Focus on: Nigel Howe – Training Manager The Oak Frame Training Forum

In our regular series of interviews with members of The Carpenters Fellowship – we talk today to Nigel Howe. Nigel responsible for training the timber framers of the future. Phew. Not too much pressure then……

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How did you start your career in Timber Framing?

My father was part of a self-build project in the 1950s that built 50 homes, all 3 bed semi-detached with garages & long gardens. So I grew up among tradesmen who built their own homes, conservatories, sheds, greenhouses. Over the years I learnt how to dig foundations, lay bricks, measure, level, triangulate & work with timber. My school was a Secondary Technical School (boys) specialising in the Building Trades in Reading Berkshire. As part of the curriculum, we built extra workshops on the site & built an outdoor pursuits centre in the Wye Valley where we spent weeks at a time. There I developed my skills in Technical Drawing TD, & Woodwork. In particular. Part of the idea of the school was to train the architects & craftsmen, & the building inspectors for the area. The school was a tough mixture of Hells Angels, skin‘eds, swots & hippies with a mutual respect for our building skills & sporting prowess. There were 14 of us in the Berkshire U15 Rugby squad of 30.

I moved to Bristol, married Jackie & trained in to be a teacher. Wherever we have lived we have built, extended, repaired & maintained properties. We have taken on derelict & almost uninhabitable properties & raised our children amongst sawdust, lime mortars, linseed oil & the smell of log burners.

20 years ago I left mainstream teaching & helped set up the Forest of Avon Wood Products Cooperative along with Jim O’ & Rupert. I worked on the Leigh Woods Barn Project & a 3 bay open barn at Chelvey Court & decided to buy a Wood-Mizer mobile sawmill. I took on the lease for the redundant farm buildings at Chelvey & set up the Chelvey Designer Makers Cooperative of woodworkers. I worked with Henry Russell & Gudren Leitz, & met Charley Brentnall, on the Westonbirt Arboretum Great Oak Hall project. Every timber went across the Wood-Mizer & we did 12-hour shifts to keep ahead of the framers. This build was instrumental in the origins of the CF & we photograph our new SAP intake with John Russell’s model of the Great Oak Hall.

What is the biggest challenge within the Timber Framing world?

Timber framing is heavy demanding work & requires the rare ability of engaging brain, eyes & hands to work with a variety of tools in all weathers & ground conditions. We are all mad; some quietly behind the drawing board & others barking in the framing yard.

What is the most inspiring project you have worked on?

I have been fortunate to have worked on several inspiring projects which in their own ways have played a part in shaping me (mainly my hands, knees & back). The Chelvey Court barn shelter, Penny Brohn Cancer Care centre garden shelter, the OFTF buildings reflecting the training of the CF members. The one project that must rank as the greatest challenge in so many ways & therefore the most inspiring & depressing must be Timber House.

The transformation of a Grade II* Listed building that had been derelict for many years. 16 King St Bristol. A jetted 4 storey Jacobean merchant’s house built circa1663 in the period of the Restoration of the monarchy after the Civil War. So from Restoration 1660 to restoration 2014-17.

The building shows all the signs of wear & tear & changes over the centuries. When we took it on the previous leaseholders had done major repairs to the roof & cellar but ran out of steam. When we took it over there were a few original ceilings & floor joists but no floors. The work has been a combination of repairs & restoration alongside upgrading to comply with up-to-date standards of thermal & acoustic insulation & other building regs for fire & structural engineering requirements.

People who have worked on Timber House include: Jo, Sarah & Rob; Henry, Pete, Alan, Jeff, Marius, Finn, Sam, Mark, Will B, Ant, Will R, Tom C, Ollie, Tim H, Reza, Brendan, Tommy, Will, Finley, Graham & other helpers & support from Sheila, Amy, Freya & Heidi.

This has been a monumental task & has emphasised that balance & compromise that face us all when dealing with our heritage “What to leave in & what to remove?” Wherever possible we” leave in” to be rediscovered By future craftsmen & investigators. If we remove we are making a value judgement on what is worthy.

Now that the building regs have been signed off & it is being used Timber House has been given another chance to stand proudly in the historic heart of Bristol.


Where/what is your dream home and why

One in which I can sit down with a glass & a book!

One where the grandchildren can play among some of the Oak sawdust that I have brought in from the workshop. A home where Jackie is happy surrounded by her artwork.  Probably with a view of the sea on the North coast of Cornwall so that the sea is blue.  I haven’t seen it. I don’t know if it exists or whether I have yet to build it.

Thanks so much Nigel!


Focus on: The Carpenters Fellowship – Interview with Tim Walton

How did you start your career in Timber Framing?

My first taste of vernacular building came when I was at primary school. We had a trip to the nearby Weald & Downland Museum, where they had recently finished the frame of the now iconic Bayleaf Farmhouse, and were working on the wattle & daub infill panels. We got to work on the daub, which was, of course, delightful and exciting for us 8-year olds!

01 bayleaf aerial.jpg

But it was a few years later, just after Christmas in 1980, when as a former pupil and neighbour of Bedales School in Hampshire, I was contacted by my old woodwork teacher to ask if I would help out with a project they were working on at the school.

The school had developed an ‘Outdoor Work’ department – a small-holding – to give the pupils opportunities to work with plants and animals. The had been given a Victorian timber framed barn, which had been dismantled and was awaiting re-erecting on the school grounds. I was called in to help with the foundations. It was freezing and wet, but great fun, barrowing loads of concrete into collapsing trenches! It so happened that the carpenter in charge of the project was one Charley Brentnall. We got on, and I loved the work, so asked Charley if I could help him in the school holidays. So I got to work on some of Charley’s earliest barn projects. When I finished my A-levels, I went to work with Charley full-time in my gap year.


At the end of my gap year, I went to York to study Psychology. This led me away from timber-framing for a few years, but by a very circuitous route, I came back to Charley in 1989, and was introduced to Carpenter Oak (which I thought was a nickname for Charley, as he hadn’t told me about the business!).

Charley was looking to develop the ‘Woodland’ part of Carpenter Oak & Woodland, and I enjoyed making shingles & pegs, so took on the development of ‘Woodland Products’. I enjoyed running this for 15 years, until in 2004, I left to start my own little company, Greenwood Direct.

One of our first framing jobs turned out to be a roof frame for a burned-out cottage in the New Forest, which was featured on Grand Designs! I got to meet Kevin McCloud a few times during the filming, and invited him to speak at Frame, to which he agreed!


What is the biggest challenge within the Timber Framing world?

The ageing workforce – framing is a hard physical job, and most people I know have been doing it a long time. The OFTF is doing a great job to help develop new framers through its Special Apprentice Programme, but our culture needs to rebuild respect in craft skills.

The availability of good quality oak. It seems we are all relying on oak from the continent, as UK forestry doesn’t seem to be producing enough suitable quality timber. This makes us vulnerable in terms of supply and costs.

The economy – the crash of 2008 caused long-term damage to the building industry, and Brexit could do the same.

What is the most inspiring project you have worked on?

I’ve often wondered if my love of timber buildings came from the experience of working on the Bayleaf as an 8-year old. I’ve certainly always found the Weald and Downland Museum an inspiring, almost spiritual place to visit.

But I’d have to say that the Gardener’s Shelter at Cressing Temple answers this. Partly because of Laurie Smith’s beguilingly beautiful daisy-wheel design, with its geometrical echoes of the magnificent 12th century Barley Barn, just a few yards away, but mostly because of the experience of its creation. Hewing oak beams from the round, converting them all by hand and scribing the frame, all with no tape measures or power tools, with a group of superbly enthusiastic and fun people was not just a great pleasure, but a genuine inspiration.


Where/what is your dream home and why (feel free to send us some pics!)

I consider myself extremely fortunate to live in a house I love, in a beautiful part of the world, but in a fantasy world, I would love to live in mediaeval splendour in the aforementioned Bayleaf, preferably with modern hygiene and medicines!


*New Course* Dietrich’s Introduction to 2D CAD – Feb 9th and 10th 2017


The Oak Frame Training Forum are offering to CF members Dietrich’s Introduction to 2D CAD – Feb 9&10, 2017

ONLY £50 per person for 2-day course – venue – King St, Bristol

Each participant will receive a copy of out D CAD 2D-L version and a Pdf tutorial with the contents of the 2 days. Each participant will also need his or her own laptop. Below is summary of the content of the course.

During this 2-day taster course, a simple frame shed will be drawn.

Points to be explained are:

  • How to get started • Settings •   Tool bars •   Page layout •   Dimension/text settings •   View ports •   Layers •   Title blocks •   Library’s • Templates •   Measuring •   Drawing •   Mirroring/copying •   Drawing functions •   Hatching •   Dimensioning •   Printing

To book please email

Focus on: The Carpenters Fellowship – Rupert Newman

This month we are chatting to Rupert Newman who is on the board of Directors at The Carpenters Fellowship.  The Carpenters Fellowship is a not for profit organisation. Set up in 1998 The Carpenters’ Fellowship was formed with the aim of: promoting communication, training and sharing of knowledge amongst those interested in historic and contemporary timber framed structures.

Rupert runs Westwind Oak in North Somerset and is also the author of ‘Oak-Framed Buildings’ which is a practical book on the technique of timber-frame construction for carpenters, builders and aspiring self-builders, but also a source of inspiration to anyone who appreciates beautiful buildings. You can get a copy of the revised edition from Westwind Oak.

How did you start your career in Timber Framing?

I started working for a village carpenter at the weekends when I was 12. When I was older I got into building roofs, then repairing old roofs. This led on to working with green oak and building new roofs. That was 28 years ago!


What is the biggest challenge within the Timber Framing world?

Mainly people! Shrinkage too!

What is the most inspiring project you have worked on?

Building a bridge with a 60-foot clear span across a river and the first house I built in the Alps on the side of Lake Annacy.

Where/what is your dream home and why?

My dream home would be in Cornwall by the water. Like the one I built at Mylor Creek.



One word: WOW


Focus on: The Carpenters Fellowship. Interview with Tim Potts

This month on the blog we are chatting to Tim Potts who is the Director of The Carpenters Fellowship.  The Carpenters Fellowship is a not for profit organisation. Set up in 1998 The Carpenters’ Fellowship was formed with the aim of: promoting communication, training and sharing of knowledge amongst those interested in historic and contemporary timber framed structures.

Tim also runs his own Timber Framing company, Oak Frame Carpentry Company which is based in Gloucestershire. Many consider Tim to be a leading force within the industry and with over 30 years in the business, he certainly has gained an incredible amount of knowledge and experience to share with us.

How did you start your career in Timber Framing?

My first experience was converting the rotting piled timbers from an old elm cattle shed into my first workshop as a teenager. Much later I got a job with Carpenter Oak and Woodland in my 20’s. Back then, no-one I knew had seen a portable mortiser and we worked mainly outdoors, over a deep litter of oak shavings, in the sun and the rain and once or twice in the snow. I have always particularly loved the sound and feel of the hand tools. If it was possible to frame competitively without noisy power tools I still would.

What is the biggest challenge within the Timber Framing world?

In the workshop:

  • Framing competitively without noisy power tools
  • Finding that balance of heavy work and healthy exertion without crippling yourself

In the business:

  • Pushing efficient, sensible ways to incorporate oak framing with modern building techniques at the design stage and bringing the architects and engineers along with you
  • Trying to get paid for the extra design value that you can bring to a project

What is the most inspiring project you have worked on?

I am inspired by the ancient frames I have worked on. I can get connected to past generations of carpenters and admire their skill, taste and audacity of design. I love to see their mistakes too, and the crafty solutions.



A Gloucestershire Court


Where/what is your dream home and why?

Home is where the heart is – Preferably with a decent sized workshop



Note: This is not Tim’s swimming pool!




New Apprentices at OFTF

On Monday we welcomed six new apprentices to Chelvey Oak Farm!


They will start their course with an introduction from the CITB and go on to the full course modules over the week or so.  The course this year is being run by Alan Creasey and Nigel Howe, legends in the timber framing world.


You can find out more about our training program here – please feel free to contact us about how you can get involved in the next intake.  You may well qualify for grants or funding.

In the meantime, we would like to welcome Rory, James, Jake, Joe, Sam and Tom to the OFTF family! Stay tuned for their progress…

FRAME 2016 -Shop

We have had a few requests for FRAME 2016 T-Shirts and Hoodies – here is the stock we have left – grab yours here!

Grey T-Shirts (36 Large. 11 Medium. 4 Small) – £7.00

Blue T-shirts (15 Medium. 4 Small.) -£7.00

Hoodies (15 Large.) – £20.00

Postage will be included in the invoice. If you would like to order one please send us an email to and we can get it sorted for you.







FRAME 2016 -Round Up

Now that the sawdust has settled here at Chelvey Oak Farm we have had a chance to look back and reflect on the weekend that was FRAME 2016! We would like to thank everyone involved for making it a success despite the weather!

Alan and Laurie delivered their masterclasses in their own enthusiastic, passionate and engaging ways and it was great to see so many people getting involved with the practical parts too.  David Constantine from Motivation was a great asset to the weekend’s talks, so interesting to hear about his journey. Also great to hear from Xavier and Ben from the Calais Woodyard – we were all moved and inspired by what they are doing over in Calais, they have received some donations already from Timber Framing Tools who were at Frame.


Also great to hear from Rick Collins from Trillium Dell Timberworks about what is happening in the world of timber framing over in America.


I think we all agreed that they food from We Aim to Cheese was delicious as was the food on Sunday made by Rezza and Maheem. The Dusk Brothers sounded fantastic and really got into the spirit of the event.


We also want to share some feedback from some of the people who attended.

Thank you so much for making us feel so welcome at our first Frame – We really appreciate the hard work you and your team put into the event. Great food, awesome music, good company, lots of beer, inspirational talks, lots more beer –  we loved it! We are planning to be at the next event and will practise our axe throwing in the meantime.” Stuart

“Aside from the teaching aspect, the whole atmosphere was comfortable in the extreme. Perfect food, perfect beer and fantastic company. I spoke to loads of amazing and interesting folk; even to the point of chatting with the Dusk Brothers about their homemade guitars which was fascinating to me as I make my own guitars too.  Axe throwing and Trebuchet………….. who could ask for more entertaining entertainment? My wife seems to think that the cat may be in some danger now! I think Stu (boss of Goodlife joinery) has probably already bought the axe so maybe this will turn into company sport?!  My life would have been emptier for not having attended Frame 2016. Just Brilliant.” Adam

These comments are so great to hear as a lot goes into planning this event, months and months in advance. That being said as we start preparing for next year’s event, is there anything in particular you would like to see – is there anyone you know who may want to share a project they are working on? Any speakers you have seen who would be interested in doing a keynote speech at next year’s event? Please do send your ideas to

Thanks again to everyone who helped make Frame 2016 great….

Amy, Sheila and Nigel

NEW COURSE: Level 3 Award Understanding Repair & Maintenance of Traditional Pre-1919 Buildings

The National Heritage Training Group is a voluntary organisation responsible for coordinating and promoting the on- going development and delivery of traditional building crafts training and qualifications in the heritage sector of the UK.

New Course: Level 3 Award Understanding Repair & Maintenance of Traditional Pre-1919 Buildings
26th & 27th October 2015

Oak Frame Training Forum, 16 King Street, BRISTOL, BS1 4EF

Are you a contractor working on listed & unlisted traditional buildings? Then this is the ideal course for you!

HOW MUCH WILL IT COST? £200 (Special Discounted Rate)
The NHTG is offering this course to demonstrate its value and importance, create demand and encourage other training providers across the UK to offer it too.

  •   Understand how to repair & maintain traditional buildings
  •   Understand relevant legislation & guidance
  •   Learn about traditional materials and methods
  •   Learn about maintaining safe working practices


    ” As a Chartered Structural Engineer with over 40 years in the engineering and construction industry, the NHTG L3 Understanding Repair & Maintenance course was a fascinating couple of days. Reflecting on the session, I came to the conclusion that there is still a lot for me to understand about traditional buildings. At least by doing the two days, I’ve started a new learning cycle!” (Dewsbury Course June 2015)

    To book your place, please email quoting ‘BRISTOL R&M Course’ and include your full contact details including Postcode, or call the NHTG HELPDESK: 01246 252363.

    ***BOOK NOW! DEADLINE, 16th October 2015 Places strictly limited***

    * Terms & Conditions apply