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Do you have a historic property that you want to preserve?
We would love to help.
We would love to help.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next, we replaced the siding windows and trim on the barn.
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!
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We chopped and chiseled…made templates…and set the 1000 pound timbers in place.
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.
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.
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
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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!
It started when our neighbor to the east on our Town Green painted their 1880s Victorian house, in preparation for a family wedding.
Next, the Community Church, north of the Town Green, decided it was time to paint the church steeple.
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.
Luke’s brother, lawyer Chris Larson, lives across from the community church and he is repairing his porch. You can see his progress below!
Luke, who lives right up the street from our shop, is also renovating the porch on his 1885 Victorian beauty.
We renovate historic barns throughout New England and New York!
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I remember one time as a kid when a great-uncle told me about the historic New England turkey drives. As I listened open-mouthed, he told me that New England farmers of the 1800s used to join up in the fall to collectively bring all the turkeys they had raised down to Boston. It was before the days of the interstate and refrigerated trucks, and as he recounted, they would shepherd thousands of turkeys across the countryside over a number of days.
The turkeys would collectively roost on the ridges of country barns every night. “And that, my friend, is why so many Vermont barns have big sags in the ridge line – it was the weight of all those fat turkeys on their way to market!”
To this day I am not totally sure if he was pulling my leg completely about the “historic turkey drives,” but one thing is for sure: there are indeed many historic barns with saggy roofs. In our voyages around New England viewing barns, we very often find sway-backs. That is, buildings where the roof has sagged dramatically under the weight of slate.
Green Mountain Timber Frames has its base of operation right on the edge of a slate valley and it is fascinating to think about the interplay of geography, geology and population movements as it relates to this industry. Slate first gained attention in our area around 1834. The first known barn to receive a slate roof in our area was in 1848. By the end of the 1800s, the slate industry in our valley was booming, bringing in groups of skilled quarry workers from Wales, Czechoslovakia, Poland and many other parts of the world where people had experience with slate.
Before this, our barns were roofed using hand-split cedar shakes.
Builders would cut cedar logs into 30 to 36 inch lengths and then split them into shingles using a tool called a froe. In some places where there were not readily available streams for early water powered sawmills, builders would forego roof boards completely. Instead, they would heavily brace the rafter system to make it ridged, and then would install strips of wood called purlins spaced up to 36 inches apart. They would then apply long hand-split cedar shakes directly to the purlins.
Cedar is a natural, light, and wonderful roofing. Like the planking on an old wooden boat, it would have large gaps when dry. As soon as the first rain drops soaked in however, the cedar would swell and shed the water beautifully! However, cedar roofs last only a few decades. As the cedar started to fatigue on our earliest barns, farmers began to replace it with slate. What could be better than a local product that will last as roofing for 200 years? What farmer really has the time to replace cedar every few decades?
There was just one little problem…cedar shakes weigh about 400 pounds per 100 square feet. Slate, on the other hand, weighs as much as 1,000 pounds on that same roof surface! On a typical 30 x 40 barn, this means that the new roof weighed as much as 9 or 10 tons. For a barn designed for a lightweight roof, trouble came a-visiting, especially when the heavy Vermont snows also piled high on top of the slate.
Here at GMTF, we have recently viewed a number of barns in northern Vermont. These structures were far from the slate quarries and were thus more likely to receive roof makeovers with multiple generations of cedar, followed by lightweight metal roofs (once that industry came into full swing.) We find that, unlike with slate, many more of these northern barns survived with roof-lines in tact.
There are several building techniques that we use to rehab a barn that was built for cedar rather than our modern heavier insulated roofs.
We find that the old barns with ridge beams faired much better over the past couple of centuries.
To further strengthen a ridge beam roof system, we sometimes add vertical posts going from heavy timbers to the ridge beam. This transfers the weight straight down and minimizes the outward thrusting forces that otherwise can push the eve walls out.
As builders became aware of the weight issue, they often added a “queen system.” This is a structural system that picks up the weight of the rafters at mid-span and transfers this weight down to the heavy girt timbers and posts. On many of our oldest barns, we use vintage timbers to create this type of a system.
Another method we use to beef up the rafter system is to add collar ties to the rafters. These horizontal timbers create a triangle within each pair of rafters, which is one of the strongest geometrical shapes in nature.
On a recent project, we were asked to help prepare the structure of an 1860s house for a new roof. The builders had sized their rafters for a light roof and then installed slate. The sag was tremendous. We did not want to disturb the original plaster of the ceilings beneath the rafter system. Our solution, after the slate was removed, included first adding collar ties in the attic.
Next, we screwed 2 x 4 rippings over the top of the existing rafters and snapped straight chalk lines.
Here is how it looked after we used this technique on all the rafters:
Next, we put new plywood over the whole roof and it was ready for roofing!
It is so interesting, as we travel around New England looking at barns, to imagine the various economic, geographical and sociological forces that all played a role in barn designs! We are grateful to have learned from the craftsman of the past who figured out how to properly build roof structures to withstand the various forces that material and weather throw at them.
802.774.8972 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com
We at Green Mountain Timber Frames have a friend and fellow “restorationist” and we are very excited to be collaborating with him on a new project. It’s an incredible opportunity to preserve the “Amos Hodsdon House,” built in 1837.
Ben Heywood moved into the area a few years ago after a career of preservation and restoration work in the Cape Cod area. Since moving to Vermont, he has become a friend as well as a consultant on some of our projects. He has aided us in assessing the fine details of houses dating from the 1800s. He has a wealth of knowledge regarding trim, window and door styles and the dating of buildings. He has done incredible work restoring original entryways, windows, and cupboards. On a recent weekend visit, I asked Ben how he got interested in restoration.
“I was born in Gardner, Massachusetts, in 1951. There were dozens of abandoned 18th and early 19th century houses in a 40 or 50 mile radius. In the course of many Sunday family rides in the station wagon, my father would drop me at these so I could snoop around. It was arranged that I’d be picked up about a half hour later. All kinds of different architecture… it was great! It took no time at all for me to understand the difference between the handcrafted specimens and the numerous postwar boxes popping up everywhere. I also bought and devoured all the Eric Sloane books by age 16. All this sent me in the preservation direction.”
Ben moved to Falmouth and purchased his first “vintage” house in 1978 for the price of $1! It was a circa 1815 three quarter cape with a center hall and three fireplaces. It had the original doors, wainscot, finish trim and floors. As Ben told me, “I assembled some buddies and had it down in three weeks. I’ll never forget having to buy a liability policy from Lloyd’s of London as I was young and not yet firmly established. Insurance for four weeks cost me 500 times what I had paid for the house! Most everybody thought I was nuts at the time- until they saw the place restored!”
In the decades that followed, Ben disassembled and restored around 20 period houses. He did restoration in place on another 20!
In 2008, Ben decided to find one last gem of a house that he would restore for himself as he moved to Vermont and into retirement. Enter: the remarkable house built by Amos Hodsdon in 1837.
Now, due to life changes and a desire to downsize his construction plans, Ben has decided not to use this house as his own. The beautiful historic Hodson House is available for sale!
And we at Green Mountain Timber Frames want to help our friend find a new family to make this house into their home.
After looking at many vintage buildings, Ben decided on a house in Carroll County, New Hampshire, named after Charles Carroll who died in 1832 as the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. Carroll County was created in 1840 with Ossipee as its seat. Ben learned this history lesson after his search of Carroll County deeds came up empty. Eventually, he realized that the county lines had changed three years after the deed to the property changed hands from father to son, and so was filed in Strafford County!
When Ben discovered the old Hodson place, the house was incredibly unaltered and in good “frame health,” for its age. It had been abandoned for ten years and had been occupied by an elderly couple before that. The kitchen had a typical cast iron sink mounted in what was surely a period dry sink. There was a rusty old spigot and pipe that ran into a tank heated by the wood stove! The last residents of the house had still been carrying water into the house from a six foot diameter dug well with a flat stone cover. Best of all… the house had never had a bathroom!
Ben assembled a crew and began dismantling the frame.
Above you can see the tired entryway, and then the doorway after Ben’s incredibly meticulous restoration work.
When the house came into Ben’s caretaking, the decorative fan work over the entrance had been removed and flat boards had been nailed up. Ben studied the “shadow lines,” which are marks and weathering patterns on the wood, in an attempt to figure out through detective work what the original had looked like. Then, in a fortuitous turn of events, a friend discovered this old photograph of the house. It confirmed Ben’s guess at what had graced the entrance originally, and wait till you see what he created!
This house boasts roughly 3,700 square feet of vintage living space. The crew at Green Mountain Timber Frames will do a complete restoration of the timber frame itself, and we are looking for someone who has always wanted to live in a beautiful New England style home!
Know someone who may be able to help us find a home for this historical treasure? Please pass the word around that this wonderful structure is available and help us find a new “forever” location for this gem!
(802) 774-8972 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com
We recently completed the restoration and renovation of an historic timber frame from Cavendish, Vermont.
The project kicked off when we first visited the frame back in the winter of 2015. We’ve written about this barn frame before, while in the thick of the restoration process, and wanted to deliver the coda now that the project is complete.
The owners of the frame wanted to save a barn on their property; it was in bad shape and needed to be taken down before it collapsed. We first visited the barn in the winter, dismantled it in the spring, and spent the summer restoring it at the Green Mountain Timber Frames shop.
In late summer, we erected the restored frame on a new foundation.
In the pictures below, you can see the entire process – from start to finish. From a wintery day in February when the sagging frame looked tired and in need of some TLC, to the beautiful great room it has become today.
The image below shows us adjusting the roof rafters to fit the new design of the great room. We pre-assembled the rafters, applied the original roof boards, carefully labeled each rafter and board, and then dismantled the roof before finally shipping the frame back to its home of origin.
After the frame was firmly in place, another general contracting company completed the project – The Severy Brothers of Ludlow, VT. The next two pictures show how they used “SIPs” (structural insulated panels). The panels are fastened to the outside of the frame, which provides superb insulating value while showcasing all of the wooden elements on the interior. In the second picture, you can see the front entry taking shape.
It was truly a pleasure to work on this barn frame. We love it when the opportunity arrises to restore a frame while keeping on its original location! Do you have an historic barn on your property that is in need of attention? We would love to see it!