Timber finishes: a world of color and texture

These hand-hewn Shou Sugi Ban timbers have an additional two-three coats of staining. Photo courtesy of Cardello Architects.

The world of timber frames is ubiquitous to Douglas fir, treated with an oil, and left to mellow over time to a golden hue. It’s classic, bringing to mind the mountain home with a two-story vaulted great room and a wall of windows overlooking a vista. Bring us a mug of hot cocoa and let us snuggle by the fire.

Classic oiled Douglas fir timbers in this Colorado mountain timber frame home.

That’s not all timber frames can be, though. Take your species of choice and add a custom finish. The advantage to the design professional is a huge color palette of options and to the homeowner the ability for timber to flex and fit many styles. We like it because it gives us a chance to play, to bring a material we’re intimately familiar with into another existence.

Rough-sawn and white wash finished Douglas fir timbers in this Boston home. Photo: Meghann Gregory Photography.

Douglas fir timber rough-sawn chainsaw with draw-knife edge with a two-step color finish. Photo: Neil Archer Roan

Applied hand-hewn timbers with a custom stain in this Massachusetts home. Photo: Eric Roth Photography.

Some finish options are less complex; a white wash for example. Others are multi-step recipes developed specifically for a client’s tone and hue. Either way the finish can enhance a frame’s purpose in the design, adding an element of contrast to other wood pieces or setting a stylistic intent.

Color option samples for a client looking to match a particular tone.

Private Residence. Black Oak Builders. Photography by Chris Kendall

A blonde-toned stain mutes the inherent warm tones in the Douglas fir for a cooler and cleaner lines within the living space. Photo: Neil Archer Roan

Douglas fir rough sawn and draw-knife edged timbers with a two-step color finish. Photo: Scott Hemenway.

Color isn’t the only choice in finishes. Custom textures such as hand-hewing, rough sawn, or wire brushing can add interest and soften the timber shape. Shou Sugi Ban, the Japanese process of charring wood, can raise grain allowing a color to take on a new depth.

Timber framer Pete adds finishing touches with a draw knife to these hand-hewn timbers.

Timber framer Jake Shou Sugi Bans this hand-hewn timber with a blow torch. Often the char is then taken back with a power wash or wire brushing before another finish is added.

Reclaimed Douglas fir timbers with a Shou Sugi Ban finish and additional stains off-set the t&g ceiling at the Mohonk Mountain House. Photo: Ken Hayden Photography.

Douglas fir timbers with a heavy wire brush and custom grey-beige finish.

Douglas fir timbers, painted white to match a nearby trellis in this outdoor living space. Photo: Alon Konnel.

Douglas fir timbers with a multi-step finish deepened the surface of the timbers to create a rich patina reminiscent of aged and well-loved structures in the Allegheny Forest where this home is located. Photo: Scott Hemenway

In the end, our goal is to meet the designer, builder, or homeowners’ vision and deliver a frame with a high-craft fit and finish. So if the materials natural color isn’t jiving with your plan, let’s experiment. There’s a world beyond oil that we love exploring. And if you’re a traditionalist, come join us–our heart still beats for that warm glow and homey timber smell.