Frontenac This Week


Timber framing course in Harrowsmith a success

Meghan Balough for Frontenac This Week

Not until the lightning flashed did the rainstorm stop a group of enthusiastic carpenters from completing a week's worth of work.

Ten participants from across Ontario and Quebec traveled to Jason Gibson's home in Harrowsmith last week to learn the historic art of timber framing.

The course ran from Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. each day, with a finished frame as the reward on the last day for all their hard work.

The finished 16 foot by 24-foot skeleton was already sold when the men began working on it. It will be disassembled and shipped to the buyer, who happens to be a former student and who plans to use it as a workshop.

Bob Ferguson, from Unionville, is not a carpenter, but he wanted to learn about timber framing because he is planning to build a cottage.
"This experience has been fantastic," says Ferguson. "This is totally new. It's good working with a bunch of guys you've never met before who are from different ranges of experience."

Timber framing uses mortise and tenon joints to create building frames from heavy timber. It is a method that dates back thousands of years around the world, and can be seen in many old buildings and barns across Canada.

Jason Gibson is the owner of Gibson Timber Framing. He has been in the business for nearly 10 years, and has taught courses at St. Lawrence and Algonquin colleges. He builds houses, and also reclaims old barns to be reassembled as houses. He hosts the week-long course twice per year - once at his home in Harrowsmith in May, and again in July in Manotick, near Ottawa.

"We get a wide range of people from all over the place," says Gibson of the people who sign up.

"Some have skills, some have never done anything with carpentry. It makes for a great mix because you get so many different types of people. After a week of working together you get a real team feeling."

"It's amazing what the right teacher, and people with various skill levels can do together," says Ray Pilon, who traveled from north of Wakefield, Que. for the course. Pilon built his own log home six years ago, and is now planning a timber frame addition. "This gives everybody a good idea of what can be accomplished."

Gibson says most people find the course online, and many have the desire to learn so they can work on their own building ideas.

Usually they have a project in mind, a cottage or cabin, or a house if they're ambitious," says Gibson. "We have had people go ahead and build their own timber frame houses. But some just want to learn something new and work with wood."

The groups usually work on a 16-foot by 20-foot structure, which is then sold for reassembly at the buyer's site. A frame of this size is sold for around $6,000 - two thirds of that goes into covering the building materials, and one third is donated to charity.

"For this building, we're going to donate to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which is doing quite a bit of good work in our area," Gibson says. "We also support World Vision, and a charitable organization that builds wells."

Participants went about their work with obvious enthusiasm and commitment, and the final product, though not huge in dimensions, is a sturdy and attractive looking frame that could become anything, depending on how it is finished off.

"The timber frame look is a look that's been around for hundreds of year," says Ferguson.

The next course takes place in Manotick in July. For more information visit


Timothy Andrews