We all have something we are driven for and are good at. Often those works require particular tools or materials to accomplish that mission. Western Timber Frame specializes in free-of-heart, high-quality timber frame structures. Timber is the backbone of this company, a renewable material that empowers us to create extraordinary environments

where we take pleasure in bringing families closer together, improving their lives and relationships. 

As timber and lumber are both wood, you may wonder “When is the wood classed as lumber and when is wood classed as timber? What is the difference?” And most importantly: “Why it is crucial to know?”

While on the face of it timber and lumber may seem interchangeable, timber and lumber have distinct characteristics. Both serve different purposes. Wood is the product of trees once it has been felled but there are several factors that produce either a timber or a lumber byproduct. It is a simple concept and yet complex.

Timber and lumber also both have a broad range of uses, the primarily as a building and furniture material. Other users include boat and ship construction, baseball bats, kitchen utensils, wood carvings, sculptures, flooring, musical instrument — and that’s just a pittance and spit in the sea.  Even advanced, well-performing airplanes have been constructed almost entirely of wood.

Lumber has some wonderful properties and uses. The test of airplanes demonstrates the incredible versatility, strength and durability of wood.

Wooden Flying Machines

wooden airplane

British World War II Night Time Wooden Aircraft

In aviation history the best material choice for aircraft construction was wood.

The Wright brothers built their first heavier-than-air flying machine from Ash and Spruce trees.

Wood carried many advantages compared to aluminum or steel, having a greater strength to weight ratio, resilience, viability, and was lower in cost.

An all-wooden aircraft of World War II, called the DH.98 Mosquito dubbed the “Wooden Wonder” flew at super high speeds for a twin-engine bomber. The the DH.98 Mosquito flew carrying remarkably heavy loads over great distances. Initially, it was rejected by the British Air Ministry. However, after extensive and impressive flight trials the Wooden Wonder outperformed even the aircraft builders expectations.

The largest airplane ever built, until 2019, was called The Spruce Goose. Regardless of its name, The Spruce Goose is not made of Spruce. All of the plane is constructed of Birch wood with the exception of the engines, electronics, screws, etc.

kit of large timbers pavilion

Obviously, these historic airplanes were not constructed from heavy-duty timbers or they never could have lifted off the ground. Much of the distinguishing factors between timber and lumber has to do with texture and sizing.

And yet, with all the good things we enjoy from lumber, we still replace many fallen and dilapidated wooden breezeways, arbors, cabanas, gazebos, pavilions, pergolas, trellises —and decks—  built from construction-grade boards.

Pergola collapsed

Wooden pergola built of dimensional construction grade lumber fallen to the ground.

So, let’s begin as to why a wooden deck, pergola, pavilion or other outdoor wooden structure built of lumber —having a planed surface— can’t hold up and last beautifully like responsible timber frame structures do.

Timber is the raw material from which construction-grade lumber is made. Rough-sawn timber is used in its rough state for construction.

Timber has an excellent capacity to support and maintain its shape with convention and use.

Due to natural causes, a deck built with construction-grade lumber will start to splinter. Nails and screws eventually begin to pop up and bolts can become loose. Sheeny construction-grade lumber does not age well without a constant maintenance.

We use a high quality composite decking boards on the top of all of our decks. In every way, timber frame is the best choice for a deck frame and foundation. Likewise, composite is better for a floor board. And so we use both for excellent long-term performance with less maintenance.

Timber stairway

Western Timber Frame timber frame deck foundation and rails with composite floor boards and steps.

Composite deck boards

#1 Appearance Grade A Timber Frame
Verses Construction Grade Lumber

Douglas fir is the strongest of all American woods and is the primary wood we use in timber framing. It is resilient, stable and relatively decay resistant.

Schools in the United States use a letter grading system. If you get an A, you’re among the brightest, and the best of the best. With lower grades such as a C or D, would mean you aren’t likely to make valedictorian. Likewise, wood in the US, based on its intended use, color, texture, and grain is graded on a similar fashion — “A” being the best. Another factor is how “clear” or free the wood is of knots, blemishes and its moisture content.

Wooden pergola built with construction grade lumber, exposed unsightly hardware, bolts, screws,and hangers has become warped and has aged beyond its years.

barbecue deck-pergola

Comparably, at Nelson’s family farm, a Western Timber Frame deck and pergola kit as beautiful as when it was installed years before!

Massive and True-to-Size Timber

Part of what makes lumber, lumber is its dimensional size. Dimensional lumber or framing lumber are pre-cut, free of bark, wood-in-the-raw boards. They are sold as a 2×4, or 4×4, etc.—usually in 8′, 10′, 12′, 14′, and 16′ long lengths. In the past, a “two-by-four” actually measured 2 inches by 4 inches. Today, dimensional lumber is nominal, a 2×4 is really only a 1 1/2″ by 3 1/2″ —not true to size.

Before after deck pergola install

Pictured on the left is a wooden deck that we replaced with a Western Timber Frame ShadeScape® heavy-duty, timber frame deck, pictured on the right. It is plain to see the size difference between the solid wood posts —before and after replacement.

The ShadeScape® Series prefabricated by Western Timber Frame™ presents excellence in world-class architecture. All the timbers are true-to-size for all components rather than standard smaller dimensional lumber; this means that when you order a 12-inch post you get a 12-inch post.

Size does make a big difference but that is only a part of the many reasons a timber frame deck is stronger and built to last over a wooden deck. The quality of the wood in another major factor.

After replacing construction grade wooden deck with a solid timber frame deck and pergola kit from Western Timber Frame™.#DIYDeckMakeover

Dimensional construction grade wooden deck before being replaced with a solid timber frame deck and pergola kit.

Low grade timber or big-box store lumber are able to be offered at great deals with relatively low pricing because quality is not a top concern.

Quality is of upmost priority at Western Timber Frame™. We build architectural masterpieces that are designed and fashioned after old-world construction long standing for hundreds of years. We want to leave a steadfast and long-standing legacy. All kits are built to last for generations.

deck timber frame

All of the Timber We Purchase is
#1 Appearance Grade A

#1 Appearance

#1 Appearance timber offers greater strength and appearance properties. Any knots will be fewer and smaller, sound and well-spaced. No loose knots or rot allowed.

Grade A

As the name implies, ‘A’ is the highest grade of wood or timber. It is as near to perfection as is possible for a natural material. Besides having tighter, smaller and fewer knots it will have straighter grain fibers. The straightness of the grains running the length of the board have less a tendency to check. It is prime wood and the best choice for joinery and cladding.

Rough Sawn

Rough textured wood also known as “rough-sawn” was designed for outdoor applications. It is the best choice to use in outdoor structures such as decks, cabanas, pergolas, pavilions, gazebos, etc.

Rough sawn wood is the originally cut wood; typically without smoothing or sanding. The rough texture helps protect against debris, moisture, sun and wind and will last a lifetime when properly maintained.

Timbers that are rough sawn have a greater cross-sectional area; which makes it stronger more resilient. For bending in beam applications, this is highly significant.

Quality & Budget From Lowest to Highest


Checks add to the rustic beauty of solid wood timbers and are rarely a structural issue. Wood is expected to experience some shrinkage and forms naturally beginning on the outside surface of timber.

Green timber is timber that is freshly cut, without going into a kiln. Air drying a timber would take several years; which means the green timber still maintains more moisture. Timber that is green will always have movement as it dries which makes it more likely to develop cracks, splits and uneven shrinkage. If a crack continued through the beam it could be a concern as to its structural integrity.

Boxed Heart

When a log is milled into timbers with the pith (heart center of the tree) it is called boxed heart. Boxed heart is the most economical method because the entire log is milled in the most efficient way possible.

There are undesirable characteristics prevelent to boxed heart timbers. The pith or the heart retains moisture in the inner growth rings. As the outer areas dries and shrinks, it creates surface tension, causing undesirable twists, splits, defects, along with aesthetic issues. Load strength is the most concerning and can be compromised.

Free of Heart

These timbers are milled without the heart, completely outside the “bullseye” of the log’s growth rings. Extra moisture in the heart of the log subjects the timbers to excessive warping and checking through the drying period.

Free of heart timbers cost more due to the size of log required to mill the wood and difficulty to source. However, they will have far less checking, splitting or twisting.

Timber frame pavilion in shop assemble
free of heart wood

All of the Douglas Fir that we purchase is free of heart, cut at a distance from the center of the log. The outer sapwood still gives you the lovely natural hallmark of real wood without major checking, twisting or cracking.

Heartwood and sapwood have very different characteristics, drying at different rates when exposed to the weather. We only use the highest quality wood designed for outdoor exposure —free of heart and rough sawn.


Timber is an organic, natural product and “checking” is to be expected. Checking occurs as a lengthwise fissure of the timber along the grain. It is similar to a groove or fissure in an organ such as the brain. With constant changes to moisture levels in the air in its surrounding environment, timber takes in and loses moisture, shrinking and swelling until it reaches its equilibrium. All timber benefits from some seasoning, adjusting to its atmosphere and conditions.

I definitely need to emphasize here that it is very rare for checking to extend through to the other side of a beam.

Checking is to be expected. Engineering calculations account for this when sizing timbers.

checking dovetail beams

In small lumber, containing lower than 40% moisture content, it is nearly impossible for the wood to check unless subjected to dry conditions. In thinner standard-size lumber, checking, or seasoned checking can be controlled more readily. The thinner the wood is, the easier it is for it to dry. A wood piece as large as an 8/4 or even 10/4 is thin enough it dries more evenly. As the thickness is increased to let’s say, a 12/4, that additional cross-sectional area of the original log changes the margin of checking, in our timber frame shade structures we have posts starting at 6” x 6” and some that have been as large as say, 17” x 17” timbers. Larger timbers generally have a bit more checking.

The structural properties and durability of the timber is not affected by natural checking. It is purely aesthetic!

deck pergola tear drop keystones

Timber frame deck and pergola kit from Western Timber Frame™ featuring tear drop keystones.

The Dovetail Difference®

Timber Frame Buildings “Framework,” or half-timbering is the method of creating structures by using heavy timbers jointed via pegged mortise and tenon joints. Mortised and tenon joints interlock with each other with a wood-to-wood connection without the use of nails or glue.

The Dovetail Difference® is an unprecedented architectural master-of-the-trade design, designed and engineered by Hyrum Thompson, the founder of Western Timber Frame™. Simple, yet strong. The articulate design provides greater stability and heavier load capacities.

the dovetail difference

The Dovetail Difference® has a trapezoidal angle shaped dovetail (mortise) that interlocks with another angled (tenon) creating a snug fit. This snug fit allows the wood to perform as nature intended, expanding and contracting while keeping the joints tight and secure throughout the years.

Helps to Eliminate Gaps and Exposure

rusted nails and hanger

Pictured above is an example of a wooden deck connection. The patented The Dovetail Difference® has wood-to-wood connections eliminating virtually all exposed hardware, bolts, screws, hangers or other mechanical fasteners —unless they are decorative in nature.

tights joints

Tight fitting joints in which little movement is allowed between the mortise and tenon can shoulder greater loads than loose, bolt or peg joints.

The dovetail mortise and tenon gives the timber the ability to expand and contract while remaining tight, minimizing gap exposure, reducing twisting and warping.

deck before installing a timber frame pergola

Wooden deck before being replaced with a solid timber frame deck and pergola kit.

deck pergola makeover

After replacing wooden deck with a solid timber frame deck and pergola kit from Western Timber Frame™.#DIYDeckMakeover

Superior Strength

Independent engineering has shown that The Dovetail Different®  joints are 500% greater in strength and load carrying capacity as compared to traditional hangers.

This joint system can withstand strong winds, heavy mountainous snows, and they have rigid corners. Not only do you get superior strength, but this design makes installation faster and more convenient.

dovetail difference

Picture: On the test pictured above, the Dovetail didn’t break until it hit over 11,000 lbs!

deck before install

Wooden deck before replacing it with a 2-story solid timber frame deck.DIY Deck Plan

After installed a two story deck

After replacing it a wooden deck with a 2-story solid timber frame deck.#DIYDeckKit


Timbers have a wonderful rustic appearance. Not only do they look great, but being rough sawn helps the wood fibers absorb and retain more stain. That means less maintenance for you and a better-looking kit.

Some like to leave their deck for many years giving it an aged, faded look. Others like it to look pristine and new. Our timber deck kits are not like wooden decks, which need to be re-stained every year. However, with Western Timber Frame deck, they only need a touch-up stain every 3-5 years with our proprietary water-based UV resistant solid stain.

The size, type, quality, and how the entire deck is connected together makes all the difference.

A timber frame deck built with The Dovetail Difference® joint system is going to last longer and maintain its aesthetic appeal. Everything is pre-cut, pre-finished, and pre-fitted. We make it easy to assemble.

These kits consist of handcrafted timbers that install as a showcase outdoor structure, designed to last for decades.

deck awning gazebo

Solid wood, timber frame awning, deck and gazebo kit from Western Timber Frame™.#DIYDeckMakeover

We believe you should be aware of the differences of a timber frame deck and a wooden deck when making your decision. And we also, strongly believe that the investment in a deck should not compromise on quality, therefore we recommend a free of heart kiln dried, wood-to-wood, dovetailed timber frame foundation. We are happy to provide solutions to fit your budget and vision.

Utah Stories: Western Timber Frame

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