Sill and Post Repairs…Plus More Split Rail Fence!

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We recently finished the first phase of a barn repair project in Springfield, Vermont, stabilizing a gorgeous little barn from the early 1800s.

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History of this Historic Timber Frame

The vintage timber frame is part of the historic Kirk homestead. We believe it was William Kirk Junior who built this barn. The son of a revolutionary war soldier from Springfield, William purchased the farm in 1809, and most likely built this structure at that time.

In 1834, the land records note that William Kirk mortgaged the farm to a Mr. White for $300. It may have been a tough year for farming, or perhaps William needed cash to work on the second barn on the property, which is attached to the older frame.

 

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The large barn is connected at a perpendicular angle to the smaller old structure. Farmers often sought to create a protected barnyard area for livestock and equipment, and the “L” profile of the attached barns does just that.

The records state that the loan was to be paid back annually over three years in “good salable neat stock or grain.” William must have successfully paid off the mortgage, as the property stayed in the family for a total of 97 years before being sold.

 

In 1864, William sold the farm to his son Aaron. Thirty years later, Aaron conveyed the farm to his younger brother Reuben, a Civil War veteran who had fought in the 10’th Regiment, Vermont Volunteer Company. The property stayed in the family until 1905. Many thanks to the current owners for sharing their careful historical research with us!

A Barn in Need of Repair

While the barn had beautiful stone foundation work, the water had pushed and the frost heaved against the stone and sills, and the joinery of the structure was deeply strained. The stone wall under the gable was collapsing, and four different posts had “torn their trunnels” and dropped down out of the upper beams.

 

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This corner post dropped as the sill beneath it deteriorated, and the pegs broke allowing the tenon to drop out of the mortise.

 

Our Approach to Restoration

Our project was to jack the posts back home again, and to replace the sills. The barn was listing dangerously towards an eve because braces had failed. We used a series of come alongs as we lifted posts in order to coax the wall back towards plumb.

 

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Note the beautiful five-sided ridge beam! Many of the braces had failed, and in this photo we are coaxing towards the western horizon. On the far wall, you can see where one of the posts has dropped.

As we lifted, we were able to feed the tenons home.

 

 

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We were able to bring this tenon right back into the horizontal timber. Even the siding boards slid back into the grooved channel in the beam where they started out.

 

 

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Here we are lifting the corner of the building in preparation for new pressure treated sills

 

The Split Rail Fence

But wait- what about the split rail fence? After posting our last blog about the fencing used as collar ties in Tunbridge, we were surprised and delighted to discover split rail fence pieces used as floor joists in the newer and larger of the Kirk barns!

 

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Old William Kirk was a resourceful fellow. Most likely the original floor joist snapped, and so a nearby rail was conscripted for the purpose.

 

A Barn Rebuilt to Last!

Now that the frame has repaired sills and is stabilized, the terrific crew at Terrigenous Landscape Architecture will re-build the dry laid stone foundation and wall on the gable end. Scott and his team have already installed a drainage system around the exterior of the barns, which will protect the repaired barn complex and stonework from future freeze and thaw cycles.

We look forward to returning to Springfield in the fall after the stone work is accomplished, to continue frame and siding repairs. In the meantime- happy fencing to all you farmers out there!


Do you have a vintage barn in need of repair? Dream of living in a historic barn home?

Contact us!
Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

 

“Did a Farmer Build This Barn?”

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Since we inspect dozens of barns every year, and because we’ve got lots of barns for sale, we often receive this question. In the 18th century, who, exactly, was it that was crafting these beautiful structures that required such skill and attention to geometry, math, fine woodworking skills, and practicality?1790-barn-with-5-sided-ridge-beam

At times, we have heard the question asked in a mildly derisive manner, as if it was built by farmers rather than carpenters. At other times, we are asked in a tone of reverence for the broad spectrum of skills required and the appreciation of raw materials, motivation, communal commitment, and just plain hard work involved. It is in the latter spectrum that we solidly fall in our assessment of our New England structures and their creators from so long ago.

Our Latest Vermont Timber Frame Project

This week we spent two intense days disassembling a beautiful addition on a house in Tunbridge and Chelsea, Vermont. Two towns, you may be asking? Yes indeed-the town line ran right through the center of the property, and the house is in Tunbridge, while the addition was in Chelsea. While mid-stream on the addition dis-assembly, a town truck from Tunbridge came by, and the driver stopped. Leaning far out the window of the dump truck, he called to us, “What, moving out of Chelsea, eh?”

The joke was followed by much guffawing and laughter. I am not sure why that dump truck had been driven to the literal dead end of the road, but I am suspicious it may have been for the purpose of telling that joke- and I love it! News of renovations and changes travel fast in our small Vermont towns.

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The first time I looked at the addition, the snow banks were deep.

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What a difference a couple of months can make in Vermont! The house is a beautiful 1820s gunstock frame.

Let’s get back to the theme of “farmer built.” As someone raised on a Vermont dairy farm, and accustomed to the great joys and hardships of farming, I can not state strongly enough my appreciation for the barns and their builders of yesteryear. We at Green Mountain Timber Frames are so fortunate to get the insider’s view of many local barns, and we have been able to trace the progression of a master timber framer through our valleys by observing unique “signature” qualities of frames.

Recently, we noted a very unique rafter birds mouth detail for example that we have seen in only two local structures- which “happened” to be only 20 miles apart. Was this a case of farmers sharing ideas and techniques with their neighbors, or is it because a master builder traveled around the area coaching and aiding as farm families built their barns?

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The rafters are beautiful petite spruce with a half-lap joint at the peak.

In the case of this structure in Chelsea/Tunbridge, we found an extra special clue that the addition was indeed farmer built. They used pieces from a split rail fence as collar ties to support the rafters!

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I would love to have heard the conversation where they decided to grab some rails from the nearest fence! With the property being high on a mountain, it would have been a long trip to a saw mill, and the split fencing was right there. “Keep the job moving!” we builders like to say.

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Note the beautiful hand-made nails that hold the collar tie in place. The family for whom the country road is named were blacksmiths as well as farmers, and I am certain they made these nails themselves.

The posts of the addition had been devastated by carpenter ants, and the foundation was crumbling. Because of this, we will not be restoring the frame. Rather, we will use the hemlock roof boards and the beautiful rafters on the future restoration of another building.

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The roof boards have beautiful color that only time can create.

We are grateful to the property owner for his desire to see the materials recycled. Just like the farmer who originally put this structure together, we want to recycle all that we can. In fact, we left those vintage pieces of split rail fence behind with the property owner, and I expect they may be put right back into the fence that is only thirty yards from the house to “live another day” back where they came from.

Are you looking for historic barns for sale? Want a new-old barn home?
We’d love to help! 

Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com or (802) 774-8972

 

Sugaring Season in Vermont

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Here in Vermont, we have a wonderful opportunity for a sweet spring ritual. We feel the sun getting stronger, snow begins dripping off the roof at just a hint of sunshine, our shoulders start to relax as we realize we’ve made it through another winter, and it is time to make maple syrup.

Maple sap dripping into bucket green mountain timber frames

As the sap begins to flow through the trees in the spring, it can be collected and boiled down into the more concentrated syrup. It takes anywhere from 20 to 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

One of my favorite Abenaki stories is that of Gluskabe and the maple trees. The Creator had made many gifts for people to enjoy, and one of them was the thick sweet syrup that flowed through the branches of the maple trees. All that was required to enjoy the syrup was to snap the end of a branch off, and the thick syrup would flow right out. Gluskabe, who kept an eye on the people on behalf of the Creator, noticed that more and more villages were falling into disrepair. Walking the forestlands, Gluskabe realized that people were becoming fat and lazy because of the abundant and readily available maple syrup. Rather than repairing their homes, keeping their fires going, and growing and hunting for food, they were simply lying on the ground underneath maple trees catching the sweet syrup in their mouths!

The Creator instructed Gluskabe to add water to the maple trees, so that the people would have to work to get their beloved maple syrup, and so that they would remember to be grateful for the many gifts of the Creator. In addition, the Creator decided that it would be better if the sap was sweet only in the spring of the year. After Gluskabe added water to the trees, the villages began to prosper once more, and the spring became a joyful season as the ritual of sap gathering and boiling developed.

Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we try hard to remember and appreciate the gifts that we have been given and to honor the trees from which we construct barns and houses. What better time could there be than spring to enter a ritual of gratitude!

In the spring of this year, we were lucky enough to be cutting a new timber frame at the beautiful Larson Farm and Creamery. A real plus of working there was the close proximity to the small maple operation. In fact, we could keep a really close eye on how the sap was flowing. We kept some mugs handy for dipping out deliciously sweet maple sap at coffee time, and we sometimes even brewed our coffee using the stuff! Since two of our team members are backyard sap boilers themselves, they could tell just when it was time to go home early to collect the full buckets of sap. maple sugaring and timber framing

Sugar making systems run the gambit, with some maple hounds boiling outside using a tripod and giant cast iron pots, while others build large sugar houses and have elaborate equipment. Many of the modern maple-making systems use vacuum pumps, plastic tubing, reverse osmosis systems, and oil fired sap arches.

Being the history nuts that we are at Green Mountain Timber Frames, and given our proclivity towards hand tool worked and hand made, we tend to favor the smokey flavors of the wood-burned syrup, and the traditional bucket methods of collecting. Indeed, we have discussed at length the merits, drawbacks, and subtleties of maple flavors over our years of spring time coffee breaks! Jesse, one of our team members, even brought in Kombucha made using maple sap this spring.

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This is the outdoor system of Lucas and Dylan- two brothers and members of our team.

We recently discovered some very old maple sugar taps that were tucked up into the roof system of the Nichols Store timber frame. They were made by whittling saplings and drilling out the center. We found many wooden barrel parts in this structure as well, and it is likely that the sap that flowed through these wooden spouts was also collected in a wooden bucket suspended underneath.

Antique maple sap taps green mountain timber frames

These spouts were found in a circa 1806 frame that we were recently cleaning. I couldn’t help wondering if the trees that these spouts tapped are still alive. It is possible, as Maple trees can live for hundreds of years.

Vintage wooden barrel hoop Green Mountain Timber Frames

Look at the beautiful carving on this barrel hoop, which was found in the Nichols frame with the maple taps. The ends locked together and held the barrel staves in place.

A few years ago at the Larson Farm, we decided to upgrade our sugar house. It was a wonderful family project, and we want to share some images of the sugar house with you.

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The timber frame sugar house measures 16 feet by 24 feet, and has an 8 foot by 24 foot wood storage porch. There is a half loft inside the sugar house for summer guests to enjoy.

All the trees for the project were cut on the farm. The posts were sawn at a local mill, and the rafter system never left the farm. Instead, Luke used a vintage axe and adze to hew the rafters and five-sided ridge beam right in the woods. What a treat it was to experience the joy – and hard work – of shaping the timbers by hand right where they had grown!

Timber frame sugar house green mountain timber frames

The five-sided ridge beam and rafters were shaped the old fashioned way- with an ax and adze.

When the frame was cut and prepared, the whole family plus some friends got together and put the whole frame and roof boards up on a Saturday. In the next photo, note the circa 1810 timber frame hay barn in the background. It is as if it is presiding over the events of the day, and lending solemnity and continuity to the traditions of timber framing on this farm.

Green mountain timber frames frame raising

The very first bent goes up at around 7 AM in the morning.

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Here we are tipping up the second bent.

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Bent three goes up. The ties between all the bents are fit into place as the bent rises.

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The top plate goes on. Teep – turn that brace the other way!

Green mountain timber frames sugar house raising

What is everyone looking at?

Green mountain timber frames barn raising

Drive those pegs home.

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Ready for the rafters!

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The ridge and rafters are up, and it is time for roof boards.

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Applying the roof boards

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The door header, visible at the far end, is made of plum wood. It is a token of gratitude to the tree that had to be removed in order for the sugar house to be built on this spot.

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Following millennia of tradition, an evergreen branch is attached to the new frame as a token of respect and gratitude to the trees. Remember the lesson of Gluskabe!

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The loft floor joists have a traditional “swoop” on the ends, and we used vintage hand planes to put a hand-worked surface on the posts and girts.

We worked a long and joyful day, and by the evening we had the roof covered and protected with felt paper. Family and friends spent the last light of the summer day standing inside the newly crafted space, taking in the beauty of the timbers. Even Hazel, the family Corgi dog, seemed very tired out by the end of the day!

We used vintage slate to build a roof, and we have a collection of recycled windows to install in the sugar house.. any day now! What is it they say about the cobbler’s children going unshod? In the meantime, while we try to find time to finish off the sugar house, we are enjoying the sweet maple syrup that was boiled inside it, as well as the warm spring sunshine. Happy spring everyone!

sugar house with slate roof green mountain timber frames

The tall smoke stack ensures a hot fire inside, and the cupola windows let the steam out as maple sap is evaporated.

Do you love timber framing as much as we do? At Green Mountain Timber Frames, we build vintage and new post and beam homes.

Contact Us!

The 1840s Historic Home: Saving Precious Timbers

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We recently finished working on a small project dismantling part of an 1840s home. The residents were tearing down a section of their historic home to make room for a new addition.
historic home renovation_Green Mountain Timber Frames

The new addition honors the style of the original, and retains the stone foundation

Honoring the value of the vintage wood, they asked Green Mountain Timber Frames to help them salvage parts of the structure.
The answer? Of course!
While the frame itself was beyond repair, with careful disassembly of the timbers, we were able to save the vintage flooring, siding boards, and many of the hand hewn beams. The owners were very happy to know the materials are being recycled and some of the wood was even put to use in their new addition.
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The original wall sheathing is 1/2 inch boards

We look forward to working with these materials in future restoration projects. The beams, flooring, and siding will help us maintain the authentic, historic look and we are grateful to the owners for sharing them with us.
Post and beam addition_Green Mountain Timber Frames

The hand hewn beam shown at the top of the wall is 30 feet long

They even wrote us a lovely note and while we risk sounding immodest, it made us so happy that we wanted to post it here. We are so glad the owners share our love of history and facilitated our collaboration to recycle the beams!
Thank you so much for the caring removal of 1840s ell on our home. We are still so amazed that the work was done so quickly!  Thank you for sharing information on the way our post and beam addition had been constructed.  Our shadow box of various pieces of the ell will have a place of honor in the new addition, too.”
When springs finally comes to Vermont this year, we will be dismantling another historic building on their property to salvage the materials.

Do you have a historic property that you want to preserve? 

We would love to help.

802.774.8972

Restoration of an 1806 Barn

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Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we are delighted to have a new member on our framing crew! Matt Peschl is not a new face or a new friend, as he worked with us for key projects over the past 12 years. But now, Matt has officially joined us on a full-time basis and we could not be happier about it!

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Reminiscing About a 2011 Barn Restoration

Luke and Matt worked together on a project in 2011 and we’d like to take this opportunity to share it with you. The repairs were done on a small barn on a beautiful property here in our hometown of Middletown Springs, Vermont. The homestead dates from before 1800 and we believe the barn that we worked on was built in 1806.

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We repaired the red barn, which sits nestled under the mountain among a collection of vintage barns and corn cribs

The barn had two main structural issues: rotten sills and a rotten upper beam called a top plate that supports the rafter bottoms. We decided to start from the ground up.

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The sills were tired from sitting directly on stone for 205 years

We began by using hydraulic jacks to strategically lift the barn up off of the stone foundation. This allowed us access to the sills where they needed work. In our restorations, we use vintage materials for replacement parts whenever possible.

The next photo shows Luke using a chain mortiser to begin cutting to splice in a new piece.

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The beginnings of a scarf joint

With the weight of the barn held up on jacks, we were able to cut joinery on a new sill piece and fit it together with the still sound original section of sill.

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Here we have used an English scarf joint to add in a new section of sill

One eve wall of the barn was close to grade and the sill was entirely rotten. For this wall, we chose to use Locust wood for the sill replacement.

Locust grows locally and is a remarkable species. As a kid growing up on a Vermont farm, I had the opportunity to work with locust for a long time- at times more cheerfully than others! My father, siblings and I cut many locust fence posts from the woods. We would drive the locust directly into the ground and, because of the nature of the wood, it would last many years even when underground.

In fact, I have stumbled across old, grayed locust fence posts deep in Vermont woods. The old fence posts tell the story of much of Vermont’s land being cleared of forest during the 1800s. Now, the forest land is expanding to take up a larger portion of the state. Locust posts, as well as stone walls, stand sentry in parts of our current woodland to tell the tale and transitions of our farming history.

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We copied the joinery from the original sills before installing the new timber

Once we had the barn set back down on repaired sills and had rebuilt the stone foundation, we took a look at the second major issue. What we found was some serious rot caused by a leaky roof at some point in the past. The first roof had been cedar shakes, later replaced by slate.

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Folks, we have an issue!

In order to repair the top plate, we first set up a system to jack up and hold the rafters in order to free up space for our repair.

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The rafters are supported and we have cut out the rotten section of beam

We used an English scarf joint to make the top plate repair. When we need to replace a section in a barn, we use vintage materials from our inventory in order to get a matching color, tone and hue.

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The top plate is repaired and ready to support the roof for another 200 years

Next, we replaced the siding windows and trim on the barn.

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It is a great joy to have Matt on the team again. He joins us with a great amount of experience, both in timber framing and in every phase of construction. Most importantly, we really enjoy his company!

Do you have a vintage barn of your own that needs repairs?
Give us a call at (802) 774-8972.

Want to read about another timber frame project? How about the time we built a timber frame gazebo!

Restoring a 30 x 42 Barn Frame – Our Latest Endeavor

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Despite winter’s encroachment here in northern New England, we’ve been hard at work at Green Mountain Timber Frames.

For our most recent project, we have been restoring a beautiful 30×42 foot barn frame from New York state. Built in the 1790s, it is a fine example of a gunstock frame.

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Look at the handsome grain and joinery of this gunstock oak post

What is a gunstock timber frame?

This means that the upper timbers all come together at the same elevation. It is an incredibly strong method of construction.

img_4239 However, there is a drawback to gunstock frames: it can be challenging to install a second floor because the rafters start at the same elevation as the loft. It is not an issue for storing hay, but can be a challenge when designing a bedroom! The team, which includes a restoration architect, our client and ourselves, figured out a way to install a second floor in this particular barn. We used scarf joints to raise the height of each post, which allowed us to create a 20 foot loft area below the height of the upper horizontals.

Technical challenges of assembling this timber frame

It’s a good thing we love a challenge, because with this frame, (unlike most) we couldn’t make all the changes without assembling the frame. Why? Because of the angled “summer beams”-the large timbers that pick up the weight of the floor joists. (We will get to the reason for the splayed summer beams in a bit.) Doing compound joinery on a 220 year old structure is only possible if you erect that section allowing the joinery to be measured and fitted in place.

Creating the second floor

So how did we solve our little technical problem? We began by erecting half the barn frame behind our shop.

erecting-half-a-timber-frame

This timber frame is predominantly white oak, so we wanted to match the original species of wood. We purchased white oak timbers from Ohio since white oak is hard to find in our area these days. Given the long span of these beams, we had to use 10×12 inch timbers. For the new posts, we used 10×10 inch timbers.

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White oak timbers

In order to help the new timber blend in with the old, we used the old method to create an authentic texture: a broad axe and an adze.

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Here’s a shot of Luke, hewing the new oak beams

Next, we created crooked joinery, because the heavy carrying timbers are splayed, rather than the typical perpendicular or right angles to each other. The only way we could be certain the timbers would join together properly and securely was to fit the timbers in place.

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We chopped and chiseled…made templates…and set the 1000 pound timbers in place.

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Chopping

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Chiseling

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Making templates

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Setting thousand pound timbers

This now creates a second floor that did not exist originally!

But why did we have to angle the carrying timbers? 

To maintain the original ladder we tightened up the two posts carrying the heavy floor girts. The ladder rungs will be set in the close pair of 10×10′ white oak posts. We have not placed the rungs between the posts yet.  That was the least of our problems…………

The end wall will have a 12 foot bay window between those posts.  Along with the owner and architect, we wanted the heavy summer beams, combined with the posts, to frame the large bay window in a fascinating way!

So the owner gets his ladder and his bay window and a very unusual design that makes this particular frame restoration much more interesting.

In order to check new joinery on other sections of the frame, as well as to store it safely until spring, we put the whole barn up and applied a temporary roof.

 

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Here’s the 30×42′ frame tipped up with a temporary roof.

 

Next steps in the restoration process

Our next step is to set all the hand hewn floor joists into these heavy carrying timbers using traditional joist pockets. But, for the moment, we have moved on to another outside project. With this structure standing and roofed for the winter, we will have plenty of opportunities to return to this task when it is raining or snowing! In the spring, we will label everything, disassemble, and ship the frame to its final location. It will be ready to stand strong and true for another 220 years.

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Note the incredibly wide original siding boards!

Stay tuned for a story on our next project: a timber-framed porch. We better get going on it, as we received our first heavy snowfall of the year this past week!

Have a blog idea for us?
A pressing question about historic timber framing? Let us know!

(802) 774.8972 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

Contagious Renovations

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Here in our tiny hamlet of Middletown Springs, Vermont, renovating historic buildings seems to be something of a trend.

The Green Mountain Timber Frames headquarters and workshop are located in the center of the village, directly across from the Town Green. From here, we can watch the daily happenings as the 745 or so residents come and go. As of late, we’ve noticed that many locals are busy renovating some of our beautiful historic buildings. Of course, we couldn’t be more excited!

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The view across the Town Green

It started when our neighbor to the east on our Town Green painted their 1880s Victorian house, in preparation for a family wedding.

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Next, the Community Church, north of the Town Green, decided it was time to paint the church steeple.

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And wouldn’t you know it, here at GMTF, on the west of the Town Green, we are erecting a 1790s barn frame for fine tuning before it moves on to its final home.

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Luke’s brother, lawyer Chris Larson, lives across from the community church and he is repairing his porch. You can see his progress below!

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Luke, who lives right up the street from our shop, is also renovating the porch on his 1885 Victorian beauty.

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Want to add your own renovation project to the mix?

We renovate historic barns throughout New England and New York!

Contact us for details!