Crane lifting sections of a timber frame building into place

Planning, Design, & Construction of your Timber Frame or Log Home

 Once the last rafter pair is plumb and the final peg is driven, my on-site work will be finished and you or your chosen general contractor assumes responsibility for the completion of the project. However, I will continue to make myself available for consultation for the duration of the construction phase regarding certain details that are unique to handcrafted timber-work.

   Obviously, a traditional timber frame or dovetail log cabin are both quite a bit different from standard stick-frame construction. Selecting a general contractor that has prior experience in the finishing and completion of such a structure would naturally be the first option most of us would choose. But the reality of the situation is that there

Square Peg Timber Joinery

     It is critical that a complete set of construction documents be produced that detail the skeletal framework and the specific architectural details of your chosen design. These construction documents are necessary when applying for a construction loan, to secure building permits, and when seeking competitive bids from various general contractors. Accurate bids on the total cost to complete your project can only be arrived at by having your designer specify all interior and exterior design details, all building materials/methods and having them detailed in a precise set of construction documents. Otherwise, if these issues are  left unspecified or not addressed in exact terms, you can be left in a rather vulnerable

Interested? Get in Touch for More Info.

​Please contact me for a 31 page booklet containing background info on myself & previous projects, behind-the-scenes details offering insight into my personal business philosophy as it relates to you and I, the 10 factors that dictate how I price my work, specifics concerning the services & materials you will receive from SPTJ, a VERY detailed budget worksheet, and a design questionnaire. No shiny glossy pictures, just LOTS of helpful and (hopefully) interesting information!

Architectual drawing of a timber frame structure

  INTRO -   I realize that virtually all building projects, no matter how big or small, present a set of challenges to all parties involved, and while it generally is a very exciting time, the process can also lead to some stress and uncertainty unless a detail-oriented mindset is adopted by those involved in the various stages of planning, designing, and building of your timber frame or log structure. By identifying the necessary steps and laying them out in an orderly fashion, my goal in presenting this planning guide is that your building project will run more smoothly from beginning to end, all parties involved will be on the same page, and any potentially unaddressed issues will be eliminated.

     By this time in your planning phase, hopefully you’ve seen how I differ from the mainstream companies that predominately feature a modern/contemporary look and decided that the historically-based designs, handcrafted structures and traditional manner in which I build is the right fit for your tastes and lifestyle.

of their building project: committing a percentage of the construction budget to the design & engineering phase and working with a professional designer to arrive at a detailed set of plans.  This certainly is not the place to take shortcuts. A “can’t-we-just” mentality is better left on the shelf for other non-related tasks. A financial commitment on your part to professional design & engineering will prove to be crucial. As your building project unfolds, you will soon realize that this will be the most significant investment you can make concerning your new timber frame or log home.

    To begin with, you and I will need to assemble a “team” which will represent four levels of service to include: 1) structural design and architectural detailing, 2) framework engineering, 3) timber frame/log shell fabrication and raising, and finally, 4) selecting a general contractor to address the many aspects involved in finishing your project.

     In stark contrast to a lot of the larger companies that have sales personnel, architects, engineers, pre-designed sets of building plans, and even contractors on staff to handle all aspects of the building process, Square Peg Timber Joinery is a small timber frame/log building shop whose primary role lies in the fabrication of all timber and/or log joinery, and then tying it all together in providing an erected framework. I will also be very involved in the structural design phase, collaborating with you and the designer regarding specifics in timber joinery details that I will be responsible for. Since I do not directly provide design, engineering, or general contracting services, I have aligned myself with several extremely competent professionals to address these tasks and to ensure that this journey that we are about to embark on proceeds as seamlessly as possible.

     One of the first places to start the planning process is determining your total construction budget. Consider getting pre-qualified from your lender, as this step will set the financial parameters with which to work from and allow you to define your needs vs wants a bit better. Keep in mind (with regards to how I operate SPTJ), a truly handcrafted timber frame or log structure will not necessarily cost more to fabricate and build than those whose joinery has been produced with machines, or is totally void of any timber joinery in the first place, such as the imitation timber frames, or “post & beam” frames (so often seen in the glossy magazines masquerading as the real thing) with their butted/nailed and gusset-plated timbers. But a handcrafted timbered structure need not cost any more in finishing materials and labor than any other from of construction. This matter is choice-driven on your part and will depend on the quality of materials you select. On the flip side of this is the fact that once your project is completed, you will have an original, truly handcrafted structure that is worth much more upon completion and at re-sale than any comparable structure of similar size.    

    While you still may be in the initial stages of planning & design, much thought and preparation will also need to be directed toward your building site. Whether you already own property or are still in the “looking-to-buy” stage, there are some issues that you may want to consider regarding building site preparation. Among the associated costs to be addressed are site clearing and grading, driveway installation, access to utilities, septic system installation, permit fees, load-bearing capacity of the soil and whether it will pass a perk test, foundation excavation and related materials.


Structural & Architectural Design   

    The developing stages of design will begin with your initial design concept, where you formulate a building “footprint”, with room location and size, with consideration also given to the chosen architectural “theme” you want your home to reflect. Both the structural and architectural design phase will need to evolve together in somewhat parallel unison, a collaboration between you, I and the selected designer.  If you feel confident and want to move forward with your project, this step will require the first financial commitment on your part, where you will contract with a draftsman with prior experience in the design of traditional timber frame structures and/or dovetail log structures. And also one that shows a capability and willingness to design within your financial parameters. I will offer input regarding the framework elements that I will be responsible for, as we all work together to integrate the various design elements into a workable building plan, with the goal being to arrive at a complete and detailed architectural and structural plan set, with engineering review also taking place during this time. The entire process of going from rough idea to final design will usually require some level of compromise, adjustment and refinement by all those involved. During this time, I can give you a “ballpark” estimate on structural cost, whether it is a timber frame or log cabin shell.  Please be aware that this ballpark estimate has a margin of error of roughly +/- 10%, and that exact cost figures (by SPTJ) cannot be generated until a structural plan set has been produced that details the final design of the timber framework or log shell, a materials list indicating timber species, sizes and quantities, and joinery specs.  

Whether your timber frame or log cabin structure is to function in a weekend-only capacity or as a primary residence occupied on a daily basis, the initial priority should be that of having an organized process in place, a structured path that is followed that will allow your building project to develop in as seamless a manner as possible. And this begins with a dedicated financial commitment with a professional designer that is well-versed in your choice of structure, whether it be a timber frame or a log cabin.  All too often, I am left with the impression that folks may have a well-defined budget in mind and a pretty good idea of what characteristics they are looking for in their new house. But often overlooked is the single most critical aspect

Square Peg Timber Joinery
Building floorplans

​​​Handcrafted Traditional Timber Frames & Dovetail Log Cabins

 position with an open-ended set of plans which will not provide you or your banker with solid cost information.

     As I am responsible for supplying a fabricated and raised timber frame or log shell only, I will require detailed drawings of the skeletal framework to perform my duties. As these shop drawings (structural plan set) are so critical to the accuracy and quality of the layout and crafting of joinery in the resulting timber framework, so too is the individual that produces these drawings. I work in conjunction with a few very trusted individuals that have an established background in traditional timber frame designs and the historic joinery details that I employ in my timber frame structures.

    When planning to build a log structure, a capable and qualified log home designer is an absolute must. You will be in very good hands when working with R.C.M. CAD Design Drafting, and a visit to their website will surely reaffirm that.  The very detailed architectural plans that RCM will produce are a vital requirement for your general contractor and all sub-trades, as these plans will contain essential information pertaining to the many aspects involved in the finishing of your log structure.

   Once a structural design that you are happy with has been finalized, and the required engineering work has been completed, I can then provide you with a proposal indicating fixed, definite dollar figures for all materials and specs regarding the fabrication and erection of your timber frame or dovetail log structure.


Structural Engineering

      In order to validate the structural integrity of the framework and to evaluate the various stresses in the timbers themselves and in the wood-to-wood joinery, engineer involvement in your building project is critical.  There are several engineering firms that we can work with that specialize in structural analysis and engineering of heavy timbered structures and the wooden joinery that ties them together.

    As the design phase gradually progresses, engineering review (which may necessitate adjustments to your building plans) will also be taking place, with the final draft meeting the required level of approval as dictated by your local building code. These local building codes will vary from region to region and will determine to what degree engineer involvement is required with regards to your construction documents. Even if you are building in an area with no building code regulations, consider it a sound investment to have these plans at least reviewed by a structural engineer familiar with timbered structures. However, some building codes may dictate that you obtain a higher level of approval, such as an engineers stamp/seal on your building plans. If this requirement must be met it is the financial responsibility of the client to secure this necessary step, as it is to address all engineering costs associated with the building process. It’s always best to check with your local building department prior to having construction documents drawn up to see specifically what they require.


General Contractor

    Now that you have a complete set of engineered construction documents prepared and a fixed price on the erected framework from SPTJ, it is time to get estimates on the completion of your project. If you are seeking a general contractor to oversee all aspects of the construction process, take the final blueprints to several GC’s that you know that have a very good reputation and (preferably) have prior experience working with timber frame structures or log cabins.  You should review these plans with several general contractors and receive bids on the final cost for completion. If you decide to act as your own GC, you should obtain material estimates from local building supply outlets, as well as labor estimates from various subcontractors on the total cost for project completion. Please be aware that the skeletal framework itself, while functioning as the major element in the total construction process is just one piece to the puzzle and signing a contract for a timber frame or log cabin structure before solid cost information is obtained from various general contractors on what is required to complete your project is inadvisable. By having a complete set of construction documents in hand (and SPTJ’s proposal) before any building contracts are signed with anyone, you will have the information that you need in seeking the final cost figures that are necessary to obtain financing, and also giving you the confidence to move forward with your project.

just aren’t many out there who meet those qualifications, simply due to the rarity of this style of building in most areas. A more viable option would be to select your GC based on his attention to detail and his open mind regarding the nuances inherent in completing a structure comprised of heavy timbers.

    Once a GC is chosen that you have confidence in and you’re satisfied with the detailed cost information that he has provided you concerning the completion of your timber frame or log cabin structure (and contingent upon loan approval), you may finalize your commitment with Square Peg Timber Joinery by signing, dating and returning SPTJ’s Fabrication & Raising Proposal that details all materials and services that SPTJ will provide, along with the deposit as stipulated in the agreed upon payment schedule. This will enable me to place your order with the area sawmills and allow me to acquire the necessary materials that begins the joinery process of turning raw timbers into a functional framework.

     With this planning guide, I hope I’ve taken some of the uncertainty and stress out of what should be a pleasurable building process. Careful planning and research from the design process through construction can make both the journey and the final destination the exciting, enjoyable experience that it really should be.