Oak Frame Construction and Repair

All building works on this site are done by Heritage House Builders Ltd - a separate entity from the website and consulting services - this avoids any possible conflicts of interest!

We conserve and restore timber framed buildings all over the country. Oak framed buildings can date back 500 years, and are one of the most enduring forms of building structure. Oak framed buildings are suffering terrible decline at the moment - See below for a list of common problems.

This is a lovely 17th Century building conserved and restored in December 2008, near Telford, Shropshire. You can see clearly the cement filling large rotted holes in the timber frame, and silicone mastic running around the panels to seal the water against the wood - encouraging more rotting to the oak frame. A week later, and it has started to look the part again. Note the large tie beam at the bottom of the photo which was completely replaced. The panels were partly original wattle and daub, some lime, but mostly cement daubed over everything, and causing dreadful rot.

Timber Frame Problems - The art of Conservation and Restoration of oak framed buildings

  • The use of tar / pitch to seal and 'preserve' oak framed buildings - it traps moisture into the wood, and allows rot to take place
  • The use of modern paints - from late Victorian times, there has been a decorative 'fad' to paint oak frames black - it is not how they were intended to be. Modern paints trap moisture into the timber and allow rot to take place - conservation and restoration of timber frames involves removal of paints to allow the timber to breathe and dry out
  • The (very common) use of cement or putty to fill holes and cracks in the timber, especially where joints have eroded over time - water is trapped against the timber and it rots rapidly
  • The use of modern sealants - silicone, acrylic caulk, mastic, foam, putty etc around the infill panels - these materials seal water against the timber and cause catastrophic rotting very quickly
  • The use of brick infill panels - as the original wattle and daub, or lath and lime plaster panels deteriorate and fall out, they have been replaced by brick - often using cement mortar. These have catastropic results - increased weight on the frame causes distortion, and can lead to collapse.  Brick and cement hold moisture which causes rot of the timber frame
  • The use of cement render on the panels - even daub panels are commonly cement rendered - this traps water into the panel and causes catastrophic rot of the timber frame members. Conservation and restoration of infill panels often involves removal of cement render and careful caulking around the edge of the panel before conserving with lime mortar and re-rendering the panel in lime render
    The use of modern paints on infill panels - we often see daub panels painted with white acrylic or even worse, gloss white paint - this traps moisture into the panel and causes rot of the staves, withies and oak surrounding the panel.
  • The commonplace use of galvanised mesh under supposedly lime rendered finishes on panels - often only cement with a shovelful of builders lime - lime reacts with the galvanising in the mesh and the render cracks and falls off. Conservation work usually involves removal of all of these materials and replacement with traditional materials such as lime render - but alternative meshes can be used - for instance fibreglass.

More examples of oak frame repairs..

Knowledge Base
Need help with your timber frame?

We provide an advisory service to assist with timber frame maintenance.  A visit is usually essential, from which an action plan for maintenance can be drawn up.  This will include options for cleaning timber, panel construction, and materials to use.

We have 'Maintenance Packs' available to purchase - these consist of small bales of oakum caulking, specially manufactured and imported from Sweden where it is made for use on wooden sailing ships.  This is twisted into narrow ropes to fit the size of any gaps in the frame, and then hammered into place.  Lime mortar or putty is then applied over the surface of the finished caulking to protect it.  Oakum is flexible, waterproof, and most importantly, breathable.  It will not trap water against the frame.  A caulking iron is an optional extra - they are a beautiful tool, a work of art in themselves, and are made to tighten the oakum in narrow gaps, leaving a slight ridge on the surface which sticks to the lime putty covering it.

Buy your Caulking kit for timber frames

Our building crews work all over Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Powys, and as far as South Wales - we have worked in the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire - and surrounding areas.  If you have an oak framed property and need help - call us and we'll have a look at it.  

Before and After...

This oak framed farmhouse in Herefordshire was stripped of paint, completely re-built infill panels with sheepswool insulation, and re-rendered in lime.

Note how hard looking cement turns into beautiful soft and gentle lime render

Timber frame before commencing restoration
Finished timber frame after restoration
A good example of everything wrong

This corner post of this Shropshire cottage is painted with black paint causing rot.  It's covered with cement filling holes and causing rot, and there is silicone sealant everywhere too - causing rot.  Yobbo builders have all but destroyed the main structural corner of this old building.

Ideally, the paint should be stripped, the concrete pulled out, and the horrible plastic paint stripped from the brickwork to allow it to breathe.  A lot of work needed here...

Typical rotted oak frame corner post
When things really go wrong with an oak framed building!
Twisting caulking into a rope ready for hammering into infill panel in oak frame
Important things to remember...

Only use breathable materials.

Get rid of all modern paints, cement, putty, varnish, sealers

Think of the frame as a living breathing thing - if it can't breathe, it WILL rot!

Dont be tempted to put oil, paint, stain, or varnish on bare oak - LEAVE IT ALONE!


Our Oak Frame repair kits..

We've put together a repair kit for your oak frame.  It contains everything you need for day to day repairs of cracks, gaps, holes, water leaks - in fact anywhere that you'd be tempted to use silicone, bitumen, mastic, lumps of putty and such like!  Click the link below to go to the Knowledge Base page, on which you will find full details of how to order.

RW Brunskill - Timber Framed Buildings - the definitive book on the subject..
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