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Tools for Timber Framing List

Started by Jim_Rogers, April 05, 2004, 10:06:17 AM

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Here is my list of tools used for timber framing.
I got this list and should give credit to Will Beemer executive director of the Timber Framers Guild.
I organized his list into categories and/or types of tools.
Many times people have asked me what tools do I need for timber framing?
Well most regular carpenter tools are used in timber framing and a few special tools also.

Here is the list:

Tools for Timber Framing

Layout tools

Calculator (construction type and or scientific)
Chalk line or ink line
Combination square
Framing square
Lumber crayons or chalk
Misc. layout tools: dividers, compass, trammel points, Big Al, Protractor square, parallel line layout ruler, etc
Pencils carpenter and regular
Plumb bob
Stair gauges
Tape measure (16 ft. or 25 ft.)
Utility knife

Hand tools
Block plane (sharp)
Boring machine & bits
Brace & bit (3/4" & 1" auger, and/or set)
Carving tools
Clamps (24" bar or Quik-Grip type)
Corner chisel  
Crosscut & rip handsaws
Hammer (16-22 oz. smooth face)
Hand planes (rabbet, smoothing)
Levels (torpedo, 28 in. and/or 48 in.)
Outside dimension calipers
Sharpening files & Sharpening stone
Timber framing chisel (sharp, 1.5 in. and/or 2 in.)
Tool bag or box
Various size smaller chisels
Wooden or leather head mallet (2-3 lb.)
Power tools
Chain or chisel mortiser
Circular saws (7 1/4 ", 8 1/2", or 16")
Electric hand plane (4", 6" or 12")
Extension cord (#12, 25' minimum)
1/2" electric drill & bits (1" - 1.5" auger and/or set)

Personal Safety Equipment
Ear plugs
Hard hat
Job-site drinking bottle
Nail apron
Safety glasses & Sunglasses
Work gloves
Chaps (when using chainsaws)

Misc: Sawhorses and/or ponies

I hope this list is helpful to you for figuring out what you need in order to do your project.
Jim Rogers
Jim Rogers Sawmill
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension


Here is a picture of the tools:

A = Calculators
B = Chalkline
C = Combination square
D = Framing Square
E = Lumber crayons
F = Dividers
G = Compass
H = Trammel Points on yard stick with stop block
I = "Big Al" Borneman layout tool
J = Protractor square
K = Parallel line layout ruler
L = Pencils carpenter and regular
M = Stair buttons for framing square
N = Tape measures (25' and 30')
O = Utility knife
P = Speed (triangle) square
Q = Bevel gauge
R = Hook ruler
S = Marking gauge
T = Ruler
U = Folding ruler
V = Japanese square

How we use these tools to layout joints will be discussed in further posts to this thread.

Jim Rogers
Jim Rogers Sawmill
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension


Using layout tools.

Before we begin talking about using layout tools, we have to understand some of the basic timber framing principals.
There are certain standards like all mortises have to be along the grain of a timber and not across the grain, because if it was across the grain it would obviously weaken the timber.

Another standard rule is that all timbers have to be flush with an adjoining timber on the outside face of the building, so that these joints don't push the siding away from any timber.

Above is a correct flush joint.

Above are two timbers joining with non flush joints. This is an incorrect layout.

Most timber framing companies use some sort of "square rule" joinery layout as apposed to scribe rule joinery layout.

Scribe rule means that each timber is custom fit to each other timber that it connects with. This is a very time consuming method of timber framing as one timber has to be aligned with each other timber it connects to, one at a time, and the joint locations are transferred from one timber to the other via a plumb line.

To use a plumb line to transfer lines from one timber to another, each timber has to be aligned over a full size pattern of the frame drawn on a stable surface usually the floor.

Drawing joints like this is very difficult and time consuming. And each timber can only be used in this scribed location.

To improve the efficiency of timber framing a new method was developed called square rule timber framing.

In square rule timber framing the timber framer envisions that there is a prefect timber inside each timber. And that this inner timber is true and straight with prefect edges and each face is truly 90° a to all other adjacent faces. This inner timber can be inside a hand hewed timber or a sawn timber.

Now that we have visualized that there is a true shaped inner timber inside an imperfect outer timber we slide this inner timber over to one face of the imperfect timber and therefore create a reference face.

As we are visually sliding this timber over to the face, we also slide it over so that one corner of this inner timber aligns with the best edge of this outer timber, creating a reference edge.

We do this by visually inspecting the timber.

We sight it for the crown and we align the timber so that the crown is in the correct position depending on where this timber will be in the finished frame.

You probably already know how to crown timbers, but if you don't you do this by sighting it from end to end.

After you have inspected it and determined the side with the crown in it, line the timber up on our saw horses so that the best face of the timber for appearance is on the inside of the building and the crown is in the correct position.

Align the timber so that any ugly faces are on the outside, whether it's an interior bent or a gable bent. With gable bents you have two faces that are not going to show and you can hide a lot of ugly stuff. If it's an interior bent and an interior post then all four sides might show and therefore you should pick your prettiest timber for this post.

More in next posting......

Jim Rogers
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension


Using layout tools
Part two.

Crowning horizontal timbers is easy, the crown goes up. Then look at the faces for which side is in and which is out, keeping the crown up. The corner where the top side (as this timber is sitting on your saw horses) meets the outside face is the reference edge. This edge is marked with triangles to show the reference face and the reference edge. I have a drawing of this:

As we are looking at this timber, in our mind's eye, we look at this timber as it will be in its final position in the intended timber frame. We have to visualize where it will be when all the joinery is done and it is assembled in the frame. We may need to refer to our drawing of the frame in order to help us "see" which face of the timber will be the most important face for appearance and place that face toward the inside of the building but also keeping the crown in the correct position. And place any ugly faces toward the outside which will be covered over with the siding, flooring, and/or roof decking.

Once we have our timber faces selected and our inner timber is slid over to create a reference face and reference edge we label our face and edge so we can see where it is at any time.

For us to label this reference face we draw, with a pencil, a triangle on the reference face with one point of the triangle pointing toward the reference edge. And we darken in this triangle in with the pencil. Then on the adjacent face we draw another triangle with one corner of the triangle pointing toward the reference edge, and we leave this triangle open or not colored in. As shown in this photo:

Now that we have our timber inspected, and we have aligned our best looking face toward the inside of the building, and have labeled our reference face and reference edge we can begin to look at this timber for locations of the joinery.

I use square rule layout on everything, it's easier to make everything line up and fit correctly. All joints have to be laid out from one edge of the timber; the outside edge of the timber that is on the outside of the building is the most common edge to use.

As you can see in the above drawing and photo, the open triangle is on the side of the timber and the colored in triangle is on the top. The top is the reference face and they both point to the reference edge. This edge where two surfaces meet is called the "arris." Now in the above drawing and photo this is a horizontal timber.

If the beam was a post then the end that has the label "inner timber" would be down toward the foundation and the arris/reference edge would run up the side of the post.

More next posting..........

Jim Rogers
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension


Using layout tools.
Part three.

Next, in order for all the joints to be in the correct place in a bent or a frame you have to establish (or the timber frame designer has established) some sort of frame rule or frame convention. Such as "All joints are laid out from the west side.” What these means is that somewhere on the drawing the designer has drawn in a compass arrow showing which way the building will be sitting; as it sits on the drawing plan. This compass arrow shows us which way is north, south, east and west. Like this:

And with some frame rules or conventions there is an exception: "All joints are laid out from the west side except the east most bent.”

This frame has five bents and all interior bents are laid out from the west face including the gable bent on the west side, all reference faces of all posts are on the west side and the outside edge is the reference edge.

Here is another view of this building:

You can see all the interior bents and that they are all laid out from the west face by looking at the through mortises on the posts where the tie beams meet. You'll see that the mortise is closer to the west end bent except the east end gable bent. This is so that all joints line up and everything goes together correctly.

Now, you hopefully understand about reference edges.
And you can now understand why you have to always hang or place your Big Al lay out tool so that the overhanging lip part is against the reference edge, like this:

I took this photo to show you what a Big Al looks like on a timber.

This way when you layout a tenon on the end of a beam that goes between two posts and the mortises on the two posts, are all laid out from the reference faces they will all line up and the joints in all timbers will be flush with each other.

More next posting........

Jim Rogers
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension


Using layout tools
Part four.
I use the Big Al more than I do a framing square as it has the hang-over-lip and sits on the timber without being held in place and is easier than using a framing square.
Before we begin drawing an end of timber cut line we need to further inspect the timber for the locations where the joinery will be cut to make sure there aren't any big knots or defects in the timber right were these joints will be. What we do is to lay a measuring tape on the beam and lock it so that we can slide it from end to end as we need to in order to locate the areas where the joints will be made.

Next we refer to our drawing to determine how long the tenon will be on the end of this beam. In the case of this beam the tenon is to be 4 1/2" long from the end of the beam which is 131" long.

Now we can see where the shoulders of the tenon would be if we make this location the end of the timber. We also look at other joint locations along the timber and see where or if there are any knots at these joint locations. If we see that there is going to be knots where the joints are intended to be we can slide the tape down towards one end of the beam or the other until these intended joint locations are in an area where there aren't any defects or knots.
Once we have determined that using this starting point on the timber will not place any future joint locations in an area where there are large defects or knots we can begin laying out the timber by drawing the end of timber cut line.

If you are going to draw a line all the way around a timber, such as a cut off line to make the over all length of timber, you first start at your reference edge. And draw your line across this face at the proper spot.

But before you move your Big Al from this spot you transfer the line around the corner onto the adjacent face using the hang over lip of the tool.

Then you hang the tool down the adjacent face without rolling the timber and mark the line down this side of the timber.

This would be the side that has the open triangle on it. Then after that line is drawn you would draw a line down the opposite side away from the open triangle side, but hang the tool down from the reference face (the one with the colored in triangle) this way you have drawn three lines referencing from the same face/edge, and they should be in line or in plane with each other.


Now for the last face you can roll your timber over (placing the adjacent face up) and place your Big Al on it from the adjacent face (open triangle face) toward other side and then draw the last line from the second line to the third line. If these lines, the second line and the third line don't line up then your timber is out of square. If your timber is out of square then you make the lines meet by connecting the end of the third line to the end of the second line. This way the post will be cut 90° to the reference edge.


So in that case don't make the fourth line with the Big Al until you see whether or not the lines truly line up, or you'll have to erase or plane off the incorrect line. If the lines don't line up then use another straight edge and connect the second line to the third line, so that when this line is cut the end will be 90° to the reference face and edge.

More next posting.....

Jim Rogers
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension

Just a quick note on the Safety Equipment above....I would add Kevlar chaps or jean inserts.  Anytime you are using chainsaws, big drills, skill saws, etc. get those chaps on! :)
Greg Steckler


Good point Greg!
I added them to my list.....
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension


Using Layout Tools
Part Five A.

After we have drawn a line completely around a timber as an end of beam cut line, we next measure over and locate the shoulder line:

We do this by using a tape measure, but not from the end of the tape. The end of the tape has a movable hook on it so that when you use it to hook over an end of a piece of wood the hook slides out to read the correct length. But when you use your tape for an inside measurements, up against another object, like a wall, the hook end slides back to give you the correct inside measurement.

This sliding end hook shouldn't be trusted to give an accurate measurement. So we disregard this hook and use the ten inch mark as our beginning mark.
It’s easy to line up the ten inch mark on a line and then add ten inches to our measurement to get the correct location.

In the above photo the ten inch mark is lined up on the end of timber cut line and he is marking off the tenon shoulder location (in this case four and one half inches).

One more thing about tapes. I buy a new tape for laying out a frame. I only use that “frame tape” on laying out timbers for this frame. I don’t use this tape for any other project at any time.  And I don’t use any other tape for laying out this frame. Tapes can be different from tape to tape, and brand to brand. We’d hope they are all the same, but experience has showed us this is not always true.

Understanding what we want to layout in the first place helps. We get this information from our timber frame drawing and the frame conventions.

The timber in the picture above is a five by five inch timber that we’ll be laying out a four and one half inch long tenon on. The layout will be one and one half inches off the layout face and the tenon will be one and one half inches thick. The tenon will be reduced to four and one half inches in width to comply with our frame rule. That frame rule is that all timbers are sized down to the next one half inch in size, at the joint location.

Here is a drawing of what we will be creating:

Here it is labeled so we see what is what:

Now that we have our shoulder location marked and we have an understanding of what we want to layout, we can again begin with our Big Al layout tool.

First we mark the shoulder location on the reference face from the reference edge over to the one and one half inch slot:

Starting at the edge we draw a line over to the spot opposite the one and one half inch slot but not clean across the timber:

Then without moving the Big Al we pick up our pencil and start drawing the line again at the three inch slot:

And carry that line all the way over to the other edge.

Next, we slide the Big Al down and mark off the tenon lines at the one and one half slot:

And the three inch slot, making a tenon one and one half inches thick:

More next posting.....

Jim Rogers
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension


Using Layout Tools
Part 5 B

The next step is to bring these lines around the end of the timber:

And the other line:

Now we mark the tenon size on the four and one half slot:

At this point we have the top of the timber marked and the end of the timber marked.

Now we need to mark off the sides of the timber:

First we draw the shoulder line down the side from the top (reference face) to the bottom. Then we slide the Big Al over and mark the tenon size line across the bottom:

This size line is carried beyond the shoulder line to allow the timber to be reduced enough so that it won't be in the way of any part of the adjoining timber. We usually carry the line over one and one half to two inches beyond the shoulder. And then bevel that reduced face with a forty five degree cut.

And then we layout the other side:

First mark the shoulder line. And then the size reduction line:

Now we have three side of the timber laid out and we just need to roll it over and connect the reduction line across the bottom so that when it's cut it will look like this:

The last step in laying out this tenon end is to score the lines with a knife:

We start the same way we drew the lines with the pencil and we score the lines with the knife. When scoring lines be sure to hold your metal straight edge on the timber correctly. And we score each line three times. Once very lightly, second time a little harder and the third time very deep. This scoring of the lines cuts the fibers of the timber and helps to prevent tear out when using a saw. Also, it creates an exact point, as the knife cut is absolute.

Next we will begin cutting the tenon to size.

See thread called "Cutting a tenon on a timber" for the next steps in this series of stories.

Jim Rogers

Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension



I oughta know, being a TFG member, but I don't:  Where does one get a "Big Al" and how much are they?



You can get one from the Guild.
Go to the TFG web site at and select the online store.
Select tools on the store first page, and then select "layout template".
The "Big Al" as it's known as, was invented by Al Borneman. And he used to make them until just a few years ago. He retired and we thought we wouldn't be able to get them any more.
Then someone bought his patent and started making them again. And they are again available, from the guild.
They are $65 each ($65 each was the price in 2004) they are currently a lot more. They come with some instructions about how to use the hole on the end so that you can use it and make a 45° line but I forgot how to do that, right now.

One lip on the Big Al has a thick block, the other has a thin block, this allows you to use the same slots for different measurements off your layout face depending on which side of the tool you have up (or down). One side has full inch slots except the 1.5 inch slot, and you flip it over and the other side has slots on the half inch, due to the thick and thin blocks.
You can see in the "knifing" photo the end of the blocks and the labels on the up side showing you the measurement off the layout face.

One of my teachers told us he'd walk 50 miles in a snow storm up hill both ways bare foot if he forgot his "Big Al" and had to go home to get it...... :D

It's well worth the money and it makes drawing lines and scoring lines very easy and fast.

I hope you can get one and it should last you a life time.....

Good luck with your project....
Jim Rogers
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension


Tips on Using a Big Al for 45° angles.

Recently a fellow timber framer provided me with a instruction sheet on using the Big Al for making 45° lines.

Here is a shot of how it's done:

Basically, you place your Big Al layout tool on top of your timber and turn it until the "site" hole lines up with the edge of your timber. Simple enough.

Jim Rogers
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension


What software are you using for your TF plans?
WM LT70, WM 40 Super, WM  '89 40HD
Cat throwing champion 1996, 1997, 1999. (retired)


Hello Jim, I am the guy from NJ whom you sent pics to. I figured I would join the forum. This way I can keep in touch more and ask you questions.. If you don't mind. Will you be putting up a web site anytime soon? It would be much easier to do than having to send out photos all the time.

"Remember, amateurs made the ark, professionals built the Titanic."


The 3d cad drawings are done in Dietrich's D-Cad, and the 2-d stuff is their 2dPlanCad program.
The 2dPlanCAD is free at their site, which is // Select english and find it under "Misc" under downloads, but you must first register with them.
If you'd like to discuss software you can start a new thread in this section and ask questions or email me directly if you're interested in learning more about this software.

A website with the photos of the tools for sale would be nice, but as they change weekly would require a lot of time to upload, and keep straight.
Right now, I'm way behind on updating the list of "for sale" items.
Selling these tools is not my primary business. It's just a side line to help out timber framers and others who need speciality tools for woodworking.
Right now were going to just continue with sending out pictures of the tools requested. Thanks for you interest and we'll have the list updated soon.
Jim Rogers
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension



I believe the "Big Al" layout tools is now $75 at the Guild Online store.

Better get yours before the price goes up again!

Jim Rogers
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension


Thanks for this thorough and very informative post of Timber Framing. I always wanted a Timber Frame home but lacked the skills in building one (I was 19 years old when I started). I think I have the skills now so I might make a few test projects first, archway in my home, mailbox, etc just to see how everything comes out. Then maybe from there build a Timber Frame addition. In any case, keep up the good work. You put a lot of time and effort into placing that stuff online and I wanted you to know that it was appreciated immensley.


Any of you guys use lasers like the PLS 5?


I love the "Big AL" what a great tool !


Quote from: Jim_Rogers on November 19, 2004, 02:08:57 PM

I believe the "Big Al" layout tools is now $75 at the Guild Online store.

Better get yours before the price goes up again!

Jim Rogers
"Remember, amateurs made the ark, professionals built the Titanic."

Dave Shepard

"One of my teachers told us he'd walk 50 miles in a snow storm up hill both ways bare foot if he forgot his "Big Al" and had to go home to get it...... "

His name wasn't Dave C. was it?  :D I have heard that one before.

This is a great thread Jim, thanks.

Dave, aka "DMS"
Wood-Mizer LT40HDD51-WR Wireless, Kubota L48, Honda Rincon 650, TJ208 G-S, and a 60"LogRite!


Welcome, Dave Shepard, and yes it was Dave Carlon........
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension


Man I could spend a summer with you Jim. Unlucky for me I'm one of those poor saps that has to learn by doing not by reading.
Breezewood 24 inch mill
Have a wooderful day!!


Wow!!! Thanks so much for all the information.  You took a lot of time to help a lot of people such as me.
                   Thank You



I rigged this up in about 20 minutes (after thinking about it for months) that has made my timber framing a bit easier.  I call it the flying H.  It consists of two peices of modified angle iron which I bolted to the bar of one of my chain saws to make a table to hold the saw at a right angle to the beam being cut.  It was inspired by the Prazi Beam cutter, but I didn't feel like paying the bucks for one of those underpowered deals when I already own a few chain saws and bars that cut alot faster.  I mounted the table about 10 inches back which can still cut my beams, but far enough forward to still tighten the chain.

With my chaps On I will even flip it verticle and run it like a prazi.  Sure beats running a circular saw around 4X and using a handsaw!

A word of caution however, being a chain saw, its cuts are not as consistent as you might like.  It is great for purlins or joists that sit in pockets where the ends dont show if you have any tear out.  I have also been known to leave a little bit (like in a squirrel cut) and then clean it up with a chisel for that "hand tool look" w/out the hand tool work.

Woodshop teacher, pasture raised chicken farmer
34 horse kubota L-2850, Turner Band Mill, '84 F-600,
living in self-built/milled timberframe home

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