The History of Post & Beam
Because there is a Difference


Post & Beam building is a tradition that has itís roots in the Egyptian cultures of 2,000 B.C. But we will concentrate on more recent History. When the first settlers arrived in America They were faced with several pressing problems which they had to deal with immediately. First of these was shelter, there was no local housing models to copy. What settlers knew about English architecture was of little help. Their new environment with itís extremes of temperature and long periods of rain and drought was very demanding on structures. Their first homes were very primitive made by scraping a hole out under a hillside. They made a fire against the wall on the highest side, but they soon found that smoke and heavy rains made these homes uninhabitable. The colonists were forced to develop their own method of building, taking into account their resources in Materials and work force. Wood, Stone, Marble, Slate Sand and Clay were readily available. However Masons, Carpenters, Sawyers and tools were not. When skilled Craftsmen and tools began to arrive the settlers started to build utilizing methods and styles prevalent in England and Holland at the time. This style consisted of a Post & Beam structure filled in with woven twigs and filled with mud. This method of infill was called the wattle and Daub method. Later when bricks became available the openings in the Beam Frame walls were then filled by brick. In England the settlers had already learned about the properties of white Oak in their construction. They continued to make use of this wood in both the frame and finish work in spite of the availability of more easily workable and abundant soft woods in America. This tradition survived in the Colonies until as late as 1800 when the abundant native pine came into use. Soon the settlers were forced to abandon the wattle and Daub method due to extremes in temperature which caused this system to crack and fall apart. This was the point in time that they went to using a clapboard exterior and a plaster interior this system was much more satisfactory. These Clapboard houses set the standard for Strength and Security against climatic and environmental menaces. By 1675 the one room cabin design had been out grown at this time in order to expand the living area they added on a second room on the other side of the chimney. This development gave them central heating by placing the main heat source in the center of the house. Then by raising the roof and adding a Lean-to along the back of the structure a second story was created. The design known as the saltbox design, allowed for three rooms on the main floor and an attic on the second floor. By 1700 the householders were not merely using this design as a means of adding on to inadequate one room cabins, it was then coming into use as an actual building plan. Very soon the Lean-to design was abandoned in favor of a full two story house, in which the second story attic was replaced by three actual rooms. We consider the natural ability for adding rooms and stories to be one of the most important advantages of Post & Beam timberframe construction, as well as being a feature that was counted on by early settlers when they decided in the beginning to build a one room shack. Even though few of us would consider building a one room shack today, the evolution of the design of Post & Beam building illustrates the many options that are available for structural expansion as our space needs evolve and change. Hand hewn timbers joined together and secured with wooden pegs remained the method of construction until the early 1800ís when uniform sized dimensional sawn lumber and inexpensive machine made nails made builders change their method right or wrong to the building style we now consider conventional Framing.

The Evolution of Post and Beam

The structure and style of human dwellings has historically been closely linked to regional climate and the availability of suitable building materials and tools. It is not a coincidence then, that cultures living in similar regions around the world have come to similar solutions with respect to their housing needs. Arid regions built using Adobe. Grassland dwellers utilized strawbales and sod. Arctic dwellers built Iglooís of ice and snow. Temperate forest regions used Log and Timbers to construct their dwellings. During the middle ages vast forest regions stretched from Europe and Scandinavia to Asia and the Orient, forming a wooden girdle around the Northern Hemisphere. These regions excelled in three wooden building methods: log blockwork, log and timber post & beam, and timber braced framework. The development of one style over another was directly related to the areaís forest reserves and the tools of the day. When forest reserves were plentiful and available tools rudimentary, (saws and drills were as yet inaccessible to most builders) The common axe was the most prominent tool used in building. As a result the blockwork method evolved since treeís could be felled and stacked in horizontal tiers with the ends notched together using a simple woodsmanís axe. (similar to typical log building of today). Areas which had large forest resources as well as tools came up with a unique blend of blockwork and timber framework encompassed within the method of post and beam building. Log post and beam construction did not demand the lengthy procedure of squaring the timbers nor the intricate joinery of braced framework bents. The round log wall posts were the buildings supporting structure and the wall panels were filled with shorter more easily handled logs than would have been required in blockwork building methods. As the forests became more scarce due to the high consumption of wood resources due to this building method, the typical building style was now changing to a timberwork frame. The braced frame required less wood and the wall infills could be made up from readily available local materials such as stick wattle and clay or simply rock rubble between open frames. Wooden post and beam construction became the premier method of building in Japan because of its economical use of materials as well as its inherent ability to withstand typhoons and earthquakes. A wood frame merely shrugs in the presence of such stresses whereas concrete and stone crack and break. Security rather than tradition was the prime motivator in the development of North American building methods of the sixteenth century. Conflicts between the French, English, Dutch, and Native Indians necessitated the building of strong fortifications. Post and beam was the preferred method of building forts. The French initially used the method of colombage - a timber post and beam frame filled with rock rubble and masonry which was common in France at the time. But the cold maritime winters made it wiser to exclude rock for solid wood, which was a better insulator. The British followed, but in their building style the only thing that the y agreed on with the French was the use of an all wood post & beam construction method for their houses and forts. The English version was called the Red River Frame. Post & beam forts were built across Canada from Atlantic to Pacific by the Hudsonís Bay Company. In all over two hundred post & beam forts were built by the Northwest and Hudsonís Bay Trading Companies between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The flood of immigrants which followed used axes to clear a spot within the forest and used the logs to build a house. Hastily erected log cabins with axe notched corners and moss chinking between the logs would suffice. However after experiencing winter winds they were soon convinced to try other methods. As the population grew the timber sources waned and yet another culture evolved to a post and beam constructed building style or the timberframe as we call it. With the advancement of transporting large quantities of goods has also come the ability to build your home of non native materials. This fact forever changed the way we look at building a home, people nowadays can choose what building style they prefer and bring in the appropriate materials. Due to this fact you are seeing less and less Ice and Sod houses which were merely the only way to deal with a lack of proper local building materials. Since this has taken place most regions have gone to wood construction. Of which Post & Beam is the preferred design.***