An Oakwrights School Trip
Just recently, St Joseph’s RC Primary School in Ross-on-Wye invited me along to talk about how Oakwrights design and build oak frames.
Class 2 has been working really hard on a project about the Great Fire of London and Tudor and Stuart houses. Their teacher, Miss Hill, and my daughter, Charlotte, thought it would be a really good idea to see how things have changed over the last 400 years. I must admit this was quite daunting when I was told about it over dinner one evening; but I couldn’t turn them down.
Having spent a few late evenings working out what we would talk about I ended up with a slideshow presentation that I thought would take about half an hour to go through; how wrong could I have been. The talk ending up lasting more than an hour, and we covered a wide range of quite complex ideas.
I thought we should start off by discussing the different styles of houses that can be found around the country, from Wealden houses with their close studding and distinctive down braces; through the square panels found in the Midlands and the South West to the more decorative styles found in Cheshire and the North. The class immediately started asking some well thought out questions and before I knew it we were discussing how the braces stabilize the frames and the way jettied floors work.
Although I was worried before I started, that some of my talk would be hard to understand, I found myself with an audience who were making me have to think very hard.
Oakwrights operate at the cutting edge of oak framing in this country and are one of the very few companies that design on CAD / CAM software that can be read by our Hundegger machine. We talked about how this allows us to make very complex buildings because we can achieve very tight tolerances. This allows us to cut and use some very unique joints so we looked at the different types of joints and learnt their names; which lead on to lots of pulling and pushing as we came to understand what compression and tension is.
From here it was a short hop, skip and jump to understanding basic structural shapes, particularly the importance of triangles in trusses and braces. We also identified the different parts of oak houses; from bays and bay posts through to soleplates, wallplates and trusses. I was really impressed with how quickly they all picked up on this and could name them in the model houses they worked on later.
Tudor and Stuart houses are, of course, known as ‘black and white’ houses because of their exposed frames and infill panels. Oakwrights are the only company with a patented infill panel.
We believe it is the most technically advanced and rigorously tested available. It is a far cry from the original wattle and daub panels with their staves and laths. We looked at how they used to make these work in traditional frames and how they made the daub - this always gets a reaction from the kids as we talk about mixing in the clay, lime, straw, pooh and wee. Although we could have talked about that for a long time I thought it best to look at how we erect the oak frames.
What we do hasn’t changed much from the old days; we are just able to do it much safer, faster and with much smaller teams. We learnt how we build a frame by laying down the soleplates and fitting the corner posts, bay posts, studs, girding rails, etc.; a box at a time; bay by bay. To help explain this I made a short time-lapse film from a project we built near Ely that showed how modern cranes make lifting and positioning each timber so much easier.
By now time had really flown by and it was time for a run in the playground before the model making. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to finish them before the end of school, but I was able to go back a week later and see how well they had turned out.
It isn’t often that I get the opportunity to get out of the office and share my love and enthusiasm for oak framing. This was one of those occasions and it was made all the more enjoyable by the enthusiasm shown by Class 2. They amazed me with the way they understood what must have been a huge number of new ideas and asked such challenging and interesting questions. They were all a credit to St. Joseph’s, Miss Hill and themselves and I hope that someday in the future some of them will turn out to be the next generation of Oak Framers for Oakwrights.