The Green Mountain Timber Frames crew has just returned from week three in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. We are continuing to disassemble 4 old barns on a historic farm. While this past week was not as dramatic as the take-down of the corn crib that was featured in our last blog, we did make incredible progress as well as some discoveries. We even made some new friends in the area.
Removing the siding and roof from a 26×50 barn
One of the largest barns on the property was once a magnificent cow barn. Unfortunately, the posts have rotted to the point that we cannot restore this barn. It is rare for us to turn down a “save and restore” opportunity but in this case, the choice became very clear as we removed the siding and discovered vast rot in the posts.
Here is what we discovered underneath the vertical siding boards:
The walls had been packed tight with wood shavings and sawdust. The Daniels Farm, where this barn resides, had a sawmill on the premises at one point in its history. It must have seemed like a good idea to use the shavings for insulation. However, the end result was that the sawdust held moisture and rotted the frame.
Cows living on the inside of the barn created a lot of moisture through their living and breathing. In the cold weather, this warm humid air moved through air gaps in the shavings, hit the cold exterior boards of the barn, and condensed into water. The sawdust acted to hold this moisture.
A sawmill turned…apple-crusher
An interesting fact we learned about the Daniels’ sawmill was that when it came to be apple picking season each year, the workings of the sawmill were converted to power a giant apple crusher. Apparently, the Daniels and their neighbors made a great deal of apple cider when they weren’t busy making sawdust!
Surprise friends at the Daniels’ fawmill
Early in the week, we met some residents of this barn while removing the siding. And oh my goodness, it was cuteness overload!
We built a ramp down from the wall cavity where this family of 3 baby raccoons was living and then left the area alone for the rest of the day. I was so worried that we had scared the mother away. However, at the end of the day as we were getting into the truck to leave, Andy looked back at the barns. To our surprise and relief, we could see the profile of the mother raccoon perched in the peak of the barn. She had never left at all! Thankfully, we saw little footprints at the bottom of the ramp we had built when we returned in the morning. Mother had led them out to a new home.
While this barn is not restorable, it is certainly salvageable. We will use the roof boards, the siding, and many of the sound beams on future restoration projects. We will even use the nails and the metal roofing.
Speaking of roofing…it was quite a project to remove it all on a hot afternoon!
Next, we removed the roof boards. They have beautiful patina and will be a perfect match for replacing some of the boards on the other barns on the property that we will be restoring.
Next, we lowered the rafters to the deck.
We wrapped up our work on this barn by popping the pegs out of the sound braces and timbers. When we bring in a machine in a couple of weeks, we will be able to hoist the heavy beams safely down to the ground.
We came across an incredible piece of nail artwork while we were pulling the rafter tips apart. Cut nails were used, and some of them were made from fairly soft steel. Isaac discovered this incredible shape:
The nail had split apart lengthwise as it was hammered into the rafter. One piece of the nail went straight in, and the other curled up to form this beautiful profile!
This unique nail was one of many thousand nails that we have pulled over the past weeks. They range from large to small, and from hand forged to machine-made square nails. While pulling and de-nailing boards, we keep two five gallon buckets on hand: one for the nails that we can re-use, and one for the bad nails and other scraps of metal that we can recycle. We filled many buckets this past week!
We will soak the nails that are in good shape in vinegar, which will loosen the corrosion. A quick cleaning after that, and these old nails will be as good as new.
At GTMF, we are dedicated to preserving the historic architecture of New England. We restore old barns and build timber frame homes. Using nails like these and the wood beams salvaged from barns like the ones on the Daniels’ Farm, we are able to create historic homes built to last for centuries to come.
If you’re interested in learning more about our work, building a timber frame barn or owning your own barn home, contact us.
Today, Matt and I were visiting barns on behalf of the Green Mountain Timber Frames team. I am constantly amazed by the creative ingenuity of New England’s early farmers. These brave souls were—and are still—truly a backbone of the beautiful and communal aspects of our local New England culture.
An Ode to Farmers
Having grown up on a working dairy farm, I have witnessed the challenges that face farmers on a daily basis. Thinking of my father, my mother, and my grandfather as they strived to keep a farm running, I pondered the necessity for creativity and tenacity when it comes to getting that hay bailer or tractor running when it is desperately needed. I believe the same principle applied to the ways in which early farmers dealt with their timber frame barns.
Today, as we assessed one particular barn, we discovered some very clever repairs made to the frame over the years. We were inside an incredible 32×52 hand hewn timber frame barn that is badly fatigued and in need of help.
Unfortunately, the barn abutting this one was in much worse shape, and I felt quite deflated and heartbroken to see it.
This collapsed building still has a few vintage boards and timbers that can be salvaged.
But let’s return to the happier prospect of the barn we had come to see.
52-Feet of Chesnut Timbers
It was built very early, and has many American chestnut timbers. The rafters are hewn, and the posts are massive at 11×11 inches. Of the four timbers that span the length of the building, 3 are an incredible 52-feet of continuous hand hewn chestnut, with the fourth having a scarf joint to join two timbers together.
Imagine that: 52 foot American chestnut timbers that were shaped with a broad axe and an adze- and lots of spirit and grit.
Incredibly, one of the bents is a clear-span 32-foot timber truss. This means it was built strong enough to not need any interior posts, allowing the farmer to move a wagon and animals around inside with ease. In the next photo, you can see the two chestnut timbers that create the truss. They are tied together in the middle with a vertical timber, creating a remarkably strong system.
What about the clever repairs?
It seems that at some point in the history of this barn’s use, the lower timber, which measures 11 x 18 inches by 32-feet, developed a split. Matt and I were studying the repair that was done in the past, and we realized that it was made using the metal rim of an old wagon wheel!
Here is a close-up of the ingenious repair, recycling no doubt a farm implement that’s use had gone by the wayside:
We also discovered a wonderful thing for us modern timber framers to see: a likely mistake made by our mentors who lived two hundred years ago. In a way, it is refreshing to see that even those incredible craftspeople from the past occasionally made an error like we sometimes do!
One of the 32-foot timbers did not have a typical tenon. It sure looks like someone cut this timber too short. We have all been there who have cut mortise and tenons time after time. It is a big “whoops” when it involves an 11 x 18 inch by 32-foot American chestnut timber that was cut and hewn by axe and adze!
In the next photo, you can see where a spline was added to the end of the girt, essentially adding back the section that was missing. If you look carefully at the underside of this massive timber, you can see where a 2-inch plank was let in, and then pegged thoroughly.
This ingenious repair reminds me of a saying given to me by a wise builder when I was starting out as a framer:
“The sign of a great carpenter is not whether you make mistakes or not; rather, it is about how creative you can be about fixing your mistakes when they happen!”
I am trying to remember what error I had made as a 22-year-old to earn me that old “chestnut” of wisdom. I don’t remember what it was, but I am grateful for the lesson that was imparted to me that day, and I remember it still. Well, the repair in this barn held up well. Approximately 210 years, and holding strong!
Speaking of holding strong, we saw a real example of the strength of a single oak peg, or trunnion, used in the old days to fasten the timber joinery together without the use of nails. As I mentioned earlier, this barn is struggling, and due to a leak in the roof, one of the 32-foot girts that span the building has rotted completely away.
Incredibly, the 12-foot post that used to be supported by that missing timber is still in the air as part of the queen system supporting the rafters. Here it is:
It is amazing to me how these well-crafted barns can hold together in spite of serious distress! Just one peg. Hm, that seems like a possible metaphor for what each of us humans can do for holding together the values that we treasure in our communities. I will save that musing for later. But think about it- a single one-inch peg holding up that 12-foot hardwood post. Incredible.
Just a couple miles from this grand old barn, there stands another. Unfortunately, the main structure is beyond restoration. But when I climbed into the icy basement, I was amazed by a support for the barn that was added sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Clearly, the floor system had been sagging, and a clever farmer knew just how to form up a support for the beams.
Once again, a derelict symbol of past farming practice was recycled. Just take a look at this:
Old wooden barrels, no doubt leaky or just no longer used, were stacked up with the bottoms cut out. After that, it was as simple as pouring in the concrete! The wood of those barrels is long gone, but their “fingerprints” left no doubt how this impressive pier was created.
Here is to all those who have worked creatively to sustain and stabilize these majestic structures from the past, and also to all in our communities who desire to see our cultural farming heritage preserved for the future!
May those of us dedicated to preserving these structures be as creative, industrious, and as dedicated as those who have come before us.
Interested in one of our old barns for sale?
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This past week, we finished the barn restoration of a structure from around 1850. The old barn stood next to a dirt road in Brandon, Vermont. Thanks to the commitment of the family that now owns the property, the barn, which was in very bad shape, is now restored and re-erected on the same land.
Remembering a Civil War Veteran
In digging into the history of this particular barn, we found that a casualty of one war is tied to the history of the barn that we have just restored. Next to the original barn location, we found the burial site of William Dunlap. The gravestone tells that he was part of the Vermont 12th infantry and that he died July 31st, 1863, at the age of 25.
I would like to pause here and take this opportunity to thank our veterans for their service to this country. In particular, I want to acknowledge and express gratitude to one of our own team, Andy, who served in the army for eight years. So many have served, and the sacrifices are tremendous.
In the next photo, Andy and I were finally able to read the memorial stone for Dunlap. We had stopped earlier on a clear day, and could not decipher the faded engraving. However, something about the rain running down the stone on this particular day allowed us to read the words.
It was a surreal moment to be at his grave and to reflect on the life and death of this young man. He joined the 12th regiment that went into camp at Brattleboro on September 25, 1862. The group was mustered into United States service on October 4 and left Vermont on October 7 for Washington DC. It seems likely that William never returned to the hills of Vermont before his death. The Vermont 12th was near Gettysburg for that significant battle and was assigned to protect the corps train. Like so many in the Civil War, William died in a Virginia hospital of a simple disease just days after the Battle of Gettysburg.
It has been poignant to think about William. We reflected at his graveside on the likelihood that William spent his youth playing and working in this barn. While we have not been able to date the construction of the barn exactly, we believe it was built sometime between William’s birth and when he was a 12-year-old child. At the time of his death, the body was sent home to Vermont to be interred on the family farm.
While erecting the frame, we met another young man in his twenties. His grandmother has property nearby and he told us of swinging on the rope that was hanging in the hay loft of the barn. It is amazing to hear these stories—book ends on the story of this barn as it stood on its original foundation.
Now the frame stands again near the grave of William, and we are very grateful and proud of how the restoration turned out. I will take this opportunity to show some photos of the restored structure and the process of putting it back up.
Reerecting the Restored Barn
We erected the four bents first. These wall sections form the width of the building. The raising process took place during some very wet and overcast weather, and we even worked in falling snow on one of the days.
Next, we set the 38 foot top plates onto the bents. In the next photo, Isaac checks the post tenon that is about to receive the top plate. In gunstock frames, the post has 2 perpendicular tenons at the top: one for the girt and one for top plate.
A Modified Gunstock Timber Frame
The Dunlap barn is a style that is called “modified gunstock.” All gunstock frames had tapered posts that increase in size from post bottom to post top. These frames had this feature in order to provide increased bearing for the support of the upper horizontal timbers.
The posts get their name from the way in which they look like the upside down stock of a rifle. In a modified gunstock, the taper is oriented parallel with the eve of the building. The most important feature of gunstock frames is that the girt (beam going the width of the building) and the top plate (long beam going along the eve of the building) are at the same elevation. This makes an incredibly strong junction of timbers.
The Dunlap barn has beautiful labels on the timbers and braces. These markings, sometimes referred to as “marriage marks,” were used to match each joint with its partner. Early frames were built flat on the ground before being erected, and each joint was scribed into its place. On raising day, the marriage marks ensured that each brace went in the proper place. We love studying these labels!
Here are the marriage marks between a brace and its post:
This frame had a couple of unique features in the rafter structure. First, the queen system that supports the rafters at mid-span had struts or braces that come from the posts down towards the center of the building. It was more common for these posts to be braced towards the eve in order to resist outward thrust of the roof load that could push the walls apart.
In a gunstock frame, where all the horizontal timbers come together at the same height, there is already incredible strength resisting outward thrust. For this reason, it was more important to these early craftspeople to install braces against the downward force or weight of the roof system and snow load that could push the queen posts in.
The second somewhat unusual feature in this barn is the way that the rafter system is braced to the five-sided ridge beam. In later buildings, there were often braces out on the two ends of the roof system. In this case, the timber framers installed a pair of braces right in the center of the roof.
Installing the Roof Boards
We were able to reuse about 60% of the original roof boards and supplemented these with a few of the original wall boards as well as vintage material from our inventory. There were some beauties that went onto this roof! Imagine the size of the pine tree from which these boards were sawn.
We are grateful that we had the opportunity to save and restore this vintage timber frame, and we are especially glad that it will remain not far from the resting place of William Dunlap, 12th Vermont Infantry.
May we respect and honor all our veterans as we work for peace in this world.
I first looked at this corn crib for sale last spring. The owner of the property called me, and in his very Vermont way explained that there was a barn on his property that his family could no longer maintain. The property had been in his family for quite some time, and he wanted this barn to be saved. I took a drive to Montpelier, I took a look, and I fell in love.
I purchased the timber frame and we recently disassembled the barn. It was a “corn crib,” a name that applies to a very specifically designed barn. As the name implies, it was used for the drying and storing of corn as well as oats and other food stuff from the garden.
A Corn Crib Built to Last
As the farmer whose family has lived here for three generations told me: “When you moved onto a raw piece of land back in the day, you didn’t much care about your first house. You put something up quick to keep you dry and not frozen, and then you built something real nice to preserve food for the winter.” Well, the craftsmen who built this corn crib did it “real nice.”
These stairs lead to a lovely second floor with a steep roof pitch and two windows. We discovered two wooden barrels with sapling dovetailed rings that were tucked into bins. Sawdust was packed tightly around the barrels inside the bins, and it was clear that something very precious and sensitive to heat had been stored in these.
A Remarkable Louvered System
In order to dry and then preserve the corn, the walls were sided with an ingenious louvered system. The siding itself is narrow and gapped to allow lots of air movement through that would dry the corn out after harvest. However, the corn also had to be protected from rainstorms and drifting Vermont snow.
The solution? The builders crafted louvers that can rotate on wooden pegs to close the gaps between the siding.
The louvers were attached to each other by small staples so that they could be swung shut in gangs when the farmer saw a storm blowing in. It gave me great pause for reflection when I found a few kernals of corn left behind — from how many decades or even a century before? Of course, I had to save them to see if these corn seeds would germinate in my garden. (Stay tuned)
We started the disassembly a few weeks ago by removing the roofing and then carefully labeling each roof board.
As we removed the roof boards, we were delighted to discover a name, scrawled in large red cursive, across several of the boards. The letters were faded, but readable.
A Peek into the History of the Corn Crib
Later that evening, I showed the property owner these boards, and it led to him sketching out for me more of the story of his farm. His great-grandfather had worked for someone with the same last name that we discovered on the boards. The gentleman was elderly and apparently farming was not easy, neither physically nor financially. He was unable to fully pay his farm help for the last few years of work on the farm. When the last family member died, the farm was left to the hired hand who had been loyal and worked without pay. That is how the family that I bought this corn crib from came to own the property.
Soon enough, we were down to the bare frame, which is hand hewn beech and pine.
After labeling the floorboards, we popped out the ash tree pegs, and began tipping down the bents.
Carefuly Disassembly of the Corn Crib
We were grateful to the maple trees that stood sentry at the entrance as we were disassembling this small 18×22 frame by hand- without the use of a crane or other motorized equipment. In fact, we were able to disassemble this frame without ever firing the generator we had brought with us. It was a frame put up without electrical tools, and one that we took down with only minimal use of our battery tools.
We labeled every mortise and tenon joint, and after 6 work days start to finish, the frame was down. We shipped the vintage beams and boards back to our shop and cleaned up the site of the structure.
I found it incredibly poignant to see the trees still standing around the perimeter of where this adorable corn crib has stood for two hundred years. I am proud and grateful, to and for the family that has cared for, used, and maintained this building for generations, to our skilled and careful team who took the time to pull each peg with conscientiousness and care, and to the trees from whom this frame was built so very long ago.
Are you looking for a corn crib for sale?
Let me know – I’d love to help.
Luke – (802) 774-8972 | luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com
In December, we spent twelve days down on Long Island putting up an early 1800s carriage barn. The original structure was 18-feet wide by 40-feet long. In order to accommodate the goals of our client, we added a saltbox addition onto the barn using vintage salvaged materials from our inventory. We loved the resulting look of the structure.
We spent the first part of our stay constructing and installing the sills for the building. Once they were completed, we assembled the bents on the ground and organized our rafters, braces, connecting timbers, and roof boards.
The crane arrived early on a frosty morning, and the first bent was erected and set into the sill mortises.
Bent number two went up next without a hitch, and we installed the horizontal connecting ties and braces.
By lunchtime, we had bents three and four up, and all the pegs driven into braces and horizontals. We spent that afternoon installing a temporary deck to work off safely.
On day two with the crane, we began installing rafter trusses. They were assembled on the ground, and the crane operator did an amazing job of guiding them right to the mortises in the top plates.
Glenn did a great job stabilizing and “aiming” the rafters with a tag line from the ground.
With the short daylight of December, we had no time to spare, and we were on sight from dawn till dusk. In the next photo, Jesse inspects a door post he has just installed.
By the time we left Long Island, via the Orient Point ferry, we had the roof boards on and water proofing paper installed to protect the frame. The next crew to come in will install the structurally insulated panels that will keep this structure thermally tight and cozy.
The barn will be used as a garage on the first floor, with a studio guest apartment on the second floor. One of our favorite features of this barn is the twisted and gnarly nature of the horizontal beams that free span the upstairs living space. They have so much character!
One real treat of the trip was getting to catch up with two fellow Vermonters, Peter and Christian Moore. They are friends from nearby us in Vermont who are truly artists in stone and brick. Peter and Christian are busy building a historic reproduction of the central fireplaces and chimney in a 1780s house that we put up on the same property earlier in the year.
This central chimney has three fireboxes on the first floor, plus an incredible domed oven! The brick being used is salvaged from early colonial New England, and there is a brick arch that curves up to the timber ceiling.
We can’t wait to go back and see Peter and Christian’s finished work! More of their artistry can be seen here at Peter Moore Masonry.
This project was a real joy, and we loved getting to know the very fine carpenters who will be closing in the carriage barn and finishing it off.
Last spring, we tipped up a new timber frame barn here in Vermont. We had first begun discussing the barn with the family over a year previously, and worked closely with them on the design for a 28-by-40 foot barn.
We shaped the timbers over the course of the winter, and it was ready for the arrival of spring… as were we! The owners will be using the new post and beam barn as a seasonal living space and as a place to indulge in their wine-making hobby. The project and our clients were a delight, and we want to share the story of this frame.
During the design phase of the project, we decided with our clients to use local hemlock timbers, and settled on 10-by-10 inches as the size for all the posts, girts, and top plates. The timbers were sawn at a sawmill just five miles from the barn location.
We decided to construct this frame using a principal rafter and purlin system. This means that each 28-foot bent section has massive rafters which support horizontal purlins. In this design, the roof boards are put on the frame running vertically.
Another exciting feature of the barn design was the inclusion of four dormers in the roof structure. The barn will have a two-thirds loft where the dormer interior can be enjoyed up close, and the dormers in the cathedral space will provide natural light and aesthetic balance for the exterior.
One of the beautiful things about timber frame construction is that we can craft each joint and wooden connection “on the ground.” That way, on raising day, each labeled joint slides together and receives the oak pegs. Since we wanted to go through this preparation process on the dormers as well as with the larger sections of the barn, we assembled each side of the roof system flat on saw horses and got to work.
We wanted to use a traditional ridge beam for the dormers. Because the pitch of the roof was 11 inches of rise for every 12 inches of run, the ridge beam had to be shaped to match the roof pitch rather than remaining at square, 90-degree angles. This made laying out and cutting the compound angles challenging. I remembered my grandfather’s old-fashioned miter box that he used when I spent time in his shop as a kid. We replicated my Papa’s angle box to cut our dormer ridge beam, and it worked great!
We constructed and fit the four bents and assembled each of the 40-foot eve walls. We used math, geometry, and sharp tools to make certain that the frame would rise up straight and true on its foundation in the spring.
Soon enough, spring arrived, and we were ready to put the frame up. Our client and his son helped us to whittle the proper points on the oak pegs. We use a “shaving horse” to shape the pegs. This ancient design works beautifully to hold the peg hands-free while a draw knife or spokeshave is used. Footwork operates the clamping mechanism.
Next, we began assembling bents and driving the pegs to hold them fast.
Before we knew it, we were tipping up the final bent.
We absolutely love the way the four post bent design draws the eye down the center of the building and gives the whole thing a cathedral feel.
The next step was to install the top plates, which tie the bents together and support the weight of the rafter system.
Next, the principal rafters went up. As we set each pair, we fed the tenoned purlins into place, as well as the braces that we placed in the rafter system in order to make it ridged.
It was great fun to assemble the dormers – this time standing upright on the roof system instead of sitting flat on saw horses at the shop. We set the little ridge beams, rafters, and dormer posts. The pegs went in, and we were delighted with the result.
Here is a crow’s eye view of the completed rafter system and the dormers:
It was a great joy to collaborate with this family to create a structure in a beautiful setting that will be used and enjoyed for a very long time to come.
Here is hoping that many a glass of wine, crafted in this barn, gets raised by friends and family for generations! Cheers!
Do you dream of living, working or making wine in your own timber frame? At Green Mountain Timber Frames, we restore and build timber frame barns and homes, both new and old.