Timber types

How do you decide what style of house is for you? The materials you choose can heavily influence the space you create. Carpenter Oak talk through some of the timber choices open to self-builders who want to put wood at the core of their project

There are so many choices to make when building your home. However, if you are looking for beauty, value for money and sustainability, then a structural timber frame is one of the best options for self-builders.

What are the benefits of timber for a self-build?

Timber offers design freedom, warmth, texture and a rather therapeutic aroma, as well as speedy build times. The timber frame itself is manufactured offsite and handcrafted in a workshop, meaning groundworks can take place at the same time, giving the self-builder ultimate value for money on the project.

Sustainable living is a hot topic at the moment and something many self- builders are keen to consider when embarking on their project. When using responsibly sourced timber you are often actually helping to plant more trees than the number being felled.

What does Green Oak offer?

For the traditionalist, oak is iconic, naturally providing the curves and arches we all recognise as typical of timber framing. You can see the lines and shapes in the wood, and even hear it change as it naturally adapts to temperature, dries with age and actually becomes stronger. 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, while externally oak will weather to a softer grey hue as it blends into the landscape.

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

What about Douglas Fir?

If clean lines and a crisp finish is the style you enjoy, then Douglas fir can be an attractive option, creating a more contemporary frame. The timber has an orangey-pink hue, maturing to a deeper orange over time, giving it a distinctive feel and flavour. Douglas fir performs best in straight frames.

Due to a lower moisture content, Douglas fir seasons more quickly than hardwood, so can require surface finishes to bring out its natural character. While it is a softer wood than oak, it is well suited to timber framing and a confident and natural partner to engineering features, glass, external panelling and decking.

Buying Douglas fir from certified, well- managed UK forests can mean it’s significantly cheaper than some other timbers. Also, by the time the frame is produced, it has lost a great deal of moisture, making it a calmer timber to live with than oak.

What benefits does Glulam offer?

When self-builders are looking to achieve a more complex or expansive timber framed spaces, glue laminated – or glulam – timber is often used, especially for large-scale projects. It is extremely stable, without surface imperfections. This allows it to be used in place of steel as an engineering solution, as well as a making an impressive feature in its own right.

Incorporating a range of woods (including oak, Douglas fir, chestnut and ash), glulam provides straight and uniform timbers to bespoke lengths. Unlike an oak frame, glulam will not move. If natural cracks and splits are not your style, glulam is an option for a more managed finish. Its stability is due in large part to a lower moisture content (around 8-12 per cent). Glulam’s stability allows special shapes and structures to be made to created, making it one of the more specialist timbers within timber framing.

How about Larch?

Larch is a versatile timber, working well in exterior structures and cladding as its resin content naturally protects it from decay. While larch is a softwood, it is renowned for its durability. Larch brings character to patios, porches and balconies, as well as building finishes such as cladding.

Larch blends particularly well with Douglas fir. These two timbers form a natural partnership for projects where timber design is key to indoor and outdoor spaces.

And finally, what can Cedar offer?

Western red cedar is a popular choice for cladding due to its excellent durability and stability alongside great thermal and acoustic properties, as well as a low risk of twist, shrink, check or warp. It is for this reason the best quality beehives are made from it. This highly attractive, low- density timber is light and relatively easy to install. When left untreated, it will fade to a beautiful silver sheen because it contains no resin, which also means it can take a range of paints and stains to complement your building style.

Structural timber is a growing market, with more and more people keen to bring the outdoors in and live with the beauty of natural materials in their home.

The question is – which timber is best for your project?