Back in the not-so-Jolly Old England of the Middle Ages, where many American building traditions originated, no one knew anything about structural engineering. Instead, carpenters used common knowledge gleaned from trial and error and handed down over the centuries. With no way to analyze the strength of their buildings, they just built them as stoutly as they could, using massive timbers hewn from lots and lots of trees. For example, records show that one six-room, two-story house built in Cambridgeshire around 1600 required 72 small oak trees to be cut down for the framing lumber alone. Seven more mature oak trees (which yielded wider planks) were sawn into floorboards. The total wood used was equivalent to about 68 acres of oak forest. A larger house could easily consume more...
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