In the United States alone, there are buildings that have stood the test of time for hundreds of years!
There are buildings in New Mexico dating back to 1000 AD-1450 AD, but they’re made from adobe (Earth mixed with water and straw). But I’m not speaking to building materials of stone, adobe or similar.
There are wooden homes in American from the 1600s that are still intact and functional buildings to this day!
The oldest wooden home, is the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts, which was built around 1637 and housed 8 generations of the Fairbanks family before being sold and repurposed as a museum!
How could a home made of such a soft material (considering the alternative building materials of the time) last almost 400 years now?
Johnathan Fairbanks hired a master carpenter to build the home for him; he did not set to erect such a home without possessing the skills to do so. The carpenter he hired used Oak Timber for the framing, which is likely why it still stands today and how it withstood the harsh New England winters, rainy season and mild summers for so long.
Consider your materials and methods
The most important first step to any wood project, from a birdhouse to a family home or even building a ship is the method of construction.
Planning is the first phase, and then sourcing the right materials.
So when you sit down at your drafting board to design your next project, put a lot of thought into how long you want the finished product to last and research the best way to fulfill that plan.
Different hardwoods and softwoods are available to be used on a variety of projects, while hardwoods are more for decorative purpose and call for a higher price, softwoods are typically more affordable. You’ll want to make sure you choose the appropriate lumber.
Framing your vision
Every large scale project will require a main structure to support the secondary or ancillary pieces that attach to it.
For instance, a home has a sturdy frame that supports the interior walls, exterior walls, roofing material, flooring, windows, and any part that you can see. [Typically framing is hidden in 80% or more of the home, and only exposed in basements and attics that remain “unfinished”].
When framing a home, skilled carpenters know how to join the wood studs together and how to create a strong wall that is “level, plumb, square, and true”!
But, we’re not all building a home, so what’s the big deal?
Even smaller scale projects like the workbench you may have, or the cabinets in your kitchen required some ingenuity to frame and give structure to.
Cabinetry is specifically constructed in a way that allows one or many to be transported as assembled units if needed. Some cabinets are able to hold an impressive amount of weight too (and these are attached to your walls, which are supported by the framing of the home).
Just materials and planning?
The only other step is the method of construction that makes or breaks a build.
I have seen picture frames put together with glue, nails, staples, and even wood screws. But which method is the right one?
It all depends on your project and the type of wood used. Honestly, the strongest method would probably be glue combined with pocket-holes. Which is a method that allows superior attachment by not trying to use the “end grain” of a board for a hold.
Attaching boards together by driving a screw into a board through the end grain of another should be avoided if at all possible. This method can be compared to driving a screw into a bundle of straws (from one of the ends), as the straws will simply separate to make room for the hardware.
So you’ll want to use the right attachment hardware for your project, and also to have the correct joinery planned out.
When in doubt, try it out!
If you’re wondering which methods work the best, you should go ahead and try out a few of them!
Say you’ve got your ideal material, and the project you’re building needs to last 50 years or better, but you’re not sure which method of construction will work the best to get your there..
Try a small scale version of the project with a few different variables! Build 3 smaller versions (or just the joinery you plan to use) and put them through some “torture tests” by twisting the joint, or applying a lot of weigh to it.
If you’re on a project that will be subjected to the elements and harsh weather [like a roofed building], try building on a smaller scale and running water over it to test the resilience of your method.
In this line of work, it really comes down to finding the most effective methods to complete high quality projects efficiently. We’ll make mistakes which result in better than expected or worse than we could have planned. It’s part of the process to fail, and it allows us to learn how to make a better product in the future. Just try not to fail when building a home; it’s best to hire a professional instead!