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Timber Checks – A Natural Process

Timber Checks – A Natural Process

There is something so beautiful and warm about a timber frame home. There is character in the way the posts and beams jut out from the walls and stream across the ceilings. Even more so when you look at the beams a little more closely and take notice of the cracks and splits. If you’ve never owned a timber frame home, you might be wondering what I mean, let me explain.

Much like human beings, roughly half of a living tree’s weight is water. Once the tree is cut, it starts to dry from the outside in and as it dries it begins to shrink. The wood will shrink more quickly along the growth rings, than across the rings, and this uneven shrinkage causes the cracks and splits to develop (AKA “checks”). These checks prove the timber is real, and just like our fingerprints, they also make each timber unique.

These checks prove the timber is real and just like our fingerprints, they also make each timber unique.

For first-time owners of timber frame homes, it can be a bit unsettling to know some timbers will crack and split, but it should be expected. When these checks occur, it is startling (the sound can often resemble a gun shot), but when you hear that loud crack it means somewhere in your home the wood has split, and part of the fun is finding out where. A client of ours – after living in his new cottage for almost six months – said the cracking would have been terrifying had they not been told it would happen. One of his posts had such a sudden and powerful split that powdery remnants of the blown out wood lay on the floor.

This phenomenon may seem unsafe, but it is a natural process for the wood and the result is often beautiful. My mother-in-law used to love looking up at the timbers in a cottage to see how they had split and what unique patterns they had formed. The checks mean that even very similar cottages in layout and build are actually quite unique, you just have to look for it.