Mention the name Ben Law to most people and they’ll say “Who?”. However if you follow that up by describing a certain episode of Grand Designs where a woodsman, permaculturist & author who, whilst living in a caravan in the woods, built his own home from timber sourced from his wood and there’s a good chance they’ll know exactly who you mean.
Since his Grand Designs appearance in 2003 Ben has gone on to form his own timber framing construction company and by using a fusion of ancient and contemporary techniques he’s now building similar structures for others including an outdoor classroom for The Sustainability Centre and a shop for his local village.
Ben also runs a few courses a year on the building techniques and by booking well in advance I was lucky enough to attend a 4 day introduction to round wood timber framing at his home in Sussex recently.
Over the 4 days we learned that round wood is up to 30% stronger that sawn wood of the same size and how a properly managed woodland can provide the raw materials for the majority of a house’s structure thus reducing the processing overhead (no need for milling or seasoning, just strip the bark off) and if it is sourced close to the build it keeps the transportation costs low as well as helping to support the local economy in terms of employment.
We spent a good deal of time discussing the tools used and some of the more advanced techniques like log scribing where a transfer scribe is used to trace the profile of one log onto another in order to make a close fitting joint.
We quickly rolled our sleeves up, though and for the majority of the time we were busy making 2 cruck frames (A frames) big enough to support a large shed like structure. We laid the ‘poles’ out on a framing bed and spent a while measuring and marking before being let loose with gouges and a huge chisel like thing called a slick which is used to get similar results to a plane but within the joint itself.
On the second evening we got a première of Ben’s new timber framing DVD which we watched in
his lounge of his wonderful home. It goes through a lot of the techniques we were learning as well as giving a much deeper background to the full build from laying the foundations, the frame raising day all the way through to putting the roof on and laying the floor.
It was a great 4 days and I left inspired and with the confidence that I could now put these new found skills to use (land and raw materials permitting!). Ben is a really nice down to earth and modest guy who also happens to be good at transferring his knowledge. If you’re even
mildly interested in learning more about sustainable building techniques then I’d urge you to take in one of his courses.