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Oak in Frame Construction

why use oak in frame construction?

Oak is iconic, naturally providing the curves and arches we would all recognise as typical of traditional timber framing. You can see the lines and shapes in the wood, and literally hear it change as it naturally adapts to temperature and dries with age.

All of our Oak comes from PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) certified forests in Europe. Oak’s incredible durability means that, used in a rough-sawn state, it can last for centuries without requiring treatment. The interior will maintain a beautiful honey gold colour. Exterior Oak will weather to a softer hue.

Our understanding of timber frames enables us to work with the shrinking and movement inherent in Oak. We design this out of a frame prior to construction. Timber frames have no problem meeting and exceeding stringent modern standards of weather tightness and airtightness. The strength and longevity of oak in frame construction is what separates it from other materials.

Green Oak

Our timber is inspected before felling. Tree felling is timed to reduce sap content and protect the timber from beetle attack. The timber then sits for 9 to 12 months before it is cut ready for each frame construction.

Green Oak continues to be the exclusive choice of oak in frame construction for carpenters. Being new timber, it is easier to cut and shape than older timber which may have become split or deformed.

The moisture content of Green Oak is between 30% and 80%. It takes several years for Oak to fully dry out. The frame is formed whilst the moisture content is still relatively high so that tight joints and seals can be readily formed.

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Oak As A Building Material

Oak is the strongest, most durable timber we use. It is rich in tannins making it extremely durable and resistant to decay and insect attack, and if kept dry oak frame constructions have frequently lasted over 500 years. The fresh sawn oak we use is of the highest quality and consistently available in this country.

Oak’s wavering grain lends frames a complexity and movement, unlike softwoods for example. It is well suited to more traditional framing and the characteristic curves and arches which you see within the wall braces and vaulted roof spaces.

The playful grain presents the carpenter with a constant challenge, requiring several years of traditional craftsmanship training, allowing the adoption of different techniques to achieve consistency between different sections of timber.

The initial seasoning and then subsequent response to humidity means that it never stops moving. Indeed it is said of oak that every bit is unique, and working with it or living with it, it will always give the feeling of ‘being alive’ – many people talk of it as a living material and having a distinctive presence. Its solidity and its assured enduring strength imbue a space with peace and timeless quality.

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Oak Frame Construction Finishes

There’s nothing more exciting than seeing your timber frame come to life when raised on your plot. However, our services continue beyond this point. An oak frame once in place generally requires some cleaning as the structure can pick up blue stains during the sawmill process, pencil marks from carpenters, and dirt picked up on site.

The blue stains are a chemical reaction between the natural preservative found in the oak, tannin, and mild steel rollers during the sawmilling process. If parts of the frame are heavily stained, we clean these using oxalic acid here in the yard. Pencil marks from the carpentry are usually discreet. However dirt picked up from a muddy site in winter can be significant, therefore sandblasting is recommended to clean the frame back to a more uniform honey colour.

With sandblasting it is essential to clean before any fragile materials are fitted, in particular, any glazing and plasterwork.

Glazed areas in the walls and roofs will need to be protected temporarily with plastic sheeting fixed with battens, note that sandblasting cannot be carried out if the surface of the timber is wet. All applied glazing and subframe joinery need to be carried out as soon as possible after sandblasting.

Inevitably there will be some leaks after cleaning resulting in localised water staining; this can be cleaned using steam from a wallpaper steamer.

An oak frame is effectively a living thing – it requires time to breathe and dry out as slowly as possible to replicate the seasoning process. For a large section timber the general rule is an inch per year, so for an eight-inch-thick timber, you would need a minimum of eight years for the timber to be air dried.

The frame will change shape during this process which adds to the natural aesthetic, in reality after three to four years the majority of shrinkage has occurred so that any touching up of plasterwork can be carried out.

Contact us to discuss your project

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The Beauty Of Oak

Although today Carpenter Oak Ltd is much more than an oak frame construction company, as our name suggests our roots lie firmly in the craft of Oak frame carpentry and we all remain under the spell of this most extraordinary of woods.

The Oak tree has played a truly exceptional part in our collective history. Some may even regard it as quintessentially English, but in fact, the Oak is native to many countries across the world.  It has been celebrated, adored and also worshipped by many cultures over the millennia, and its ubiquity in folklore is a testament to its qualities. It has long enthralled us with its majesty in the forests.  From ancient times it formed the backbone to our civilisation. Its strength and durability exploited in almost every conceivable strand of construction from cart and wheel making to box and barrel making for the transportation of goods, to bridge construction, boat and shipbuilding and the construction of houses, barns, churches and cathedrals.

Oak, referred to as both mighty and majestic, is used in everything from furniture to food and found in nearly every temperate region of the earth.

We have used oak for lathe, cladding, shingling, flooring; it has provided beauty in our furniture and been indispensable within many other areas such as food smoking, leather tanning, the ageing of wines and whiskies and even medicine.

Our connection with oak and dependence on it is undeniable, and it is indeed worthy of celebration. It carries a profound emotional significance as a symbol of enduring strength and power.

Hardly any surprise then that at a time when the construction industry is heading towards uniformity and disposability, more and more of us are turning back to the assured solidity and peace that large section oak frames can bring into our homes.

Its use in the construction of our timber frames still forms the central core of our work.

Read more about oak and its place in our history and culture.

Contact us to talk through your project and ideas

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