber framing class, you’ll be asked to bring basic carpentry tools, like a tape measure, a square, etc. In addition, you’ll be expected to bring your own timber framing chisel, hand mallet,  low-angle block plane and a number three or four Stanley bench plane or similar (we’ll share some good sources once you register). These same tools can be used when you go home to work on our own timber framing projects, small or large.

Along with hand tools, we’ll be working with modern power tools as well, some specific to timber framing. We’ll use chain mortisers, big drills, and large circular saws to do some initial cuts, followed by hand tools for precision. Some experience with safe tool use and basic woodworking is required.

Fitting mortise and tenon timber frame during a class


Learn mortise and tenon joinery!

With these tools in hand, you’ll learn how to use simple framing and combination squares to lay out your joinery. Then, you’ll be shown how to safely and effectively make exact cuts and create the mortises and tenons that will hold everything together. The beauty of this technique is in its simplicity and strength. Mortise and tenon joinery works by creating pieces that fit together exactly, thanks to the careful use of hand tools to get them just right.

Mock up design of a timber framed building

Discussion of design considerations, terminology, and trusses

This is a hands-on class, but we’ll also get into lectures and conversations to contextualize all that you’re doing. Throughout the class you’ll get a chance to learn about designing timber frames, and understand the unique types of trusses that this particular frame utilizes, including why we chose them. You’ll also learn the essential terminology of timber framing that will be crucial as you embark on your own personal or collaborative projects.

This frame utilizes a hammerbeam “truss” (traditionally used in cathedrals), which is extremely dramatic and beautiful. We chose this in order to have an open span with no low collar tie, to make the most of a beautiful mountain view. It’s also got a queenpost truss, which is extremely strong and elegant, and lends itself well to creating lofts or second stories. This unique combination allows the frame to support a 400 square foot loft, while also displaying a breathtaking view in a cathedral like frame.

Nurture community while learning a time-honored craft

Something special about timber framing is that it’s always been a group endeavor; in order to succeed, it requires a community effort. During this class you’ll be collaborating with fellow students, finding a flow of working together, and enjoying a special sense of connection that only comes from working on a big project as a team. Many of our past students have remarked that this sense of community is a significant highlight of learning with us.

Students pose with timber inside timber framed barn during class


Brian Snedecker Timber Framing Instructor

Brian Snedecker

Brian Snedeker (he/him) has had a lifelong love-affair with old tools and craft. He’s been timber framing for over 15 years, from repairing and stabilizing historic barns and homes in New England, to designing and building frames and practicing carpentry here in the Asheville area for the past decade. Brian has been sharing skills for ...

Class Location

This class is held in Barnardsville, at the Ivy Creek Timber Frames sister campus

Our sister campus at Ivy Creek Timber Frames is also the home and workspace of your lead instructor, Brian Snedeker, and his family (including their cows, goats, and chickens). It’s located about 30 minutes north of Asheville. You’ll receive detailed directions on how to get to the campus upon registration. Along with a beautiful timber framed barn, this campus has a sunny open-air work area with stunning views of the mountains and valleys of Barnardsville, NC. 

Please note: our campuses are all unconventional, with rustic amenities and uneven ground. Read more about our campuses here.

Local Accommodations and Facilities

Wherever you’re coming from, you’re welcome to pitch a tent in one of our flattish camping spots, or to tie a hammock in the forest. If you live locally, you may prefer to commute from Asheville (25 minute drive). There is an outdoor shower and Port-a-john for students to use (no flush toilet). Clean and safe drinking water is available. The cooking area has skillets, pots, and a stove top. Please bring your own cooler, as there is no refrigeration.

If you prefer something with more creature comforts, we suggest you browse Airbnb for numerous options close by in Barnardsville, NC. You can also check out local motels and B&Bs within a 10-15 minute drive to Ivy Creek Timber Frames. We’ll send a list of links to several options (with varying amenities and prices) in a welcome letter upon registration.

Registration Info

Pricing for Timber Framing

For 8 day class: $1100 – $2200
For 14 day intensive: $1700 – $3500

Please pay what you can afford. The median price is suggested to help cover the full cost of hosting this class. Please select the low end of the sliding scale if you are low-income. If your household income is over $115,00/year, please select the maximum fee. Please place yourself in this range where you deem appropriate, based on your income.