International Timberframes: Keeping the timber framing craft alive and contributing to a more sustainable future

We caught up with Sigi Liebmann — a Swiss master timber-framer who has been in the business for over 35 years — to learn more about his journey to starting International Timberframes, a successful timber-framing and dowel-laminated timber (DLT) business in Golden, BC.

“Timber-framing is post and beam construction, with heavy and large-sized timbers and traditional joinery,” explains Liebmann.

In 1986, Liebmann completed his apprenticeship as a timber-framer in Switzerland, followed by a Master’s at the Higher Technical School of Wood Biel, where he specialized in wood engineering, building envelope physics, CAD drawing and CNC machine programming. While in Switzerland, he was part of the team that developed dowel-laminated timber (DLT), a type of mass timber product now growing in popularity in Canada. Mass timber—a climate-friendly building option due to its carbon-storing properties—involves the construction of large solid wall and roof panels where layers of wood are connected using glue, nails, screws, or in the case of DLT, wooden dowels, making it a truly sustainable 100% wood product.

Having gained great knowledge and experience in the trade, Liebmann moved to Canada in 1999 to help Golden’s first timber-framing company adopt CAD drawing software, an at-the-time innovative tool used to design timber-frames digitally. He also helped set up the programming for Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machinery, a type of automatic machine tool used to cut beams.

While Liebmann initially came to Canada with a plan to stay for three months, it turned into 22 years. As more and more CNC machines came to Canada, companies continued to ask for his help setting up the CNC technology and training staff. In 2003, he founded International Timberframes, which was initially a consulting firm, and then it slowly morphed into a fully-fledged timber-frame operation. Today, there are two different arms of the business, timber-framing and DLT.

International Timberframes’ values are deeply rooted in the traditional craft of hand-cutting versus using machinery to cut the wood.

“I grew up with hand-cutting and was trained the traditional way. Some timber-framers cut all of the wood using the CNC machine, but we believe the human eye knows which side of the wood is best to notch and cut and face outwards and which pieces are best used for different features,” says Liebmann. “Keeping the traditional craft alive is an essential reason for being for our business, not just for the craft but for jobs for families in the Valley.”

“Over my 35 years of experience, I have literally done everything from home garden furniture to ice arenas and everything in between. I am especially proud of the community work that we’ve done, including the covered timber frame walkway at the College of the Rockies, the Timberframe at the Golden Civic Centre, Radium Community Hall and Library, and the Switzmalph Child Care Centre in Salmon Arm,” says Liebmann.

Switzmalph Child Care Centre

Several years ago, as the mass timber industry took off in Canada, International Timberframes became pioneers of DLT, designing, manufacturing and installing. “Radium and Switzmalph were examples of DLT mass timber projects, both completed using our 100% Wood DLT product.  The Radium project being the first commercial DLT project in Canada”.

Radium Community Hall and Library

Environmental sustainability is very important to Liebmann and is one of the company’s core values. Materials come from local sawmills to support the B.C. economy and because they have access to a lot of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified material in the area. The company also believes in keeping the wood as natural as possible. In the timber-framing arm of their business, they minimize the use of stains, using low volatile organic compounds (VOC) when required.  In the mass timber arm of the business, they manufacture only stacked DLT and cross-laminated DLT using wooden dowels. International Timberframes Wood100®DLT is a genuinely sustainable, recyclable building product.

Currently, the company is in the process of expanding by investing in machinery and with big plans to build a new shop in the next couple of years, which will be a complete DLT shop. With this shop, Liebmann hopes to showcase timber frames and DLT and how they can be used to create more sustainable and healthy wood products in the future.