“Did a Farmer Build This Barn?”

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

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

Our Latest Vermont Timber Frame Project

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

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

timber frame addition in the snow green mountain timber frames

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

Early gunstock timber frame green mountain timber frames

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

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

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

Hand hewn rafters green mountain timber frames

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

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

split rail collar tie green mountain timber frames

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

collar tie and hand made nails green mountain timber frames

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

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

vintage hemlock roof boards green mountain timber frames

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

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

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

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

 

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1790s Gambrel House Restored and Available for Sale!

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Two years ago, we began taking down a gambrel house from the 1790s. (We blogged about it here and here.) I am delighted to report that we have now completed the restoration of this rugged old timber frame! After the passage of that much time, it is all the more satisfying to be putting the timber joints, so masterfully crafted over two hundred years ago, back together as they are meant to be!

Here is what the house looked like when we first heard about it:

1790 Gambrel House_Historic_Green Mountain Timber FramesWhy did we take on this project?

The house was on the docket to be burned down by the local fire department. We are so grateful to the fire fighter who realized how old the house was and contacted Green Mountain Timber Frames! We just couldn’t stand to let it be destroyed.

A couple hundred hours into the process of gutting the house, which included filling two giant dumpsters with insulation, vinyl siding, sheet rock, plaster, and much other “sundry”, our hearts were sinking. But then we finally started to see the original frame. Here is the view after approximately 650 cold winter hours of gutting:

Original 1790 timber frameAfter a couple hundred hours more, we had the frame down and stored carefully under tarps. Now the frame is once again standing, this time in restored condition.

Restored historic timber_Vermont_Green Mountain Timber Frame_Larson FarmWhat does it mean that we have restored the frame?

The first step was to power wash each individual beam, brace, and board, as well as pull thousands of nails out of the timbers. Next, we went over each beam looking for fatigued areas that needed attention. Below is a “English scarf joint,” an incredibly strong joint that we used to replace the bottom of a post.

British Scarf Joint_Green Mountain Timber Frame_Larson FarmRestoration – with painstaking attention to details

The photo below shows a careful repair we did to one of the five beams that measure thirty-eight feet long. The beam had a very “tired” spot over this post due to a leak in the roof that must have persisted for years. We carefully removed soft areas, and replaced them with hand hewn material. Good for another 200 years! We were able to use materials from the original carrying sills of the house to make the repairs on the posts and beams.

Repaired Wooden Beam_Restored Timber Frame_Green Mountain Timber Frame_Larson FarmAs part of the restoration, we laid out each cross-section of the building, called “bents” and “plate walls,” and checked all the joints for tightness and the geometry for squareness. We built new rafters out of oak to replace some that had been too far gone for re-use.

In the following photo, we are laying out all the original wall boards on the ground to check our labeling system as we put the boards back in their original location.

Original Historic Wall Boards_Green Mountain Timber Frame_Larson FarmThe plaster lines from the eighteenth century construction even lined up on the interior! Many of the sheathing boards are over twenty inches wide!

20 inch wide Sheating BoardsWhy have we put this frame up on temporary sills?

Often, we are able to locate a vintage barn and keep it standing until a new owner has a chance to look at it and decide if it will meet the needs and dreams for a new house or addition. In some cases, we have to take the frame down immediately, as in the case of this gambrel in order to avoid its date with the fire department!

With gratitude to Larson Farm, where timber framer Luke Larson grew up, we are able to put the frame up both to check our work and to have it up so that anyone considering using it can walk through it and visualize what it can become.

Here are some highlights of this particular frame:

  • Pre-1800s and framed with American Chestnut, Beech, Oak, and Elm.
  • Gunstock frame on both floors! This means the posts grow in width towards the tops.
  • The gambrel profile creates a 22’x38′ wide open living space on the second floor. First floor is 28’x38′.
  • Original arched collar ties.
  • Original wide pine flooring boards are available.

The October brilliance of color in Vermont has made it a pleasure to work on this frame over the past weeks! This frame is currently available for purchase, and is now ready to stand strong and true again in a new location.

Historic Barn Frame for Sale_ Green Mountain Timber Frame_Larson Farm

11_Inside view of Gambrel Roof_Green Mountain Timber Frame_Larson FarmWe wish to thank the Larson Farm for their generous loan of space to put the frame up. Please visit the frame on its current location. You can learn more about the farm and its fantastic vision on the Larson Farm website or on Facebook.

This frame could be your home… 

If you are interested in turning this beautiful gambrel frame into your own historic property, learn more on our website or contact us at 802.774.8972 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com.

Coming up next…

Stay tuned for a future blog on the amazing and artistic labeling system on this gambrel frame!

Labeling System_Restored historic gambrel home_Vermont_Green Mountain Timber Frame_Luke Larson Farm

Labeling System

GMTF Takes Timber Framing to the Water: The Boat House Project

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In our latest timber frame project, Green Mountain Timber Frames took to the water! We put in no less than 1000 hours of work to build this gem of a boat house:Timber Frame Custom Boat House Green Mountain Timber Frames

We built the new timber frame structure on beautiful Lake Bomoseen – literally on and over the lake. 

Lake Bomoseen_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Lake Bomoseen

The goal was to build a post and beam structure over a boat mooring, allowing a boat to come inside, be lifted out of the water and stored for the winter. 

Inside the Boat House_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Luke Larson

The view from inside the Boat House

Hemlock and Oak Wood, from the Property

One particularly exciting aspect of this project is that the hemlock and oak were cut from the property using a portable saw mill. Only on a few rare occasions has Green Mountain Timber Frames been able to cut a new timber frame using materials from the land where the structure will be built­. Luckily for us, this was one of them!

Designed in Collaboration with the Owners

When it came to designing the boat house frame, our very own Luke Larson worked closely with the property owners. It was a great pleasure to work together to create a design that fit the goals and desires of the owners and also worked structurally.

One of those goals was to have an attractive shed roof across the gables. We decided to accomplish this with a secondary top plate, which we started calling an “outrigger,” that turns the corner and wraps across the gable ends.

Outrigger detail of boat house_luke larson_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Vermont

aerial view of timber frame boat house_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Luke Larson

View of “outriggers” from afar

The various dimensions of this frame were each built on saw horses in our yard, so that we could check all the math, angles and joinery as we went.

aerial view of timber frame boat house_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Luke Larson

Using saw horses to work on wall of the Boat House

We used king post trusses to frame the bents and curved oak braces throughout the frame.

Timber frames_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Luke LarsonMost of the purlins in the frame were hemlock from the property, but we needed two pick points in the ceiling that would be strong enough to lift a 4,000 pound boat. Heavy oak purlins were installed at two places which are rated for well over 2,000 pound point loads each.

Purlins in custom boat house timber frames of custom boat house_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Luke Larson

The location of the timber frame presented challenges in getting it erected. Since the lay of the land was such that a crane or lull was not feasible, we put it up the old fashioned way – by hand.

Dan went out in his kayak to take this picture of the flag being raised. 

Flag Raising on boat house_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Luke Larson

Here is a what the rafter trusses look like with the roof boards and wall sheathing applied. These were also harvested on the property. Soon there will be a walkway around the inside edges of the boathouse.

Interior view of custom boat house_Boat house completed with siding_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Luke Larson


Corner details of boat house completed with siding_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Luke Larson

We were especially happy with how the hip corners and eve purlins turned out visually.

Custom Boat House_Boat house completed with siding_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Luke Larson

Next, the structure will receive beautiful salvaged windows, carefully restored, and a layer of cedar shingles on the walls. There will also be triangular windows in the peak. Take a look!

Boat house completed with siding_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Luke LarsonInterested in your very own timber frame boat house? Have another timber frame project in mind? Green Mountain Timber Frames specializes in historic timber frames and restoration projects, but we also erect new timber frames.

Contact us with any questions! Email Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com or call 802.774.8972.