What Glulam Framing Is And What It’s Used For

All an average homeowner should know about glulam framing

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Even if you are not a professional carpenter, you might need to know some specific information about framing and wood construction. It may become handy if you, for example, decide to build your own house (or another structure) from wood. In this case, being aware of some basic elements of the future building will help you understand better what your team of workers will be doing on the construction site.

Today we are going to talk about a thing that is called glulam framing. You will find out what it is and what this kind of framing is used for. Also, we will explain what features make it unique and not like regular wooden framing. Finally, you will learn what history this kind of framing has and why it is so highly praised by carpenters.

Glulam Beams. What Are They?

First of all, let’s figure out what this weird “glulam” word means. It will help you better understand the nature of the framing we are talking about. See, glulam is an abbreviation that stands for “glued-laminated timber”. It is an engineered stress-rated product that is made by bonding individual pieces of lumber together. These pieces of lumber usually have a thickness of 2 inches or less. 

Glulam beams and framing in a wood construction project
Glulam Framing: Strength, Versatility, and History. itishouse.com

These individual pieces of lumber are then end-joined together, creating long lengths. These long lengths are referred to as laminations. Next, these laminations are face-bonded together, resulting in the finished product that is known as glulam framing. 

The great feature of conventional glued-laminated timber is that it can achieve strengths that are equivalent to steel! Also, despite being actually wood (which seems a weak material to most people for some reason), glulam is in fact among the most versatile products of engineered wood! 

For example, glued laminated timber can be shaped into different forms ranging from simple straight beams to complex curved pieces. Also, it has a pretty wide area of use. Typical residential applications for glulam include such areas as: 

  1. garage door headers
  2. floor girders
  3. ridge beams and purlins
  4. cantilever beam systems
  5. columns

Because of these features, the use of glued-laminated timber is constantly increasing, making it one of the most widespread and popular framing materials used in residential construction.

This growth of the material’s popularity is also explained by the fact that glued-laminated beams are available from building material dealers and distributors in stock sizes with typical widths ranging from 3 1/8, 3 1/2, 5 ⅛, and up to 6 3/4 inches. And perhaps, carpenters also love using these beams because of their predictable behavior both during the construction stage and during their use. 

What Is the Background Of Glulam?

The nature of glued-laminated framing and beams is rather interesting. See, a number of smaller pieces of lumber get laminated, resulting in a single large and strong structural piece that is manufactured from smaller ones. In fact, it’s like collecting a puzzle to a certain point! 

Next, these structural members can be used in many different ways, for example, as vertical columns, horizontal beams, and even arches. Glulams are already produced in curved shapes and are available in a wide range of types and appearances. All the connections are usually made with bolts or steel dowels and steel plates, which makes the beams stronger.

But glulam is not only useful in construction. It is also optimal in terms of the use of wood. See, due to their composition that includes several separate parts, large glulam pieces can be made of a variety of smaller trees harvested from second-growth forests. This helps to use less new timber each time for glulam manufacturing, thus reducing the consumption of trees.

Also, the laminating process used for making glulam allows the timber to be used for much longer spans, as well as for heavier loads. In addition, such timber can be used in more complex shapes than other materials, for example, reinforced concrete or steel. 

And since glulam is one-tenth the weight of steel and one-sixth the weight of concrete, you can easily see that using it in construction is literally easier due to its weight. Finally, since glulam can be manufactured in a variety of shapes, it offers architects almost endless artistic freedom without sacrificing the structural requirements and stability (as well as safety) of the building.

What Benefits Does Glulam Framing Have?

As we have already mentioned, glued-laminated timber is highly praised by carpenters and builders thanks to its exceptionally high quality and certain technical features. 

  • It is produced in a wide variety of shapes, allowing a lot of creative options for the architects
  • Glulam is lightweight compared to concrete and other similar construction materials
  • Glued-laminated timber is durable and strong
  • It is sold in a variety of sizes
  • It can be used in many different ways e.g. as vertical columns, horizontal beams, and arches

But not only builders and carpenters admire glulam! Homeowners also highly appreciate it thanks to the natural beauty of wood that glulam preserves and displays so beautifully. In addition, people also enjoy the consistent and long-lasting lifespan of the wood. 

Below, there are a few more perks that one may get when using glulam in home construction: 

  • Glulam is manufactured from kiln-dried lumber, being able to exhibit minimal shrinkage and warping
  • The method of its manufacturing ensures that glulam will provide level floor surface
  • With the use of glulam, floors will have minimal nail popping and fewer squeaks
  • Glulam floor beams are easier to work with in comparison with steel beams
  • When you use glulam, it’s easier to connect other wood floor-framing elements to it because the wood-to-wood connections can be made with regular carpentry tools and fasteners
  • Nailers are not needed when you work with glulam
  • Since the team of framers can install glulam floor beams, there is no need to schedule another crew for steelwork

Due to all these features and benefits, everyone, from homeowners to homebuilders to home designers, highly appreciate the flexibility of this type of wooded frame and beams.

A Bit Of Glued Laminated Timber History

Now you might be wondering where glulam comes from, who invented it and when, and how comes that it became so widely popular. Well, let’s dive into its history then in order to find the answers!

First of all, you will be surprised to learn that there is still a structure that uses glulam! In fact, this is one of the earliest glulam roof structures that are still standing, and you know it pretty well: it is the assembly room of King Edward VI College, a school in Bugle Street, Southampton, England, dating from 1866! The building is now the Marriage Room of the Southampton Register Office.

There is another example of glulam that survived until today. The roof of the Centre Pompidou-Metz museum in France is composed of sixteen kilometers of glued laminated timber. It has a shape of a 90-metre-wide hexagon with a surface area of 8,000 m². 

The first industrial patented use of glulam was in Weimar, Germany. In 1872 when a guy called Otto Hetzer set up a steam sawmill and carpentry business there. At the beginning of 1892, he took out several patents, one of which was for a ventilated timber floor deck. This floor deck could be tightened laterally after installation in order to compensate for shrinkage. Later, this guy also patented something that could be considered the first example of the glulam technique that we know today.

However, it was later that a significant development in the glulam industry happened. It was the introduction of a fully water-resistant phenol-resorcinol adhesive in 1942. This allowed glulam to be used in exposed exterior environments without concern of gluline degradation. In the United States, the first manufacturing standard for glulam was published by the Department of Commerce in 1963.

How Long Can Glulam Last?

Well, you could already guess that glulam can be quite a long-lasting thing! Since there are constructions that were built using this technique and lasted from old times until today, it is obvious that glued-laminated timber can easily survive for decades if not centuries!

So obviously, you can expect your glulam construction to last for quite a long period of time. However, you need to take one thing into account: if the entire structure (be it a home or a barn) is made of wood and uses glulam framing, it also depends on the wood and the way it is maintained for how long the whole building will last.

For example, there are cases when carpenters in the United States report finding or working with constructions made of wood that have glulam framing. However, due to wear and tear or wood, the walls may decay, whilst the glulam frame will still stand.

So, now you know a bit more about glued-laminated timber. We told you in simple words what this stuff is and what it is used for. Also, you learned when it first appeared and in what country it happened. In addition, now you know that there are still glulam pieces that can be found here and there around the world that survived for centuries and still look great and work. 

In addition, we explained how many benefits glulam has both in terms of construction use and the aesthetic side. With all this, you can see that glulam beams and framing can do a great job for your construction project should you decide to incorporate some wooden pieces into it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Does Glulam Come From?

Glulam structures are found in different countries including USA, but the earliest mentions date back to Germany.

Are Glulam Beams Hand-Made?

No, they are made using machines, but they can be customized to meet specific requirements like shape, size, etc.

What Sorts Of Wood Are Used For Glulam?

One of the most popular types of timber used for glulam include Douglas-fir, spruce-pine-fir (SPF) and western hemlock.

How Does Glulam Compare To Traditional Solid Wood Beams?

Glulam beams offer greater strength, dimensional stability, and design flexibility compared to traditional solid wood beams. They are also less prone to warping, twisting, and checking.

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