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History of conventional wood framing- update

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A new story on "Balloon framing" appears in the spring 1999 issue of
American Heritage of Invention and Technology, a quarterly magazine
published by Forbes, Inc.

Author Ted Cavanagh is an associate professor of architecture, at Dalhousie
University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he lives in a timber framed house
of 1850 vintage that is mortise-and-tenon connected, the predecessor method. 

He says that our now ubiquitous house framing indeed "grew up on the old
Midwestern frontier", but as an evolutionary development that adapted the
products of mechanized sawmills and nail-making machines to techniques
already in use in French and Spanish -developed Mississippi Riverbank towns.
Balloon framing swept the frontier due to its speed and convenience, then
spread out over the rest of North America wherever lumber was obtainable,
and matured into settled routine and a part of our culture, but remains
unused elsewhere in the world, according to Prof Cavanagh. 

There is also some space given to the structural merits of balloon framing:
"...each nailed connection contributes to the overall strength of the
building. Because no joint is more important than any other, there only has
to be a statistical probability that any particular one makes a good
connection. An individual joint may fail because of a rogue piece of wood or
a poor nailing job, but the overall structure is redundant enough that the
whole will maintain its integrity. This conception of many joints combining
into an overall rigid structure is the major innovation."

It will be interesting to see if the big CUREe/ CalTech inquiry into
woodframe residential construction, still in start-up, can abide the
intuitive and vernacular origins of this now-ingrained part of our building
culture, with its redundancies and uncertain load paths. Will they avoid
unnecessarily inflicting on it the usual engineering arrogance and
insistence on conceptual elegance and analytic precision so often imposed by
structural engineers? 

Charles O. Greenlaw, SE    Sacramento CA