Timber frame construction, consisting of heavy timbers joined with interlocking connections, dominated construction in Europe and Asia for over 2,000 years. But nowhere did it flourish as it did in America. The demand for new buildings and the virtually unlimited forests in colonial America drove the technology of timber framing to new heights.
Balloon framing is one of the earlier wood construction methods. Light frames of wood are constructed around studs which run continuously from top to bottom of a building. The roof is a truss structure that consists of horizontal ceiling joists and sloping rafters. The main difference between the two types occurs at the floor lines.
Fewer problems are expected once construction is complete. Drywall cracking is unlikely. This adds to the durability of the building. Balloon construction is useful where a vaulted ceiling or two-story open foyer is desirable. Where a tall chimney is preferred, the balloon technique is also useful. With balloon framing, you get more flexibility in window design. Angled or arched window tops are easier to achieve. Large or vaulted windows are also more workable with the balloon technique than platform framing. The technique creates a higher resilience structure due to the longer wall frames used. The building is better able to withstand high speed or gusty winds.
Platform framing is the standard wooden framing method today. The name comes from each floor level being framed as a separate unit or platform. It is a simpler construction process compared to balloon construction. The technique involved also makes it a quicker method of construction. One structure is constructed and is well supported by a foundation. Builders then use the first level as a platform to project the next floor. The process continues until the desired number of floors is achieved. Rafters and roof joists are erected on the final tier of walls.
Platform framing utilizes less wood. Additionally, smaller pieces of wood can be used on the wall frames. No fire stopping is necessary because the stud spaces are enclosed by the floor platforms. The safety level for workers is higher with platform framing. This is because walls can be fabricated down on the floor. The technique also requires less labor. This helps to keep construction costs within reasonable limits.
The Revival of Timber Framing
Timber frame construction has experienced a rebirth. It started in New England in the 1970’s with a group of young carpenters exploring alternative building technologies. They had become disenchanted with the sterile nature of mass-produced stick frame houses, and were drawn to the handcrafted character of timber frame construction. The timber frame revivalists built frames that emulated and reproduced the forms and joinery of early American frames.
Timber Framing Goes High-Tech
Today, most timber frames are engineered structures. Many of the established timber framing companies now use computer-generated 3-D shop drawings when describing their frames. These drawings are particularly useful for both defining their scope of work and for helping clients to visualize how the finished timber frames will look.