The beginning. Tedd Benson and brother, Stephen, start B&B, for Benson & Benson. Together, the Benson brothers start out doing renovation, remodeling projects, and set up a small woodworking shop in a neighborhood barn for cabinetmaking. Later, they start disassembling derelict timber frame barns and other structures in exchange for the materials. Steve Benson dies tragically in 1974, and B&B becomes the Benson Woodworking Company.
A shop was built in Alstead. Lacking money for materials or labor, Tedd builds a 5,000 SF woodworking shop out of recycled timber frame barns and silos. The woodworking shop, with its simple but strong timber frame structure, gives Tedd the confidence to move forward with more sophisticated forms of timber framing. The shop is now the new home for the Timber Framer's Guild and the Heartwood School. (See 2022 on this timeline for a recent update.)
First use of off-site fabrication. Tedd works with friend, Michael Burke, to build a new stud-built house with a timbered French country kitchen and dining area. Tedd elects to fashion the timbers in his newly finished woodworking shop, instead of the construction site, where the prepared timbers were quickly assembled into the finished structure. This seminal project cements Tedd’s early belief in the advantages of using a well set up workshop for prefabrication due to the better tooling, increased efficiency, precision, and controlled working conditions.
First full timber frame home. Tedd, and neighbor Dave Bryant, build what the Concord Monitor named "…the first full timber frame house built in NH in over 60 years." Tedd and his team go on to create the home’s exterior and interior doors, stairway, cabinets, built-ins, paneling, moldings, and furniture in the Alstead shop. From this influential project, the importance of control and influence on finishes is realized. This philosophy continues to be part of the DNA of the company.
Simsbury House: First stress-skin panel home
Tedd and Amos Winter develop some of the first stress-skin panels for residential use. With the timber frame providing for the structural loads, the two develop a way to incorporate Bun stock, a rigid foam insulating material, to create a structurally uncompromised, built-up enclosure system. The company continues to produce its own closed panel walls, though with greener materials and greater sophistication than in this early prototype. The stress-skin concept was highlighted in Tedd’s first book before it became commonly used in the timber frame industry and elsewhere.
Grew from 2-20 employees. The success of the first timber frame home and publicity that project received spurred numerous orders for subsequent projects, allowing the company to grow our original staff of craftspeople and designers. We were soon building timber frames throughout New England and beyond. Many of the projects built in these early years were used to illustrate Tedd’s first book.
First book published. Tedd Benson (with Jim Gruber) publishes first book, Building the Timberframe House: The Revival of a Forgotten Craft (Scribner and Sons, 1980; republished by Simon & Schuster,1995.) Instrumental in the revival of this centuries-old form of building with heavy timber, the book serves as a manual for builders and designers of timber frame homes. Today, it’s still considered the bible by timber frame enthusiasts around the world.
Creation of the Timber Framers Guild. Tedd and a small group of timber framers form the Timber Framers Guild of North America, knowing that the timber frame revival needed a vital, well-connected industry to establish a forum for learning and standards. The national headquarters for the TFGuild, and its education arm, Heartwood, is now located in the original Alstead shop, as a center of timber frame information and design for professionals, aficionados, and the public.
Japanese expertise introduced. Master temple builder, Masahiko Ishikawa, spends a year at Bensonwood, teaching our team the art of ultra-precise Japanese compound joinery. The Beam Team learns traditional methods that have been handed down in Japanese guilds and families for centuries. Our timber framers continue to use and pass down this beautiful and practical craft that allows for wooden beams to fit together without any external fasteners.
Rees Acheson fabricates custom-built stationary mortising machine. Tedd hires Rees to fabricate a portable mortising machine, making it possible to rapidly create timber frame joints with great precision. Rees continues to innovate at Bensonwood for several years.
Ben Brungraber, Ph.D., joins the team. Bensonwood becomes the first company to have a professional engineer dedicated to timber frame design and engineering. Ben elevates the company’s engineered timber frames to new levels, proving to building inspectors the efficacy of his sophisticated compression and tension joinery. Today, Bensonwood has a growing team of dedicated engineers (and architects) involved in all aspects of wood and metal joinery.
Rees Acheson increases company capabilities. Tedd hires Rees to fabricate a portable mortising machine, making it possible to rapidly create timber frame joints with great precision. It is still in use today. Rees develops a trigonometry program with AutoCad output of Hawkindale angles, creating specialized software. This allows timber framers to layout and cut the many compound angles in hip and valley roof structures.
Brian Smeltz comes on board. Lucky for Bensonwood, Ben Brungraber brings Brian Smeltz into the company. A Renaissance man and "jack of all trades," Brian proves to be an excellent timber framer, artist, designer, teacher, salesman, and project manager. His enthusiasm and creativity leave an indelible mark on the company. In 2000, Brian serves as lead designer and project manager for Bensonwood’s state-of-the-art facility in Walpole, New Hampshire.
Bensonwood first featured on This Old House.
Tedd publishes second book, The Timber-frame Home: Design, Construction, Finishing (The Taunton Press, 1988) providing a comprehensive guide to building a timber-framed house.
Bensonwood develops spline joinery to strengthen timber-framed connections and allow for more varied timber design, while increasing the load capacities of the structure.
Apprentices from abroad. Boris Noel arrives from France to spend an extended period of time on our team. Unlike tradespeople in the United States, those in the European and Asian building trades are highly educated and revered for their mastery. Hungry for outside knowledge, we begin inviting many apprentices from Europe and Asia to simultaneously learn and share the skills of master craftsmen.
Development of Open-Built. By merging the best thinking of open building proponents like John Habraken and Steward Brand, with his own concepts, Tedd develops a practical, digitally-based design, fabrication, and construction system that revolutionizes how homes are designed and built. Open-Built allows for the disentanglement of mechanical systems from the structure of the house and organizes them for more efficient installation and long-term access.
Bensonwood works with the Alexandria Seaport Foundation to build a boat-building shop/classroom for at-risk youth. Through the building and use of wooden boats, full-time apprentices earn their GED and prepare for a career in the building trades.
Third published book: The Revised and Updated Timber-Frame Home (The Taunton Press, 1997.) This extensively updated and reworked book takes an in-depth look into the process of building a timber frame and making it into a comfortable home. In another milestone, Bensonwood adds a computer driven, numerically controlled Computer Numerical Control (CNC) high-speed timber cutting machine that crafts timbers and joinery with accuracy to 1/32 of an inch.
Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Bensonwood demonstrates a timber frame barn raising, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The festival educates the public about cultural traditions that contribute to the American and human experience. Tedd Benson publishes 4th book, Timberframe: The Art and Craft of the Timberframe Home (The Taunton Press, 1999.) The book presents 25 years of Tedd's craft and practice.
Bensonwood is featured in Smithsonian Magazine ("Building to a Different Drummer") for its Walden cabin, a timber framed replica of Henry David Thoreau's simple 10'X15' cabin on the shores of Walden Pond. Timber framing parallels are drawn from this spartan, diminutive cabin to the exquisite high-end homes that Bensonwood became known for.
Separation of service layers. Bensonwood invents a floor system that allows the complete separation of structure and service layers, while providing easy access to plumbing, wiring, and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning.) It is the culmination of several years of product development and becomes the Open-Built second floor system, part of our standard package.
Partnership with Huber Engineered Woods, LLC. Bensonwood enters into a joint development agreement with Huber Engineered Woods to develop new wood-based products and applications for home design and construction. In addition, they were to develop new technologies in home design, subassembly design, modular design, and related processes.
Recognition for innovation. Bensonwood wins "Small Builder of the Year" award from the Partnership for Advanced Technology (PATH). Bensonwood begins long-term partnership with "MIT Open Prototype Initiative" with the goal of developing affordable, flexible, high performance houses. Using waste-saving 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology, Bensonwood engineers fabricate and construct the award-winning Loblolly House, one of the most talked about houses of 2006, designed by KieranTimberlake architects.
Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build. Bensonwood, along with 500 regional volunteers, completes the local blitz build of a Monadnock Habitat for Humanity home for a NH family of 10. The 2100 SF home is built in just 8 days. Community building projects are an integral part of how the company gives back to our community. Associates have volunteered in the building of many local structures over the years.
This Old House. Bensonwood was featured in seventeen (17) episodes of This Old House on PBS, and was chosen as the "Small Builder of the Year" by Residential Contractor Magazine, a national homebuilding trade magazine, with a focus on residential and multifamily small-volume production, custom, remodeling, and renovation projects.
Unity House, at Unity College, in Unity, ME, earns a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum rating. A year later, the Unity College President's Residence and Welcome Center is Net Zero certified.
Product of the Year. Bensonwood's OB PlusWall is designated as one of Building Green's "Top 10 Products of the Year," by editors of Environmental Building News and GreenSpec. Bensonwood builds a Passive House in Vermont that requires no heating system. This home is featured on page 1 of the NY Times Business section. Passive House is a standard for energy-efficiency that requires ultra-low energy use for heating and cooling.
Unity Homes launched. A division of Bensonwood, Unity’s mission is to make Bensonwood’s level of quality and performance available to more people at a lower cost. Because Unity is built upon Bensonwood’s extensive experience, we consider it to be a “forty year start-up.” Since 2012, Unity has built well over 100 homes in the Northeast and beyond.
Centerpiece of Greenbuild. Greenbuild, the premier conference and expo for the green building industry, chose a Unity Home, (the net-zero ready Zum model) to be the centerpiece of the conference trade show. The prefabricated components were assembled over the course of two days inside the trade show hall. The same year, Tedd Benson is named among "State’s Most Influential People In 2015" by New Hampshire Magazine.
Bensonwood expands its portfolio with mass timber projects at higher education institutions, fabricating an addition to the Common Ground School, New Haven, CT, using Heavy Engineered Timber and collaborating on the design-and-build for the UMASS Amherst Integrated Design Building.
New production facility. Bensonwood and Unity homes build new 110,000 SF state-of-the-art fabrication facility in Keene, NH for the Building Systems team. The new Computer Numerical Control (CNC) cutting, milling equipment and automated assembly-line throughput, greatly increases the two companies’ capacity for high-volume, panelized building elements with exacting specifications, tighter tolerances and enhanced structural integrity.
TEKTONIKS is introduced. Bensonwood launches TEKTONIKS, a line of advanced building components to enable other building professionals to take advantage of off-site manufacturing of building systems, timber fabrication, and millwork. This expands their mission to use standards-based building system to design and build more efficient structures.
OpenHome is launched. Bensonwood introduces OpenHome, a design collaboration with renowned architecture firms Lake|Flato and KieranTimberlake. Sustainably built and designed to exceed all current expectations for home health, comfort, and style, every OpenHome design can be built to Passive House certification standards. Bensonwood is awarded "Business of the Year" by the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce.
The Timber Framers Guild returns. Timber Framers Guild and The Heartwood School move into Alstead woodworking shop, the same location where the Guild was conceived. Today the Guild conducts national and regional conferences, sponsors community building workshops, coordinates regional gatherings, offers professional development and education, and publishes a member magazine and a quarterly journal.
Today, we have more than 100 people working toward one common goal: to create better homes and commercial structures for a more fulfilling living experience today, and a future that is sustainable for generations.