Building a Timber Frame
Copyright 2008 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
Timber frame construction isn't exactly held together by pegs, but they do
play a big part during the raising process. Every tenon and mortise is drilled
through and pegged, which helps keep the frame from falling apart as you're
trying to erect it. Pegs also help prevent twisting and slippage as the wood
dries stabilizes. Since timber frame construction utilizes primarily green
lumber, there will always be some shrinkage and checking as the timbers dry.
The pegs are split out of White Oak stock, along the direction of the grain
for strength. The art of whittling the resulting stick down into a tapered
peg is known as shaving.
The shaving bench reproduced here is modeled on one found in the Hadley Farm
Museum (Rte #9 in Hadley, Massachusetts). The operator pushes down the pedal
with one foot, bringing the block on the pivot arm down onto the peg. The
peg can then be shaved on that side with a draw knife. Releasing a little
pressure with the foot allows the peg to be rotated to a new position, where
it is pinned and shaved again. According to something Kevin read (a better
attribution than many modern historians would make!), the expression "little
shaver" comes from the fact that peg making was a job given to children during
the long New England winters in earlier centuries. Maybe not children this
small (that looks sharp - somebody call DSS).
The frame we're currently cutting will require somewhere north of 450 pegs
for assembly. The pegs are sorted by length and diameter, since the dimensions
of the timbers vary all over the place. The pegs are not intended to be perfectly
The holes that are drilled into the mortise of the host beam are intentionally
slightly offset from the hole through the tenon, so the peg exerts an active
(spring force) rather than a passive restraint as the timbers dry.
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