Crafting and Embracing the Flexibility of Glulams

“That’s not a glulam!” I said, incredulously. 

“It is!” Eric insisted with a laugh, raising his hands in defense.


Seeing as Eric is one of the most sincere and honest people around, I figured he had to be right. “Okay,” I replied. “Let’s talk glulams.”

Glulam use around the world has developed into some crazy, creative, and nearly unbelievable structures:

Glulams have been incorporated around the world for very intricate and challenging designs, such as this pavilion project for the 2015 Mulan World Expo by X-TU’s Architects in France.

Some of the basics on glued laminated timbers (glulams) that I commonly hear: they come in just about any size and shape (meaning they can make spans that solid timber simply doesn’t grow to); they can achieve geometric shapes and structural performance that is otherwise unattainable with solid timber; they’re inherently stable and dry; they have visible layers of wood. As a visual person the look is always top of mind for me which is where this conversation started:

The project that started this conversation…what do you think of the curving bottom chord of this timber and steel truss? Solid or glulam? (Check out the end of this post for the answer.)

While glulam projects have a reputation for being fast and loose, we don’t operate that way, Eric explains: “We give the same care, craft, and precision to any glulam project or integrated glulam as we do to our regular timber frame projects.”

The Kim Son Meditation Center in CA, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist place of repose and worship, required much collaboration on the design and engineering for the sweeping glulams.

See more of this project in a previous post.

Our teams are all familiar with heavy timber. Turns out glulam are so akin to solid timbers to our artisans that crafting, assembling, transporting, and raising glued laminated trusses is second nature:

Working with glulams is second nature to timber craftsmen like Jimmy.

Remember those visible layered wood surfaces? While some projects celebrate that aesthetic, the look of a glulam can be drastically changed by adding custom finishes like paints, stains, and additional textures.

Celebrating the traditional ‘natural’ look of glulams, this pavilion at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge in Sherwood, Oregon provides shelter for visitors on sunny or rainy days.

Painted glulams are another popular option. This project, done with Shope Reno Wharton Architects, incorporated dark green painted glulams for the steep curves adorning the exterior entry of the home. Photo c Durston Saylor.

Painted glulams for this large barn project offer a bright and light aesthetic.

Integrated into a large grocery store near Chicago, IL, these trusses included custom texture and stain.

A custom finish with added texture visually unites the glulam top chord with the solid Douglas fir components in these bowstring-inspired trusses.

Or glulams can appear more uniform as ‘grain matched’ pieces:

Grain matched glulams were essential to creating the “circle in a square” for the great room of a Connecticut home.

In the minds, eyes, and hands of Eric and others, a glulam is as special as a solid timber. “Our goal is to manufacture and treat glulams with the same precision as we do a full timber frame project. We want to be a partner in the process to seamlessly and smoothly integrate glulams into assorted projects.”

The first complete CLT project in New York State integrates glulams and heavy timber. Photo c Scott Hemenway.

The tower at SUNY ESF included glulam and solid timbers. Photo c Don Cochran Photography.

A glulam roof truss system will support skylights over an indoor pool.

And that initial project that raised the ’solid’ versus ‘glulam’ question? Shop drawings proved Eric was right:

Yes, the bottom chords of these trusses are indeed curved glulams – grain matched glulams. The other components? Solid Douglas fir. Which means Eric and I were both correct! Our thanks to Holmes King Kallquist for bringing us this project.

Do you have a project that’s out of the box? Or maybe you’re wondering how timber could ever meet your needs? Any challenge is a good fit for us! Connect with us today.

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