Issue 16 T.O.C. – Joshua A. Klein – “An Introduction to Scribe-rule Timber Framing”

This post is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Sixteen. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is to come. 

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Joshua A. Klein – “An Introduction to Scribe-rule Timber Framing”

Almost all woodworkers today build from measurements, carefully incising layout lines for saw cuts and relying on the regular dimensions of lumber for predictable results. House carpenters work in much the same way, with a tape measure always at hand and very fixed framing-member spacings (16"-on-center) the rule. But it hasn’t always been this way. 

In this issue, Joshua Klein introduces an ancient method for laying out timber joinery: Scribe rule. Rather than utilizing measurements or very regular, sawn stock, scribe rule was made for tying together rough-hewn, irregular, and curved timbers in joinery with crisp, airtight shoulders. Centuries ago, when all work was hand work and rough surfaces were perfectly acceptable, the structure of a building was defined around unchanging, perfect standards: level and plumb. Because these are derived from gravity, they are inerrant and reliable. A plumb line shows what vertical is, and square from that is level. All the work of the carpenter must obey these – at least, on average.

Klein demonstrates these principles at work as he scribes a mortise-and-tenon joint with two twisted and irregular timbers. Lying flat, a wall structure goes from plumb to level but the immovable center of the earth (harnessed with a plumb bob on a string) is able to clearly show how to account for all the unevenness. Using a pair of compasses, Klein shows how to “drop” the irregularities from one timber to another, allowing for the cutting of joinery that fits precisely and will stand plumb. It is a fascinating and mind-bending exercise that opens up new possibilities for creatively using wild wood.

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