Timber framing vocab
Words about words
M. MICHAEL BRADY
Timber framing, the traditional practice of constructing houses with heavy timbers, has been used for thousands of years in many parts of the world. Consequently, many styles of it have developed, and its vocabulary is profuse. Timber framing is descriptive of the way it is done by artisans known as framers, using hand tools to hew tees and logs rather than working with dimensioned lumber. Historically in Europe, timber framing was most prevalent in Germany. Hence its vocabulary reflected the Teutonic and Old Norse roots of its constituent words.
The earliest known mention of timber framing was in the year 775, in the English epic poem “Beowulf,” in a descriptive term for a strong horizontal frame member called a sill that serves as the foundation of a wall. When “Beowulf” was first written, the word was spelled sylle. With time in the centuries that followed, eight other versions of its spelling appeared. It appeared thereafter in numerous compound words, such as windowsill, the ledge forming the bottom part of a window in a house.
An upright timber in the wall of a timber-framed building is called a stud, which has become the general technical term for a wooden post of any kind and hence of a prop or an upright support, be it fixed or temporary. In a timber frame, a small girder is known as a girt. A variant of that word that comes directly from Old Norse is girth, a belt of cloth or leather placed around the body of a horse or other beast of burden to secure a saddle or pack on its back.
Further reading: Dictionary of Architecture and Construction by Cyril M. Harris, professor emeritus, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University, fourth edition, McGraw-Hill, 1975, ISBN 0071452370, 9780071452373
This article originally appeared in the July 8, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.