Station: [9] Timber Framing and the Carpenter

“We’ll finish off by felling that oak back there. Then we’ll have our 300 tree trunks. It will be enough.”

For weeks, the carpenter Johannes Hecker has been at work in Eppingen Forest. He’s building a very prestigious house, right in the centre of town. Only the best tree trunks are selected – mostly oaks, but also a few beeches. He squares them on site and then starts to erect the structural frame in the timber yard outside of town.

Johannes Hecker doesn’t need a blueprint – he has one in his head. His client, Hans von Gemmingen, has discussed every detail of the house with him on many occasions.

When he was a travelling journeyman, Hecker found out about all the various types of timber-frame construction, and learnt to build them, too. He’s familiar with well over forty types of timber joint.

Beam after beam is skilfully assembled. His corner, mortice and tenon, and lap joints are so carefully designed that all the joints safely and reliably absorb the forces resting on them. This house will last for centuries, he’s sure of it.

Each beam is “signed” with carpenter’s marks, so the building can later be erected on site in the town. Just a few weeks later, the beams make their way by horse and cart through the town gates and to the building site. Where they are pieced together, until every section is in its place and the timber frame has been raised. As soon as the topping-out ceremony has been held, and the house signed off with a blessing, Johannes Hecker’s work is done. And it’s time to celebrate.

The many tree trunks for the house cost a fortune, and the carpenter would have made good money, too. What came next, was undertaken by the client, with the help of friends and neighbours. The materials used to fill the spaces between the timbers were virtually free. Those lending a hand wove rough, soaked withies – willow rods – into the gaps and daubed them with a mixture of cow and horse manure and mud. Next came a layer of fine loam rendering, which was subsequently whitewashed to fill in any tiny cracks. And then the house was finished.

All of that, or something very like it, is exactly what happened here in Eppingen in 1496 – right on the site where we are now.

So you see: Eppingen timber-frame architecture alone is worth a trip.

All depictions: © Stadt- und Fachwerkmuseum Eppingen