Oak frames: rooted in history

Lindsay takes a look into how oak framed buildings go from a felled tree to a beautiful, modern home

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A Monday morning usually consists of me making my way to the Real Homes office, a swift round of hot drinks and delving into a long list of emails and plans for new feature ideas, which at the moment (would you believe) includes themes for Christmas decorating as well as new home-improvement solutions. However, this week I travelled to mid Wales to stay in an historic Tudor-style hotel with attached coach house and to meet the owners and workers of Welsh Oak Frame.

Nestled in the heart of the countryside in mid Wales is Welsh Oak Frame’s workshop and design studio. Having seen so many of the beautiful oak-framed buildings, remodels and extensions built by the company during my job as a journalist on Real Homes, I expected it to be a massive organisation with a large, factory-style outlet with lots of noisy machines and plenty of labourers lugging heavy chunks of wood around. But upon arrival, I discovered that the family-run business, which has been based in Caersws, Powys for more than 20 years, still holds the charm and character of a traditional oak workshop, where skill and craftsmanship are at the heart of the manufacturing process.

Oak framing has been around since medieval times and the traditional methods of building are still what are used today. The carved pieces of oak which form the frame for a stylish extension, garden room, orangery or new build are held together with long pegs called mortice and tenon joints which carry several tonnes of weight. While heavy machinery, power tools and hi-tech CAD systems which draw out architectural plans and supply exact measurements are used, the devil is in the detail and each beam is finished by hand. Finishing touches like a lamb’s tongue can be added to beams for a softer look and ridges can be sawn into the side frames so that glazing panels can be integrated later if you want to go for a modern look of floor to ceiling glass – great for maximising the sense of space and natural light and balancing the sometimes heavy look of the oak.

So where does the oak come from? Each piece of oak is ordered to exact specifications to suit the dimensions of the building project. Sourced from sustainable forests around Europe, which are certified by the EU, the oak is farmed and felled from locations like France and Romania. I was told that a medium-sized extension or garden room could use up to 500 trees – so good to know that new ones are planted as fast as they are being felled.

Walking through the design studio and workshop (complete with a stylish high-vis jacket – perfect with my lightweight denim dress), I experienced the different stages of the design and build process, which created a real appreciation of classic building methods and the care and consideration that goes into each piece of oak.

Aside from the scenic views and the long winding country lanes in the surrounding area (made better by the glorious sunshine we’ve been having), I loved seeing the process of how the oak goes from tree trunk to finished property – something which can sometimes feel a bit abstract if you’re looking at beautiful, finished homes every day. And as I’m a bit of a lover of ‘waste not, want not’ and a self-confessed bargain hunter, I was pleased to see that all the ‘rejected’ oak, including remains from sanding down the beams and odds-and-ends left over from carving are also used up – either for firewood, bedding for local farm animals or to create one-off accessories like lovely coasters for a cup of tea. Bringing together natural, sustainable materials, classic building techniques and eco-friendly measures to suit the 21st century, there’s something quite romantic about sitting in a finished oak-framed build with views over the Welsh countryside. Now where’s that cup of tea?

Do you like the classic look of oak framed buildings?

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