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.”

Timber Framing: Captured on Video!

Green Mountain Timber Frames is now of video!

But before I show you the video, let’s take a look at this before and after shot.
Antique Timber frame before afterYou may remember back in 2013 when I wrote a few times about the timber frame we had restored and erected up at Sissy’s Kitchen in Middletown Springs. A gunstock timber frame, it was built over 250 years ago.

For this project, we erected the restored frame with help of the one and only Vermont Jeepgirl (otherwise known as Crane Operator extraordinaire, Sue Miller.) Luckily for us, she made a video recording of the raising day!

Hats off to Sue for capturing our madness!

Vermont Crane Operator_Vermont Jeep Girl

Vermont Jeepgirl Sue Miller

It was a great crew that worked on this frame. Here we are, standing proud in front of the restored timbers.

Construction experts from Green Mountain Timber Frames

Construction crew from Green Mountain Timber Frames

This frame – even before it became a new storage barn – saw a lot of good times! For a couple months, the erected frame stood on the beautiful lawn behind Sissy’s Kitchen in Middletown Springs, Vermont.

Test Barn Raising of Timber Frame Barn Home

Test Barn Raising of Timber Frame Barn Home at Sissy’s Kitchen

While we waited for the right buyer, the frame housed many a dinner party and afternoon tea, just around the corner from the workshop of Green Mountain Timber Frames.

Summer evening party at Sissy's under antique post and beam frame

Summer evening party at Sissy’s under post and beam frame

I want to send out a huge thank you again to Sissy for letting us have all this fun, right in her yard!

Timber framer Dan McKeen and Sissy in Vermont

Have more timber frame projects worth capturing on video? Let us know! We would like to hear from you!

Green Mountain Timber Frames Goes West!

Here in New England, I have been restoring timber frame barns and building barn homes for many decades. Recently, our little company was able to venture further afield. Like Lewis and Clark did two centuries ago, we too have at last reached the west coast.

We restored a colonial era barn – seen below at its original location in Hartford, New York – and sent it off for a new future in Snohomish, Washington.

External view of hartford barn

Original barn in Hartford, NY (pre-restoration)

So how did this come about? 

Just over two years ago, we hired a web design company to redo our website. In addition to creating our new site, they have helped us spread the word about what we do. Suddenly, instead of relying on word of mouth here in Vermont, Green Mountain Timber Frames has found itself with an international audience of timber enthusiasts, history buffs and potential clients. Our little local mom and pop shop has gone global.

Thanks to the success of our site, we can now restore old barns here in New England and then ship them all over the country for reassembly. We are so grateful that our audience has grown and that we can find people across the country – and the world – to help us in our goal of preserving New England heritage and historical structures.

side view of timber frame barn home

Side view of the 1791 barn (in original NY location)

So tell me about this frame!

The frame itself was built around 1800, just a dozen years after the U.S. Constitution was signed. It was originally a corn crib and an unusual one at that. It has four different levels which add up to a total of 1000 sq. ft

Multi level timber frame

Notice the multiple levels of the frame

While the old barn originally measured 16 x 18 feet, a 16 x 13 foot addition was put on a few decades later. (Hence the different floor heights.) The original timber framer was quite clever and talented. He artfully joined the floor systems together with various stairs.

It was common during this period for corn cribs to have living quarters where the hired help would sleep. I suspect that was the case for this frame.

For this most recent project, we found an owner in Washington State who shares our passion for history and our dedication to preserving historic structures. So while moving the frame to Washington did take the barn far from its New England roots, we are grateful that the timbers have been restored, re-erected and valued. Without the support of the new owner, the frame would likely have been demolished or burned.

Here is the restored frame loaded onto a tractor trailer – board by board – ready for the long journey west.

Vintage timber frame on tractor trailerBack in the fall of 1805 when Lewis and Clark (with the help of Sacajawea) were just finding their way to Washington, they could not have imagined that one day a humble New England barn would follow in their footsteps.

Vintage timbers in transit

Vintage timbers in transit

And here is the frame, re-erected beautifully in Snohomish, Washington.

Reerected timber frame in Snohomish WAWhat will the frame be used for?

The restored frame will be used as a storage barn in its new location. We shipped the frame together with the original barn siding, roof boards, slate roofing and flooring. In fact, much of the contents made their way west as well.

Below you can see the beautiful wooden floor boards:

Wide pine floor in corn crib

Wide pine floors

Inside the barn, we found over 50 beautiful wooden dovetailed boxes. They had never been used and were very finely made, so we sent them along as well. We also salvaged horse tack, vintage bottles, hand tools, and other varied knick-knack paddy-wacks.

Various contents of timber frame shipped with frame

Various contents of the barn shipped with frame

We also found two early wooden barrels that were clearly built before 1800. We could tell the barrels were early because they were made with sapling bands as opposed to the usual metal bands.

Early wooden barrel with sapling bands

Early wooden barrel with sapling bands

A Happy Ending

So while we are a bit regretful that the frame left New England, mostly we are thrilled that it has found a new home – with appreciative owners – and that this frame will stand tall for decades to come.

Now we just need for the famous Washington State rains to abate so that the talented builders out in Washington can finish rebuilding the barn.

Snohomish Timber frame with slate roof

Notice the slate roof. Tarps protect the frame while we wait for the rains to stop

It’s been an exciting project.  Through it I have also learned the skills of shipping long distance and was fortunate to connect with an excellent commercial trucking company which I can depend on in future.

Want some more information about this frame, or others? Be sure to contact me to talk timbers!

Manchester Barn Before and After

We finished work on this beautiful barn in Manchester, VT back in 2013. Since then the owners sourced particular stone for the finish landscaping and the final results are evident in the following pictures.

Timber frame barn home in Vermont_CompleteThe barn is from Middle Granville, NY and was originally built around 1800.  The current family wanted a timber frame barn to match their Green Mountain Timber Frames barn style home. In the pictures below, you can see the process and transformation that this barn went through.

Manchester VT Timber Frame Restored Barn Process

Another aspect of this frame was working with and restoring the truss girt system. Not typical of a frame from this time period, this type of truss girt system means that two large timbers are joined together in the middle with a small connecting post and braces. This allows there to be no post in the middle of the frame thus having a clear 31 foot wide space to use with no posts to bump into. Below, you can see the process we used to restore this truss girt system.

Truss System progress on timber framePart of this restoration project entailed finding “new” siding for the barn. I love doing this kind of work! It’s so much fun to put together the siding – a sort of puzzle.

This first picture shows the source of siding, another barn in NY state. The siding was for sale and we seized the opportunity.

1_source of timber frame sidingThe next step was to sort through the siding and try to find the best – most attractive – way to apply it in its new location, factoring in the existing lengths of boards.

2_sorting through sidingWhen applying the siding on the restored barn, we blended the colors together. We varied the use of different boards and different colors to give the best final look.

3_blending timber beams for sidingThe siding had this light to dark shading effect that we were able to capture again. The cutout with the hole is sized to invite in a kestrel hawk. The remainder are decorative.

4_original siding restored for barn style homeIn the sorting process, we discovered this star emblem. We saved it for interior use as a piece of folk art. Anyone know the significance of a star?

5_saving star emblem for barn interiorBelow – the finished project! The look of an 1800s barn, but now the barn is restored and in beautiful condition for another 200+ years.

6_restored barn homeThis is a rare frame to have no mid-span support posts on the 31 foot width. I was told it was a German style. Anyone know more about that?

I am always looking for new projects! Do you have a barn you want restored? Do you want to live in a historic timber frame?

Contact Us and let us know!

Backyard Barn

We spent a few days at the end of this summer putting up a reclaimed barn at the back of my property for my daughter and her husband. We enjoyed beautiful late summer days and with a small crew of 7 people, we were able to re-erect the restored barn in a day.

timber frame roof and joineryMany hands make light work!

crew of timber frame barnIt’s nice to be able to use my skill to help my family out – and of course there is nothing like having my grown kids nearby! On this project, I was also able to use some of the leftover timber and reclaimed wood from other projects. A great recycling project all and all, and one that makes for an eclectic, one-of-a-kind, beauty of a barn.

This barn comes from a two part structure from a farm in New York state. The oldest section was from the 1840s and has been sold to a customer. The barn in this blog was probably added on to the 1840 barn in the 1900s and was not finished with traditional joinery. As a historic piece it has little value, but the timbers are strong and sturdy and I knew it would make a fine shelter for the kids’ farm equipment and hay.

Original new england barn

The original barn under black plastic, circa 1840s. Addition probably 1900, being dismantled.

We dismantled the newer barn first and restored it with traditional joinery. (That means that we let in the bracing and tie timbers with mortise and tenon joinery, instead of just nailing things together.) While this takes a bit more time than using a hammer and nails, it gives the barn a much more authentic, historical and structural look.

Here we are putting up a bent (or side wall).

installing side wall of barnHere the 2×4 roof purlins are being applied. post and beam barn

The recycled metal roof was screwed to the 2x4s.

Restored barn with roof boards

The next step was to build a second floor which you can see (from below) in the next picture.

floor joists are half roundsWe used a mixture of common 2x6s doubled up and half round timbers to create the floor joist system. The flooring is 2 inch planking.

We’ve started the siding by using some newer recycled boards. We will have to cut three feet off the top to find the second floor, but it is doing the job for now. The remainder will be finished with older boards.

Reclaimed wood siding on timber frame barnWe will also be attaching a shed roof to this wall in time. In the picture above, notice the future shed wall sill and top plate timbers in front of the tractor.

The ground level of the barn is for storing mowing equipment while the second floor is for storing hay. As you can see below – it’s already in use!

second floor of hay barn in useWhile the barn is highly functional and my son-in-law is pleased, this barn is still a work in progress. As we gather more siding from other jobs, we plan to wrap the frame entirely with siding that doesn’t make the grade for our paying customers.

Here’s how the frame looks today. We should have all the siding on by Thanksgiving.

recycled siding for timber frame walls

Interested in having your own barn home or backyard barn? Let us know!

The Milkhouse


The Milkhouse  – a fun project to complete in a week, not months!

Historic Timber frame restoration

I traded this nearly un-restorable milkhouse in exchange for a playhouse for my grandchildren. The milkhouse needed some TLC, and was one of the smaller projects of our summers work. I am very pleased with how this little button of a building came out.

The frame measures 8’x10′ and was originally built in 1930.

My friend asked me to turn the little milkhouse into a backyard getaway spot where he can read, play music and find his muse beneath the rustic decor. Eventually, we plan to add a porch and another window, but for now it is ready to use.

We spent a good deal of time working on the roof. This next set of pictures shows our process.

Working on the roof of small Vermont post and beam compare

Below you can see it in the new location, but not yet restored. That’s the old playhouse in the background.

Restored Barn frame Milkhouse

One benefit of working on this little building was that it allowed me to use up some of the vintage wood and other salvaged materials that I have been saving from previous projects.

The “novelty” siding in this picture, for example, was salvaged from another barn. This kind of siding started to become popular around 1900.

Novelty Siding in timber frame milkhouse

Novelty siding

The vintage flooring was also left over material from another project. Here it helps warm up the white wash walls.

Vintage Timber frame with vintage flooring

Vintage flooring

The roofing was recycled as well – from the restored barn I worked on in Pawlet in 2012.

Opposing side of barn restored

Recycled, restored roof

Since I got to use up all these odds and ends, my workshop and yard are starting to look rather tidy and spacious, ready to fill with new vintage material for future barn restoration projects. So do let me know if you hear about available barns! I am always interested in at least looking at them.

Coming soon:

Here’s a closeup of the playhouse for which I traded the milkhouse. I built the playhouse over 30 years ago for my children, sold it to friends for their daughter, and it’s now coming back home to be restored for our family’s next generation. Stay tuned!

Timber Frame antique kids playhouse

Kids’ Playhouse

Interested in living in a restored barn home? Have a timber frame available for sale? Please let me know! 

Before and After: The Ira Barn Restoration Project

Gallery

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Remember this 1770s gunstock frame from Ira, Vermont? I have written about this historic timber frame a few times – from this blog, when I first started working with the farmer to help him find a client over 2 years … Continue reading

Summer Restoration – The 1780s Corn Crib Revisited

I’ve had a busy spring and summer, restoring a number of vintage timber frames that were originally from Ira, Vermont and picking up a few other projects in between.

You may remember this corn crib that I first wrote about back in November. I am happy to report that we found an owner for this frame and its new home is in northern Vermont.

Vermont Post and beam corn Crib

Corn Crib from Ira, VT

While relatively small at only 450 square feet, this lovely, hand hewn beech wood frame boasts two floors.

Restoring timber frame roof

Dismantling the crib.

With the help of a wonderful crew, Green Mountain Timber Frames has carefully restored this frame – down to every detail including the famous signature stairway.

Restored Wooden Stairwell

Restored Wooden Stairwell

Here are a few pictures of the frame during the re-erection process:

Reerecting historic barn Old Barn Restoration

We were able to save most of the original roof, wall and floor boards on the interior, so the barn will maintain much of the look it had when it was built 240 years ago.

We wish the owner many happy days and nights in this new-old out building. Freshly restored, it can now be of use another two centuries.

—–

I really value historic structures and am always looking for the gems – the true diamonds in the rough. Do you have an old barn you want to sell? Are you looking for a timber frame to turn into a beautifully renovated home? Please give me a call: 802.774.8972.

 

First Light of Day After 55 Years

We spent five cold and snowy weeks preparing this 1770s gunstock barn frame from Ira, Vermont for dismantling.

Slate roof on Old Barn in New England

Gunstock Timber Frame from Ira, VT

Historic Old Barn with Slate Roof Removed

Temporary roof on Ira timber frame

With a great team of five fellas, we tallied 370 hours clearing out the interior of the old barn of horse-drawn contents and everything else imaginable.  Removing the 40 square (a square is a 10′ x 10′ surface area) of slate roof took another 80 hours. We then put on a temporary protective roof, seen in the picture above, so the spring rains won’t damage the roof boards and timbers.

At times it wasn’t easy, given the freezing temperatures and the mounting piles of snow. Here is a picture showing the take down of the slate roof in the snow. Half the slate is still on the left side of the roof.

Removing slate roof from Timber frame and braving the New England Elements

Part of what made this project particularly interesting is that the barn was full of antique farming equipment. As we shoveled out the old hay and debris from each of the barn’s five bays, we got to inspect the equipment closely.

Antique farm equipment from post and beam frame

Corn Chopper

Much of it is in great condition and we dragged all of the equipment out into the field around the barn. Imagine the fun of cleaning up and inspecting equipment that had not seen the light of day since 1959! When these machines were last used, they were harnessed to horses and pulled to the fields nearby.

Farm Fleet from Old timber frame barn in Vermont

Corn chopper and hay rake.
Pallets of slate in background.

With the barn emptied out and the rugged beech timbers sighing relief from 15 tons of slate removed, the next step is to dismantle the antique hewn beams and truck the frame to the shop for restoration. We’ll dismantle the frame in late April. First, we have to get rid of two feet of snow and survive mud season!

Here are some more pictures of the treasures we removed from this antique timber frame.

Antique Farm Equipment from Tmber Frame Old Barn

Hay rake being removed from the barn

Removing equipment from old barn for sale in new england

Sled for carrying a maple sap barrel or timber

Cultivator from Old Post and Beam Barn

Cultivator/planter for seeding hay

Moving antique timber frame for restoration

Delivery of horse drawn equipment its new owner in Northern Vermont

Antique Farm Equipment Vermont

Antique Farm Equipment sees the light of day

Phase One is accomplished!

Clapboard removal from antique timberframe

Finishing up clapboard removal.
Removal of sheathing boards will have to wait for Phase Two.

Stay tuned for Phase Two. We’ll let you know when we start dismantling this Vermont Republic frame from Ira!

I’ll leave you with a fun fact: This little Vermont hamlet is named Ira after Ira Allen, brother of Ethan Allen, of the famed “Green Mountain Boys”.

Barn Raising – A good week’s work

We had a great time last week getting this vintage timber frame up in Manchester, Vermont. The post and bean frame with hand hewn wood was originally built around 1800, in Middle Granville, NY.

It was a beautiful week and we worked surrounded by the vibrant colors of near-peak foliage and under the watchful eye of Mount Equinox in the background. Thank God,  the weather was perfect!

Here are some pictures showing the highlights:

Manchester VT Raising - Beautifully restored timber frame beams

Beautifully restored timber frame beams

Saturday Restoring Historic Timber frame

Last Saturday’s work – restoring the frame and getting the primary timbers up

Saturday Timber Framing in Manchester VTAfter erecting the main timbers over the weekend, we spent last Monday focused on placing the roof rafters. We also pegged most joints in the frame with wooden trunnels.

Restoring Historic barn in Vermont

With help from a Grade All, and the view of Mount Equinox in the background.

Here we are installing the roof rafters.

Vermont Timber Framing with Mount Equinox in Background

Adding Roof Boards to Manchester Vermont Timber Frame

Adding roof boards to timber frame

Applying roof boards to Vintage Timber Frame

Adding tar paper over roof boards, as we installed the original boards.

Outhouse in Rural Vermont Best Part of Timber framing

An important part of setting up a timber framing work site: moving the outhouse – at arm’s length –  to the proper location.

Finishing Barn Restoration

The completed roof, protected by tar paper.