Frequently Asked Questions

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Design/Build FAQ  Reclaimed Lumber FAQ  Timberwork FAQ Metalwork/Woodwork FAQ




Design/Build describes the sustainable architecture and building methods that we use at BT. Our number one priority is to build projects that have staying power: timeless designs featuring seamless integration with the site, time-tested construction methods, and future serviceability and adaptability in all mechanical systems. We creatively use reclaimed materials that, at the end of their useful lives, can be reintegrated back into the natural environment.

Specifics include: energy efficient shell, recycled and reclaimed products throughout, efficient heating system, fresh air system, passive solar, low VOC and natural finishes, water saving fixtures, energy saving appliances and fixtures, and energy production systems such as wind, geothermal, or solar.

The design/build concept comes directly from the “master builder tradition,” which was the way most buildings were built for centuries. The planning, design, and construction are carried out by a single integrated team in concert with the client. Design/build has regained popularity because it eliminates many of the common frustrations and set-backs inherent with the modern prototype of separate architect and builder.

Advantages include:

  • - Single point of accountability
  • - Simplified lines of communication
  • - Cost efficiencies

“Suitcase contractor” is phrase that describes a business that manages the construction process entirely through subcontractors. At BT, we assign a project manager to manage the day-to-day operations and we have a carpentry crew on site every day. These employees are well supported by our timberwork, metalwork, woodwork, and sawmill shop operations. We also draw on a list of preferred subcontractors for services such as electrical, plumbing, and masonry.

Our design/build work is usually limited to a radius of 50 miles from our facility in Gallatin Gateway, MT. On occasion we work beyond that radius. Our timberwork, sawmill, and furniture projects are often delivered out of our area.

Yes, we have the privilege of working with Brian H. Brothers, AIA. Brian’s office is at our facility so he works side by side with our building division to come up with integrated designs and realistic budgets.

The average design time could take from 3 mos. to a year or more depending on the size and complexity of project and the client’s ability to make decisions. A small project could take as little as 6 months to build, a medium size project will usually take a year, and a large project can take the same or longer. Time considerations are usually related to uniqueness and to the number of workers that can work effectively on the project.

Our professional design fees generally run around 10% of project cost, depending on the scope of our services. We bill on an hourly basis for all design, drafting, specification, and construction supervision, and we itemize costs for any third-party consulting needed for structural, soils, and sanitation engineering. A reasonable retainer is required to begin design and monthly invoices are sent as work proceeds. The design retainer is credited toward the final design bill.

With final design in hand, our construction manager generates a detailed, line-by-line construction budget referenced in the construction contract. In addition to the signed contract, we require a non-refundable retainer comparable to 2 months of average project billing to reserve a slot in our schedule. As soon as the construction phase begins, the retainer rolls over to become an up-front construction deposit that is credited to the final invoice. Invoices are sent monthly and are based on job progress and incurred costs.

We work with either “time and materials” or “fixed bid” contract options, depending on the project and the client’s preferences. “Time and materials” contracts generally work better on larger and more complicated projects in which timing and flexibility are issues. We start with a detailed estimate but use allowances for areas in which complete design and specification are not firm. Allowances can lead to budget creep, and we tell our clients to prepare to spend 10% more than the estimate. If this is not an option we go back and make cuts to elements in the original estimate.

Although we typically work under time and materials contracts, fixed bid is an option for smaller, straightforward projects that are budget-driven. Disadvantages of the fixed bid contract:

  • - Design costs are usually higher because budget-driven projects require more complete drawings and specifications
  • - We require more lead time before ground breaking because we need firm bids, material prices and signed contracts from subs before proceeding.
  • - Change orders are more prevalent than in a time and materials contract

In keeping with our commitment to building creative, sustainable homes, we incorporate energy efficient, lasting components in every BT home, which commonly include:

  • - Extensive timber framing
  • - 50-yr roof covering
  • - Super energy efficient shell
  • - Radiant heat w/ air-to-air heat exchanger
  • - cat-5 and a-v wiring
  • - Low or no maintenance exteriors: weathered wood, stucco, stone, and metals with weathered patinas
  • - Unique woodwork, metalwork, and plasterwork
  • - Extensive use of reclaimed wood
  • - Stone fireplace
  • - Unique cabinets and countertops
  • - Custom doors
  • - Wood, tile, or stained concrete floors
  • - Extensive landscaping

Cost is all about amenities and the quality and uniqueness of the design and construction. Our costs per square foot vary, and we can provide information based on previous projects on request. Some general rules about cost per square foot:

  • - Small buildings cost more per square foot than larger buildings because there are fewer square feet to divide fixed costs into.
  • - More complex forms cost more than simple forms.
  • - Buildings with fewer layers cost less; stonework is a particularly expensive layer.
  • - Projects in remote locations or on difficult jobsites cost more.
  • - It’s usually cheaper to go up rather than out because roof and foundation costs are significant.
  • - Outdoor features such as decks, large overhangs, porches and landscaping add greatly to cost per square foot since the calculation is based on inside square footage.
  • - Likewise, garages add significantly to square foot costs if they aren’t counted as part of the finished living space.
  • - Basements are less expensive square footage, averaging about 60% of above ground space.
  • - Cathedral ceilings are more expensive than flat ceilings.
  • - Exposed structure is more expensive to build than hidden structure.
  • - Choice of finishes, fixtures, and other amenities have significant impacts on cost per square foot.



Reclaimed Lumber

Occasionally we use wood from old barns. Barn timbers are usually mixed species (depending on what grew around the barn), they are usually full of holes from guys like us who mortised and drilled them, and they are prone to rot because many old barns have compromised roofs, and they are difficult to grade for structural uses. Having said all this they work wonderfully in areas where you’re not counting on their structural capabilities.

Most of the wood has been salvaged from industrial structures such as old factories, warehouses, canneries, bridges, grain elevators, trestles, sawmills, and water towers. We’ve bought wood on the East Coast, in many metropolitan areas in the Midwest, and all up and down the West Coast. The disadvantage of our approach is that we burn up a lot of fuel transporting this wood to our sawmill, but we make sure our trailers are fully loaded so we’re not hauling any air.

Ninety percent of the timber we use is old growth Douglas fir, but over the years we’ve bought loads of white and red oak, cedar, redwood, western white pine, ponderosa pine, eucalyptus, longleaf pine, western larch, Engelmann spruce, cypress, and western hemlock. Except for longleaf pine, availability of most of these species can be unpredictable and limited. Many of these species are sawn for specialty items: small timber packages, flooring, siding, millwork, trim packages, doors, furniture and mantles.

Certainly. We sell wood to both contractors and individuals, and have shipped to many projects out of state. We don’t require that you buy our woodworking services to get the wood.

Until 1990 we exclusively used green timbers. We were always disappointed in the long term when green timbers shrank and moved. We also had a difficult time justifying the clear cutting of old growth forests. We started to reuse timbers because it was a source that was greatly underutilized and the wood was exceptionally dry and stable. These reclaimed timbers were sawn from some of the finest old growth forests known to North America. To build something well, no matter what it is, one must use the best material possible. We think this is the best material for timber construction.

There is a lot of speculation on this topic and nobody really knows how many buildings contain timbers and when they may be dismantled. There will always be used wood, though its sizes and quality will change. BT also uses standing dead logs as an alternative to reclaimed timber stock.

When we first started using salvaged wood, people almost gave it to us to avoid hauling it to the landfill or burning it. Times have changed and now most everyone has realized its value. Demand has risen dramatically while supply has stayed relatively static, driving up the cost.

Another reason salvaged wood is expensive is the amount of waste generated in the process. On average, 35% of every truckload is waste or very low value material. We do better on our waste factor than most companies because we carry a large inventory, which allows us to saw efficiently. We’ve also developed a number of products that utilize this less usable wood.

In addition to reclaimed timbers and large logs, our sawmill inventories other interesting materials, including:

  • - Standing dead fir and larch logs in both straight and character (arched, forked, wiggly) form in a wide variety of sizes
  • - Utility poles (usually cedar)
  • - Juniper fence posts, which make wonderful western furniture
  • - Wine, pickle, and water tank redwood staves
  • - Salvaged circular sawn dimensional lumber
  • - 2-4” poles, split and whole
  • - Twig stock
  • - Mantle stock of all kinds

We have a well-equipped mill that features the following machinery:

  • - 3 Woodmizer bandsaws with one capable of cutting timbers up to 55’
  • - Stationary planers that can plane up to 8”x24”
  • - Our 5- head Weinig molder produces paneling, decking, flooring, and siding
  • - Stationary wirebrusher
  • - Straight line rip
  • - Baker resaw
  • - 4000 bf kiln for drying all trim, flooring, and millwork products




We were one of the first companies nationwide to use recycled timbers and crooked logs in our frames. Our goal from the start was to develop a “western” vernacular in timber framing that was not the traditional style of log building. We have never been content to copy the established eastern traditions of timber framing, so we set out to establish a new tradition that feels right in the West. We don’t use automated joinery equipment to cut our frames; instead we rely on talented craftspeople to cut and fit our unique materials.

Generally we erect anything that is cut in our shop. We can guarantee only the products that we erect. We’ve found that we can put frames up much more safely and quickly than someone who has less experience, therefore it is a false economy to think that it would be less expensive to not have us erect our work. The only exception to the above statement is trusses which we can ship assembled and require only lifting onto the building.

BT very seldom builds structures that are entirely timber framed. Western houses are generally more spread out than the traditional New England model, which is usually more compact and two-storied. Therefore our clients most often choose to timber frame the public spaces (kitchen, dining, living, porches, entry ways) while saving money on the more utilitarian spaces. This style is often called a “hybrid.” Timber framing can combine with almost any type of construction.

Primarily we use Douglas fir because it is the most prolific lumber tree in the west. It is strong, relatively light, plentiful, available in large sizes and lengths, and widely recognized for its beauty. There are four types available to us:

  1. Reclaimed timbers from the obsolete “industrial forest”—factories, warehouses, bridges, and sawmills: The wood tends to be high quality since it was taken from our old growth forests over 50 years ago. Reclaimed wood is the most expensive option but it is the most stable.
  2. Timbers sawn from large standing dead fir logs: Moisture content of these timbers average 20-28% so they are marginally dry. This is a good use for a material that might otherwise be underutilized, and is a less expensive option.
  3. Kiln dried Douglas fir: Kiln drying is an inexact science and the dried wood is a bit strange to work. The guaranteed moisture content will still cause moderate shrinking in the West. Kiln dried wood is almost as expensive as recycled and requires longer lead times.
  4. Green Douglas fir: In addition to the shrinkage and movement problems, some might wrestle with the issue of cutting old growth forests. We use very little new green timber.

We generally use panels to enclose our roofs but almost never use panels to enclose walls. We’ve found wall panels are problematic for electrical and mechanical systems, we don’t like fastening siding to wafer board skins, and we’ve found panels to be springy when doors close.

We use other systems which solve many of the problems that insulated panels have. We generally use our walls structurally and eliminate posts, connectors, and braces on the exterior wall line. In contrast, most other timber framers use two structural systems: the timber frame and insulated panel system are both capable of carrying vertical loads. In that type of system the timbers carry the vertical loads and the panels mainly act as the insulation and base for finishes.

We have never built the same frame twice: every frame we build is designed for one-of-a-kind spaces in one-of-a-kind places. Once design and engineering are completed, we price using the following criteria:

  • - Total material including timbers, hold downs, hardware, pegs, etc.
  • - Shop drawing time
  • - Number of and type of joints
  • - Type of surface finish: planed, sanded, wheel sanded-oil, urethane, etc.
  • - Transportation distance to site
  • - Crew expense and labor for raising
  • - Crane, forklift expense

That said, we can supply pricing information based on previous projects as a general guideline.

We work with a consulting engineer that is licensed in over 45 states. We have years of experience in designing timberwork and we prepare structural drawings in CAD.

Lead times vary depending on season. During the summer they often run about 4 months; at other times during the year they average about 2 months. If we receive a commitment in a timely manner we can usually complete a project within a timeframe that is agreeable to the client.



We often do one-of-a-kind products, therefore we’ve have to custom make the items again depending on available materials. At Big Timberworks we do not have a warehouse of furniture and metalwork pieces, everything we have made has been for a clients specific needs.

We do. We’ve shipped to many locations throughout the United States. We have ample experience shipping for products of any size.

Yes-depending on availability of wood/metal and whether or not the material is committed to another project within our shops.

Most certainly. Most of our pieces are custom one-of-a-kind creations made to meet the clients specific needs, however we will make other peoples designs too upon request.

Yes-it is a necessary evil. One must understand that working with patinated materials posses a natural variation in their coloring. Thus when finishing these materials, the finish will almost always will not be uniform and not perfectly the same with each piece of wood.

Once the price is agreed upon between the client and Big Timberworks, we require 50% deposit on the total before we start fabrication and the rest of the payment once the piece is finished. We accept cash and check only, no credit cards.