Carpenters' Marks - page 2

Making the frames

The detailed setting out of joints need not concern us here but it is important to know that the frames were set out on the ground or on blocks just clear of the ground. The main timbers were of large scantling¹ but intermediate timbers were of smaller section. To accommodate this variety the carpenter formed the joints such that the upper face of all timbers was in the same plane, with all the irregularity being taken up on the lower face². When walls were formed in the frames the staves were set so that the daub was flush with the upper face.


The upper face had no ledges on it to catch water so was always placed to face the outside. Within the building the 'upper face' was placed to face the better of the two rooms it served, with the hall taking priority over the parlour. Pegs are also normally driven in from the upper face.

Identifying the upper face of a frame helps locate the carpenters' marks as this side was the most accessible for marking when the building was framed up on the ground. Floor frames may be numbered on the floor face but are commonly marked on the side of the main beam and joists so that they could be seen from below during the assembly of the building. Some carpenters used both of these systems in the same bay, on different floors presumably to differentiate between otherwise identical joists. The use of central tenons for first floor ceilings and diminished haunch tenons for first floor joist may have served the same purpose.

Since the way an internal frame faces has interpretive implications it is always sensible to make a note of the upper and lower faces on the plan when recording a building.

¹ Scantling is the term used to denote the “cross section of a timber”.
² The common exception to this rule is open trusses where braces may be centered on the posts and tie.

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©DBRG 12th June 2006