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.

outdoor maple arch green mountain timber frames

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.

timber frame sugar house green mountain timber frames

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.

tipping up a timber frame bent green mountain timber frames

Here we are tipping up the second bent.

timber frame sugar house raising

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

Timber frame sugar house green mountain timber frames

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.

timber frame sugar shack green mountain timber frames

Ready for the rafters!

timber frame rafters green mountain timber frames

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

Applying hemlock roof boards green mountain timber frames

Applying the roof boards

Timber maple sugar house green mountain timber frames

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.

Evergreen bough on sugar house green mountain timber frames

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!

timber frame sugar house green mountain timber frames

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!

Cavendish Barn Restoration Update – The Grand Finale!

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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 Background

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.

The Transformation of a Barn

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.

Vermont timber frame in winter_Green Mountain Timber frames

Our first look at the Cavendish barn in Feb 2015

Dismantling historic timber frame barn

Spring prevails, and dismantling begins!

green mountain timber frames restoration process in cavendish vermont

A look at the last timbered wall section we took down. Once on sawhorses, we popped out each vintage peg, labeled every joint, and disassembled.

restoring post and beam structure

Restoration begins at the GMTF shop

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.

restoring post and beam barn from 1850s

Restoration of new england barn from 1850s

Redesigned frame assembled on a new foundation about 100 yards from where it was first crafted nearly 200 years ago!

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.New barn home made from restored wood timber frame

Cavendish VT Barn frame with insulated panels

Exterior view of front entry with SIP panels

timber frame interior

The re-erected frame, pre fireplace. Note the beautiful ridge beam!

post and beam architecture in historic great room

The fireplace was created with stone found on the farm property

Barn door entryway to new england great room_green mountain timber frames.JPG

Sliding barn door into main house

restored timber frame home_green mountain timber frames

Large sliding doors capture the beautiful Vermont landscape

Exterior of Cavendish Barn Frame with front entry_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Timber porch entry into the great room

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!

 

Want to see some other projects we’ve done at Green Mountain Timber Frames?
Check out our completed timber frame projects!

A Comparison of Timber Frame v. Stick Built Construction

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This week’s guest blog is from builder and timber framer, Glenn Tarbell. Glenn has collaborated on many projects with Green Mountain Timber Frames over the last two decades.  Recently, he built this beautiful timber frame garage for a client. 

Final Timber Frame Garage.jpg

Why Use Timber Frame Construction?

Recently I had a customer who wanted a new garage. They live in a beautiful wooded area with large oak trees near a wetland. Their house is not large and has a low sloping roofline. The siding is rustic, rough sided pine that is stained. They asked me to build a two bay garage.

Timber Frame v. Stick Built

I inquired if they would be interested in a timber frame garage rather then a traditional stick built garage if the pricing was not considerably higher. They loved the idea of a timber frame and we began the design process. The pricing for a timber frame style building was only slightly higher, so we decided to go with it!

Designing the New Garage 

In the design phase, we talked a lot about the height of the new building. The customer did not want a garage looming over everything. We talked about enclosed and not enclosed bays, power needs, and building materials for the roofing, siding and the timbers. They also needed storage for kayaks and canoes and windows on the south face for garden starts.

We decided that the final building would be a barn-garage. We would create a structure that looked like a barn with an extension for the traditional hay hook or, as we discussed, a canoe hook. The customer had a rope system with a vintage pulley that has already pulled the boats into the upper half story for the winter.

The structure we finally designed has one fully enclosed bay with an overhead door and a shed roof off one side for the second bay. We ultimately choose this look for two reasons: height and looks.

6_plate section for the shed roof

Building the Barn – The Construction Process

When it came time to start building the garage, we chose hemlock wood for the frame. This is a ridged softwood that works well for timber frames. We cut the joinery traditionally using chisel, saw and chain mortiser. Then, we dry fitted all the parts of the frame at my shop. Seeing the mortise and tenons fit together and then seeing the bent sections laid on the sawhorses was wonderful. Dry fitting the frame gives a sense of what the building will become, while also allowing for us to check for accuracy in layout.

2_All the bents are up

Here we are drilling 1-inch holes for the wooden pegs.

The barn posts are six by six, the girts are eight by eight, the rafters are four by four and the braces are three by six. As a big pile of wood it does not look like much, even with the joinery cut. But on raising day, wow, it takes on a look of its own.

4_4x4 rafters in place

Here you can see all the bents assembled and the frame with shed walls erected.

And here’s a look at the new garage once the roof sheathing and trim were on:

7_Roof sheathing and trim

Pricing Timber Frame v. Stick Built Construction

When pricing this kind of project and determining the cost difference between timber frame and stick built construction, I have to look at the two styles of building with the thought, “What steps will be different?” Siding will be applied in the same manner in both building styles, as will trim, roofing and sheathing. The only real difference then, is the framing.

It took nine days to cut out the timber frame and tip it up, including roof sheathing.

3_Drilling holes for pegs

The frame with all the 4×4 rafters in place.

To build a traditional stick built garage with roof sheathing, it may take seven to eight days to get to the same point. Therefore, the difference in this project was two days of labor.

Timber Framing – A Worthwhile Investment

In the end I think timber frame construction makes more sense both financially and aesthetically. Even if it takes a bit longer and requires a slightly larger initial investment, (usually 15-20% more) a new timber frame is strong. Barns built this way have lasted hundreds of years.

Standing in a timber frame feels good. You can see the craftsmanship of the builder and know that the history of barns and houses built this way dates back hundreds of years. So whether you build a new timber garage or use a vintage timber frame barn as the frame for a garage, from my experience timber framing is usually the way to go. It’s cost effective and the building can last for centuries if the roof is maintained.

Interested in your own timber frame barn or home? Let us know!

We’d be glad to hear from you! 

Luke – Green Mountain Timber Frames
luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com
802.774.8972

From Fatigued Old Barn to Beautiful Great Room

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Meet the “Fatigued Old Barn”

It was a frigid Vermont winter day when we first visited this old barn back in February of 2015.  It was too cold, even for us seasoned Vermonters. With more than two feet of snow on the ground, I wished I had brought my snow shoes.

Here’s a glimpse of how the barn looked – on the left – when we first met.

Original Restored Barn_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Before (800x601)The owner had called us to ask if we could dismantle this aging barn and restore it as a new Great Room, attached to their home. The barn, built originally in the 1850s, was indeed a perfect match for the house, a two story country home also built in the 1850s. 

Original Barn and 1840s Home_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Before (800x601)

Original barn beside 1940s barn with wooden silo.  House is in the back ground, on the right.

Dating the Barn

Judging from the 43 foot hand hewn beams, I concluded that the barn must have been built in the middle of the 19th century. Tall trees were still being hewn by hand into long square timbers. Shorter timbers, such as posts, were sawn at a local mill. During that time, sawmills could accurately saw up to 20 feet of timber, so the hand hewing guys were called in for the longer timbers. I often wonder if those guys – the “old school” timber framers – must have felt like horses when automobiles started to become more prevalent.

The Transformation Begins

Step 1: Dismantling

Once the snow melted, we traveled to Cavendish, Vermont to begin the careful process of dismantling the barn. The barn looked far more inviting during spring.

historic wooden barn with red roofIn three weeks, a team of six men dismantled the 30 x 43 foot barn and shipped it to the Green Mountain Timber Frames shop in Middletown Springs.

Cavendish Historic Barn before restoration _Green Mountain Timber Frames

Barn being dismantled, starting from the top.

Step 2: Restoration at the Shop

Once at the shop, we carefully washed all the timbers. We then laid them out in their new configuration of 21 x 35 feet and did a lot of joinery work. Next we assembled the roof structure, de-nailed the roof boards, gave them a solid washing, made them straight again, and finally re-applied them to the roof rafters. We made sure everything was well labeled, and then shipped the restored frame back to the Cavendish house site.

You can see much of the process in the pictures below:

Antique barn Restoration_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_3 (800x601)

Laying out the restored hand hewn beams into the new design.

Antique barn Restoration_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_4 (800x601)

Roof rafters re-adjusted and fitted, waiting for original roof boards

Antique barn Restoration_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont

Rafters with restored roof boards applied and then labeled

The Great Room is Born – in Two Days

Because we had done the restoration work at our shop, re-erecting the frame for the new Great Room was a pretty straightforward task that took only two days.

In weather that was a far cry from the snowdrifts of February, we reassembled the frame under hot August sun with a team of four men and a mighty Lull (lift machine).

Erecting restored timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_Day1

Re-erecting the restored frame (the Lull is in orange)

Day One: Getting the Frame Up

During the first day, we spent about ten hours at the site. By day’s end we had most of the structure up, thanks to the help of the Lull and an experienced crew.

Erecting restored timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_Day1_2 (800x601)

Frame is up by the end of day one with a few roof rafters

Day Two: Raising the Rafters

Day two was even more fun as we placed all the roof rafters – always an exciting part of a barn restoration project – and experienced the structure taking its final shape. After hundreds of hours of our labor, the refurbished frame went together like a Lincoln Log set.  It’s gratifying each time to watch new life breathed into a formerly very distressed timbered, old barn.

Erecting restored timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_Day2

Finished frame. The roof is protected by tar paper, ready for the next stage.

Erecting restored timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont_Day2_4 (800x601)

View from beneath the roof of the restored frame, with our friend the Lull behind.

The plans to complete this barn frame include a fireplace, large glass doors, a screened porch and a mudroom entryway. Truly it will become a GREAT room.

Coming Up Next:

This was a challenging and rewarding restoration project. Our next blog will feature a stunning new timber frame boat house, designed and built by Luke Larson and his crew. Stay tuned!

The Bitter-Sweet of Mud Season Barn Restoration

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Mud Season – the bitter/sweet time of year.

While the temperatures have at long last inched their way above the zero mark, here in rural Vermont the ground is still solid. Timber framing in the famous mud of New England’s spring beats the challenge of working in snow squalls and sub-zero temps, but it’s still not for the faint of heart!

Sure, our winter coats and work gloves have been shed but now we must muddle through our work area.

Mud Season in Vermont Building restored barn homes

Proof that mud season has arrived

As more snow melts, the damp ground slowly releases the grip of winter, churning out a soft, murky surface under our feet that you can sink into up to the ankles.

Construction continues nonetheless, so we throw down a carpet of hay to make the work area easier to traverse. Timber Framing in the Mud Vermont

There is, of course, a wonderful silver lining. Not only is old man winter behind us, but best of all, mud season means the maple sap is flowing! Cold nights and warm days bring the sweetness of spring.

Sugar house in maple season_Stacy Birch Photography

Sugar house in maple season – Photo by Stacy Birch

Saved! Historic Timber Frame Barn Home Finds New Owner

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A few weeks back we wrote about this beautiful colonial American barn home that was
about to be destroyed.

Side view of historic house

Now, just two months later, I am pleased to share the great news that we have found a new owner for the Hod Hepburn house.

It’s hard to describe how grateful I am – how thrilling it is to know that there are others out there who share my passion for history and who are willing to invest in saving these beautiful pieces of America’s past.

If it wasn’t for the power of modern technology, and the wide reach of this very blog, I am certain that this house, built originally in 1780, would now be nothing more than rubble.

The house was built originally in Tinmouth VT but will be reassembled and restored in New York.

Tinmouth Vermont Old Barn Frame

Despite the cold weather and many feet of snow, we are already moving forward on dismantling the frame. The first step is to clean out the centuries of dirt, dust and artifacts from the large barn home. Here’s a glimpse of what the interior looked like before we got started:

Interior of barn frame

PreMucking out of timber frame barn

We’ve spent the last week cleaning up the house and opening up the plastered walls. This before and after shot will give you a good sense of what I mean:

Before and After Clean Up of Barn

Below you can see the rear view, before and after. Try to ignore the tar paper and note the post medieval roof system!

Before and after timber frame dismantling and restoration

Once “muck-out” is complete, we will move on to labeling all of the timbers and carefully removing them. We will restore each of the hand hewn beams at our local workshop. From there, we will ship the frame off to New York where we will reassemble the restored frame.

Below are some videos of the inside of the house. In this first one, we take a walk through the rooms of the home and see all of the treasures left behind from decades ago. There’s also an unusual, small stairway:

In this video, you can see the second floor, post-dismantling:

Check out the clip below to see how the attic looked before dismantling began.

And here’s the spectacular view from the roof, sans roof boards.

Thank you again for helping us save this post and beam house!

Know of another barn in need of saving? Looking for your own historic barn to call home? Contact us! We’d love to help.

Geometry in Historical Frames – a guest blog

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This week’s guest blog is from architect and historian Jane Griswold Radocchia. You can learn more about her work in her personal blog. She writes here about her encounter with one of Dan McKeen’s barn restoration projects and how she could determine that the builder of this 1791 barn used geometry to build the original frame. 

“I invited myself to a Green Mountain Timber Frames barn dismantling earlier this fall. Of course I was glad I went.

Here’s what I saw:

Three historic barns from Hartford, NYThe three barns sat, connected in an L shape beside the road on the uphill slope of a valley. None of them faced the road, on their west and windy, side. Instead they faced south and east, creating a protected barnyard, a sun pocket. In the middle, protected from storms and wind, was the corn crib. Other farm buildings repeated the pattern, facing south, no doors on the west.

Hartford NY Historic timber frame corn crib

Hartford NY Corn Crib

The main barn also had a door on the north, directly across from the one facing south. It fronted on the farm road and looked at the house across the way. Two doors across from each other were for threshing and ventilation; a north-facing door was for bringing in hay and grain on the shady side of the barn in summer.

North side view of historic timber frame

North side view of timber frame

North side view of timber frameHow could I tell that geometry was used in building this frame?

After we had climbed up to the rafters, Dan McKeen handed me prints of the frame measured and drawn up by James Platteter. James Platteter is a master furniture maker and Dan was lucky enough to work with him on this project and have him dedicate his time to drawing up the detailed plans. (Do take a look at Jim’s beautiful work on his website.)

To have a sense of the building, I checked some of the dimensions. The framer really did make his barn 30’- 1” wide!  He also made it 42’-6” long. The diagonal of a 30’ x 30’ square will be 42‘-6” long. The shape of the floor for the barn is based on √2.

Both that extra inch and the √ are indications that the master-carpenter for this barn used geometry to determine its size and framing.

The carpenter had a pretty good rule! Over 30′ and his rule was only off by 1”. But how did he share his dimensions with apprentices if their rules differed from his?

He used geometry!
Geometry is a language, one most of us haven’t mastered. Our ancestors spoke (drew!) it well and used it for construction.

How did the farmer build his barn?

He probably hired a timber framer, a master builder. The framer knew about how big his barn should be and how it would be used. He began his design with a square with 30′ sides. This initial measurement of 30′ set the foundation for all the measurements of the barn.

How?

One side of the square would become the width of the barn. Then, the builder crossed the square with its diagonals – corner to corner – and swung his compass, extending the diagonal to meet the side of the square. The length of the diagonal became the length of the barn.geometric drawing of timber frame barn

square geometric corners of timber frameAbove, is the floor plan of the barn: 30′ wide, 42′-6” long.

The new rectangle on the end of the square was also a good height for the wall of the barn. So the framer drew a square on each corner. Using the diagonals for those squares he swung an arc to locate the ridge. You can see the squares and the diagonal in the diagram below.

Ridge location in timber frame barnThe framer may have used the barn floor for his layout just as carpenters today use the floor of a house to lay out rafters for the roof above. If so, it would have looked like this:

floor for raftersHere is the drawing of the end elevation showing that layout.

North gable end view of barnThe red x on the right is the original square. The dashed line is the arc locating the ridge. To locate the second intermediate post the framer used the side of the square, the height of his wall, as an arc.

Diagonal determines placement of the braceWhere it crosses the diagonal, he placed the post.

diagonal post placementThe north and south walls used the same geometry. The right end was laid out as was the end wall. The space for the door was a square. The left side was divided in half, as marked below by the diagonals. I enjoy finding that the braces followed the line of the diagonals. The barn door height was determined by the point where the arcs cross.

Final drawing of timber frame historic geometryThe east wall used the same geometry – first the square at its diagonal marking the right hand intermediate post; then the remaining space divided in half.

east wall timber frame geometry

The framer applied this same geometry as he laid out the roof, the braces and collar ties. The whole barn evolved from his first length: 30’-1”.

I look at this: so simple, so sophisticated. I am amazed! The geometry is there, but we have forgotten it. It is so beautiful!.

I will follow Green Mountain Timber Frames as they dismantle other pre-1800 barns and house frames for more confirmation of how early timber framers used geometry in structural design.”