Marriage marks were used in timber frame construction as reference points, to identify pieces that fit together in the frame or for the positioning of peg holes. Most commonly used in the 18oos and earlier, marks were etched into the wood using a chisel, scribe, saw, or knife. They are also referred to as carpenter’s marks.
Early timber frames were scribed together, with each joint being unique and custom fit. As a timber frame was pre-assembled and test fit, the marks were made to identify pieces that would fit together during the raising.
Types of marks vary from builder to builder
The marks are typically cut as straight lines, forming Roman numerals. Straight lines are the easiest to cut in timber. Usually adjacent beams would display the same numeral. Sometimes, different size chisels would be used to differentiate the marks, so that the same Roman numerals could be used in more than one spot. Individual builders would devise their own system of marking a timber frame. Variations also exist based on time period, building types, and location.
As construction transitioned to square rule, cutting joints in a more standardized way, the use of marriage marks mostly disappeared. Timber framers may still use marriage marks however, since they can be an aid in efficient assembly during raising. The marks are also sometimes used today to pay homage to the craftsmen of the past.
The marks pictured above were found in an old barn we raised
These marriage marks are in a mid-1800 barn from Ohio, that has been re-purposed into a custom home in South Carolina. The homeowner requested that the design allow for the marks to be in highly visible areas of the frame.
Timber framing replaced log construction for barn building around this time in history. This allowed for larger structures with expansive open space inside. Unfortunately, today many of these barns are being torn down or falling into decay. We were happy to be a part of saving this one!