Best Timber Frame Workshop & Classes

In preparation of the building of our debt-free timber frame home, we thought it would be a wise idea to first attend a timber framing workshop for some first-hand experience, and so began our search for the best timber frame workshop to attend.

In our research, we wanted to find a timber frame workshop that was representative of a real-life home build. In our observations, many timber frame classes teach on very small structures, hardly representative of a home build.

The workshop we decided to take is the Purely Post and Beam workshop at the Shelter Institute in Woolwich, Maine. Talk about having to travel over halfway across the United States, but it seemed worth it!

We went with Shelter Institute because in their Purely Post and Beam workshop they put together a 24×24 timber frame and seeing as our home would be 36×36 this didn’t seem too far off. Not only that, but they have a reputation for working with owner-builders such as ourselves throughout the entire home build, willing to help as much or as little as you need, so it seemed to be a great connection to have.

Shelter Institute was kind enough to let us shoot a video a day at the workshop and not only share some of the things we learned, but also to share what the workshop experience is like and how we thought it would contribute to the building of our home.

UPDATE: Since attending this class over six months back, we’ve worked with Shelter Institute on the engineering of our own timber frame and they’ve been critical to our success of the home build. In fact, they even came to our property in Idaho to host the Purely Post and Beam class on a real-life home build (third time they’ve done this in 45 years)… check out the full timber frame workshop playlist on our YouTube channel!

Packing for The Timber Frame Workshop

Packing was something of great concern to us since we’re not just packing a bag of clothing each.

We each need to have a full set of timber framing tools, work clothing, all of our videography equipment (including the drone, just in case) and Jesse’s chiropractic tools since he’s in rehab for an ongoing back issue.

In the first video in this series, we’ll share what our pre-pack day looks like… you know… practice for THE BIG DAY! We’re happy to say that with a little ingenuity, we were able to make everything fit (we think)!

Traveling to the Workshop

As we’re in small town America and the timber frame workshop is in a small town in Maine, we have a lot of driving and flying to do to get where we’re going.

In video #2 in this series we travel across the United States to Shelter Institute in Woolwich, Maine!

Workshop Orientation & Tour of Rare Owner-Built Timber Frame Homes

The day before the workshop began was orientation day where we learned what to expect from the workshop and also brushed up on some basic timber frame knowledge.

Not only that, but we had the opportunity to tour a couple of beautiful owner-built timber frame homes that were built cash over time. This was incredibly meaningful to us to see what’s possible and we’re so thankful for the opportunity, and that the owners were willing to let us share it with you!

Day 1: Drafting, Sawing & Layouts

The first day of the workshop was full of some great introductory information including learning how to draw frames to scale as well as sawing and laying out the joinery.

Day 2: Chisel Sharpening

On day two we learned that no chisel comes truly sharp from the factory – our chisels included. We learned a great way to predictably sharpen most any chisel and then got to work chiseling!

We sharpened all day long to end up with 1.5 sharp chisels which we completed the rest of the class with.

What this means is that we have A LOT of sharpening to do before we begin the joinery on the frame of our house!

Day 3: Timber Frame Joinery

Day three in class we focused primarily on joinery. Every student had the opportunity to cut almost every type of joint on the 24×24 frame.

Also, we learned the value of power tools in the joinery process including use of a chain mortiser.

Power tools can really help to speed things up but it’s great to learn the art without them first!

Day 4: Finishing Up Joinery + Owner-Built Timber Frame Home Tours

Day four of the timber frame workshop was one for the books… we started off the day by finishing up all of the joinery and then we hit the road to go tour some timber frame homes!

Not only that, but we finished up with a group potluck which really helped tie the entire experience together.

We watched a couple documentaries on Shelter Institute and it gave us goosebumps that the mindset of people that wish to build their own homes hasn’t really changed from those that were building their homes 30 years ago.

Day 5: Timber Frame Raising + Out Takes!

The day you’ve all been waiting for… frame raising day! It was such an honor to be part of this group on this special day and see all of our hard teamwork come together almost flawlessly.

It’s amazing what the power of a dedicated team can do, and being part of this frame raising really helped to put this portion of our home build into perspective.

Be sure to watch to the end of the last video in this series… the out takes are priceless!

Costs to Attend this Timber Frame Class

Want to know the total costs to us to attend this timber frame workshop, including tuition, travel, lodging, tools and food? Check out the details below!

Tuition ($1,700)

Shelter Institute charges $1,700 for a couple to attend this workshop, and I think it’s a little over one thousand for an individual. Please check current prices if you’re interested in this workshop. This does not include tools – you’re required to bring your own.

Tools ($1,425.76)

Shelter Institute gave us a list of recommended tools for the workshop, and we tried to buy MOST of the things on that list. We did wait to buy a handful of tools as we weren’t sure if we’d need them, and instead of buying something blindly online, we chose to wait and buy them there as they sell only brands they have used and stand the test of time and quality.

Slick & Chisels: $877 We bought more chisels than we probably needed and went with Barr chisels. In the end, we could’ve gotten away with TWO chisels (no slick) but we bought one slick and four chisels (two 2″ and two 1.5″). We don’t regret this investment as they’ll likely be put to use on our home build.

Tools at workshop: $533.31 Things we bought included a honing guide, sharpening stones, two different Japanese pull saws, two mallets, a marking knife and a few small things. We could’ve done with one less saw (or brought a couple from home, to be honest) but we’re happy with these investments also as the pull saw is quite nice.

Home Depot: $15.45 We bought a few small things on the list such as erasers, marking pencils, a tape measure, and nail pouches (didn’t use) although at the end of the workshop, we were gifted Shelter nail pouches which we look forward to sporting around the property!

Flights ($1,786.10)

We booked our flights just six weeks before the workshop so we didn’t have time on our side, but we were able to fly into Portland, ME which was just 30 minutes or so away from the workshop location.

To the workshop, flying Delta: $1,151.90 (two people, included two checked bags)

Flying home, United: $434.30 (two people, including two checked bags)

Extra baggage: $200 We were gouged a fee of $100 PER BAG for having our bags each being 3lbs over the 50lb weight limit. Ouch, thanks United! Only to find out that many travelers on our flight didn’t pay at all for their checked bag.

Lodging ($384.56)

Hotel rooms: 154.56

It must be a sign that we are aging… because if we have a 6am flight or a flight that lands at midnight (with no delays), we’d rather crash near the airport! We booked a room the night before our flight and the night we landed in Maine since it was so late. No regrets.

Lodging in Maine: $230

Instead of booking a hotel room or a place on AirBnB, we decided to call down the list provided to us by Shelter Institute and try to find local lodging offered by past students or others affiliated with Shelter Institute.

We stayed in a beautiful timber frame home built a past student and not only were accommodations perfect, but we had the opportunity to meet and get to know a lovely couple. This heightened the experience for us and highly recommend it if you have a similar opportunity.

Rental Car ($302.16)

While it crossed our minds to try to carpool with other out-of-town students, we decided that it was best to have our own transportation and be on our own schedule. This worked out great.

Rental car: $277.16

Fuel: $25

Food ($481.05)

Airport food: $174.44 Two days of airport food… that wasn’t even satisfying… yuck. We always forget that we have the option to bring our own food to the airport. Next time, we may remember this.

Food while in Maine: $306.69 We bought groceries but due to our schedules, we only ate “in” twice, the rest of the nights we were out and about so we ate out, including two meals with students of the workshop and the Shelter Institute family.

Total Cost ($6,079.63)

This was a lot of money to spend on the workshop, and only $79 off what we budgeted for ($6,000). Or was it really THAT much money? We knew that attending this workshop would mean that $6,000 less would be attributed to our home build this year, but we knew that the experience of helping to build an actual timber frame together would be invaluable.

Here are a list of things that came out of this $6,000 and a week of time’s investment.

  • Experienced working on an actual timber frame together
  • Had professional guidance and learned tried and true ways to get the job done
  • Answered loads of questions on our home build that we weren’t finding with our research
  • Through this class we identified major design flaws in the design of our home that we were preparing to go through with, such as a roof that was too complex and wasting a large portion of our floor space
  • Learned about the option of a “dry stack” basement that could be half the cost of our original idea of going with ICFs, that would also have better thermal mass as it wouldn’t be insulted on both sides
  • Developed a relationship with someone that we trust to do the joinery and engineering on our final plan design
  • Formed great relationships with others interested in timber framing
  • Had the opportunity to stay with a couple that have each built their own timber frame home, cash, and live a week in their life
  • Learned the property way to sharpen a chisel and what “sharp” really means
  • Gained confidence that we can coordinate our own workshop of sorts and how to do it efficiently so that everyone works well together and the frame goes up without errors
  • Saved who knows how much money by not building a structure that wouldn’t fit all of our needs… something that you can’t really put a price tag on

Final Thoughts

As final thoughts, we encourage anyone who things they want to build a home to try to attend a workshop of sorts, or jump in on a home build. I think our only regret is that we didn’t do this a full year ago.

That said, we’re happy we squeezed it in last minute. What made us really happy is that everyone at that workshop saw the value of investing $2,000+ in their education, took time off from work to attend such a class, and had strong reasons for being at the workshop. Nobody was there because they had to be there. Let’s just say that we were in great company.

Hide picture