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Contributing Editor

Susan Bady has been writing about the housing industry for 25 years. She most recently served as senior editor of design for Professional Builder and Custom Builder magazines, and is now a contributing editor to those publications as well as the portal Web site Bady has also written for such consumer magazines as Cabin Life and Better Homes and Gardens’ Home Plan Ideas. You can reach her at

This conference is a must for timber-frame lovers

July 12, 2013
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On August 8-11, the Timber Framers Guild (TFG) will hold its 2013 National Conference at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. The event has been going on since1985 and promises something for everyone — even the kids.

“It’s really more of an industry conference, but this year we’re having a consumer’s day on Saturday, August 10,” says conference coordinator Brenda Baker. Baker and her husband, Frank, are the founders of Riverbend Timber Framing in Blissfield, Mich. They’ve since sold the company but remain involved in various ways, she says. Baker served as president of the TFG board of directors for three years as well as vice president and secretary.

Children can learn about timber framing (under supervision, of course) while they build a playhouse at the Children’s Workshop. But the heart of the conference is the educational offerings. This year, TFG is joining forces with two sub-groups, the Traditional Timberframe Research and Advisory Group and the Timber Frame Engineering Council (TFEC), plus its affiliated group the Timber Frame Business Council, to expand the learning component. There will be a stair-building workshop on Thursday and Friday, August 8 and 9. Attendees can also choose from three one-day workshops on August 8: advanced SketchUp; chip carving; and scribing layout. In addition, the TFEC is conducting its symposium on Thursday.

The main conference program is chock-full of choices including a bus tour of Vermont barns; a roundtable with the Bakers called “Veteran Voices;” and a plenary presentation with John Abrams of South Mountain Co., West Tisbury, Mass., on business strategies for the future. You can brush up on your estimating skills, have your house plans reviewed, ramp up your marketing program and even practice throwing an axe. Baker notes that the seminar on shear testing (where attendees can have their timber joints tested) is a perennial favorite. Leading that session is the ebullient Ben Brungraber of Fire Tower Engineered Timber, Providence, R.I.

Timber framing is a centuries-old practice that showcases fine craftsmanship while incorporating the latest techniques for structural integrity and energy efficiency. “When we first built our houses, every room, including the bathrooms, was post-and-beam or timber frame,” says Baker. “Now it may just be the central living areas. [Builders will combine] timber framing with some other sort of energy-efficient construction method.” Recognition of the benefits and advantages of timber framing has been growing steadily, she says. “It was always considered a high-quality type of construction with a lot of aesthetic appeal, with the open floor plans and high ceilings. And it was green before green was a buzzword.”

Consumers are attracted to timber-frame homes because of their good looks, but they’re really sold on the quality. Baker knows buyers who were so enamored of their homes that they started their own timber-framing business.

“When we founded [Riverbend in 1979] there were no resources; it was all trial and error,” she says. “That’s why timber-frame companies around the country pulled together to start the Guild. While we are competitors to a degree, we’re also collaborators who want timber framing to be the best it can be.”

Do yourself a favor and check out this conference. CEU credits are offered for most of the seminars and workshops. And where else will you have the opportunity to toss an axe? 

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