Dismantling the Pawlet Corn Crib (and Looking for an Owner!)

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As spring makes its arrival here in Vermont, we have taken the opportunity with the warmer days to dismantle a small timber frame barn near our shop.

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This frame measures 14×17 feet.

The frame is part of a hillside farm that was settled in the late 1700s. This barn had a combination of hand forged and cut nails in siding and roof boards, and we believe it dates to the 1820s or earlier.

Pawlet corn crib

The frame has been sinking into the ground because there was no real foundation. We caught it just in time!

This barn was used for storage of both corn on the cob and oats. The interior of the barn was partitioned off on one side so that oats could be stored in tall wooden bins.

We absolutely love the homemade sliding doors at the bottom of the bins that allow for the oats to pour out. Imagine our surprise when we lifted the door and found that oats remained inside! Of course, we had to keep some of these vintage oats for our collection, as well as some of the old corn cobs that we found. We hope that whoever purchases this barn will be interested in the artifacts and history of the space. No wonder storage space in the shop is always tight!

We started our dismantling by stripping the slate off the roof. We then labeled and removed the roof boards.

In the next photo, you can see the slotted vertical siding boards. This was a typical method of siding for corn barns because it allows air flow through the building that will dry out the corn. What is unusual in this case is that the slotted siding was installed from inside, and then two large swinging doors were installed on the outside. After much head scratching, we concluded that this unusual method allowed for the doors to be closed in inclement weather to keep out the Vermont storms. The doors must have been strategically opened during good drying weather after harvest.

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This adorable frame has a petite ridge beam and half-round rafters.

The surrounding mountains at this hillside farm are stunning.

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On a beautiful sunny spring day, we popped the pins out of the frame and were ready for disassembly.

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The frame is made from beech and pine trees. The color on these posts is stunning.

Once the frame was down, we pulled all of the nails and shipped the beams and boards back to our shop for restoration.

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We like frames that are manageable to disassemble and move by hand!

Our next steps on this frame will be to power wash the beams and boards and then make repairs to the bottoms of the posts where they fatigued over the last two hundred years. For the post bottom repairs, we will use similar hand hewn inventory and an English scarf joint to make a strong and beautiful repair.

This frame would make an incredible little cabin, mudroom addition on a house, or it could become a small barn once again to house chickens, goats, or sheep. Who knows, it may even house oats and corn once again.

Interested in learning more?

See drawings and learn more about this vintage timber frame or Contact Me.

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The Race to Raise a Barn: 12 Days on Long Island

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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.

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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.

Raising the first Bent- Green Mountain Timber Frames

Bent number two went up next without a hitch, and we installed the horizontal connecting ties and braces.

Bent 2 slips into sill mortises

Installing horizontal timbers to connect bents

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.

Bent three is set in place_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Driving more pegs_Green Mountain Timber Frames

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.

Rafter trusses are flown into place__Green Mountain Timber Frames

Glenn did a great job stabilizing and “aiming” the rafters with a tag line from the ground.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Do you want to help preserve a piece of history? Dream of living in a restored barn home? Contact Us!  (802) 774-8972

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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.

Timber frame barn in vineyard green mountain timber frames

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.

Post joinery is cut for timber frame

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.

Shaping swoops on heavy purlin timbers

Jesse shapes the “swoops” on the ends of the heavy purlin timbers.

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.

40 foot long roof system_Green Mountain Timber frames

This roof section is 40-feet long, and laying it out flat on the ground allowed us to check all the joinery and test-fit the dormers

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!

jig box for cutting ridge beam green mountain timber frames

We built a jig box to help us cut the complex angles on the dormer ridge beams.

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Matt inspects dormer joinery

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.

Timber frame bent assembled green mountain timber frames

Jesse enjoys the completion of a gable bent. There is an upper doorway framed in this gable that will lead from the loft out onto a small balcony.

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.

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Our shaving horse works great for shaping pegs!

Next, we began assembling bents and driving the pegs to hold them fast.

Pegs are driven into a bent before it is tipped up

Pegs are driven into a bent before it is tipped up

Before we knew it, we were tipping up the final bent.

lifting final bent into timber frame baren

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.

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The lower cube of the frame is erected and pegged.

The next step was to install the top plates, which tie the bents together and support the weight of the rafter system.

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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.

eve purlin placed in roof and dormers installed

We set an eve purlin into place

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.

dormers and pitch on timber frame roof

The dormers are 5-feet wide, and the pitch is matched to the main roof.

Here is a crow’s eye view of the completed rafter system and the dormers:

purlin extensions and steel plates to create a generous roof overhang

We used purlin extensions and steel plates to create a generous roof overhang.

hemlock roof boards Green Mountain Timber Frames

The warm colors of the hemlock and roof boards are wonderful.

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.

Give us a call.

completed dormer_Green mountain timber frames

I can imagine sitting in this dormer with a cup of coffee and enjoying the view for a very long time!

“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.

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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

 

Dutch Cape House from c. 1800

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One early morning, before dawn in November, two brothers were readying for an early morning deer hunt. Hunting culture in rural Vermont dates back to the original residents, and continues still. On this particular morning, breakfast was cooked, weapons readied, and excitement no doubt was rising!

I can imagine that the black of night began dissipating, and the hunters hurriedly finished their planning and headed out into the breaking daylight. A chair had been left too close the roaring wood stove and a couple hours later, a passerby saw smoke billowing from the house. Fortunately for those young men, for Green Mountain Timber Frames, and for the future owner of this beautiful timber frame, the fire was put out and the house survived!

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Since that early morning fire, this little house has served the farming community well. When the local grange had to move out of a nearby building, the family that owned this cape generously offered the space. After many community work days, the grange moved in for weekly meetings and community events. The National Grange of the Order of Patrons and Husbandry is a national organization that began shortly after the Civil War. The group works to promote community bonding and education around agriculture.

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This frame dates from around 1800, when Vermont was still a young state. It was placed in a little hollow between knolls with a stream nearby and land was cleared around it for farming. The house was built using oak, chestnut, and beach trees- no doubt the very trees that were cut down to begin opening up fields for livestock.

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This frame has four bents and stands true even after 200+ years and a close call with fire!

It is fascinating to get to study so many local timber frames and ultimately to get a sense of who built these structures many generations ago! This particular house is a Dutch style of timber framing. The bents are close together and the floor joists are built strong enough to span the whole 24 feet of width.

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A clear span of 24 feet makes this an open canvas for future room design.

This little building measures 24 feet by 26 feet. It is perfect for a small cabin or house, for an addition onto another building, or as a small storage or animal barn.

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The posts and top plate are 10 x 10 inches – a solid little house!

A Spacious Second Floor

One of the reasons we fell in love with this structure, and just had to save it, was the spacious second floor. The posts extend quite far above the second floor, creating a tall “knee wall.” There is plenty of head room upstairs.

The rafter system has a five sided ridge beam with braces to the rafters. Unfortunately, the rafters and ridge beam were damaged by the close call with fire and by subsequent roof leaks over the years. We will be replicating the original roof system however and it will once again be strong and beautiful.

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The posts extend up beyond the 2nd floor, creations a spacious second floor living area.

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Here you can see braces strengthening the structure.

The Ingenious Basement

The ingenuity and creativity of the builders of this home are demonstrated in the basement of the house. Underneath the floor system, we discovered a very rugged food storage room or “root cellar” built with rough hewn logs, stone, and brick.

I have no doubt that it was filled with ice from the nearby river before the spring thaw, and that it was filled with squash, potatoes and other vegetables in the fall! Surely, it also was an excellent place to make and keep that hard cider that Vermonters loved (and still do)! It also doubled as a very strong foundation for a wood stove on the second floor. Imagine the original residents filling this little room with the fruits of their labors, and then relishing the food during the bitter winters.

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Let’s keep those garden vegetables and root crops good all winter!

Once again, we consider it such a privilege to cross paths across the span of generations with the pioneers, carpenters, farmers, and families who have built and dwelt in this structure. We are also grateful to the family that saw the historical value of the house and allowed us to disassemble it once it could not be kept up in its original location. The restoration of this timber frame will take place over the future months and it will once again be ready to house future generations.

Interested in this timber frame or another historic property?

Contact Green Mountain Timber Frames at
luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com, or
802.774.8972

 

North Hero Barn Restoration: Before and After

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Remember that North Hero, Vermont historic barn we wrote about back in April of last year?

Luke Larson, of Green Mountain Timber Frames rescued this special barn from North Hero Island, which is smack in the middle of Lake Champlain and only a few miles south of the Canadian border.

Removing Roof of timber frame barn home

Dating back to the 1780s, the barn is a hardwood frame with hewn oak braces. While it was truly in very rough shape, Luke was determined to save it because it is such an old, rare specimen. Measuring 26 X 36 feet, it offers nearly 1000 square feet of space and is a gunstock post frame, a good indication it was built before 1800.

A New Beginning – Near The Frame’s Origins

The exciting news is that this beautiful restored timber frame will become a handsome “great room,” complete with a fireplace, for a new home that is being built on the New York side of Lake Champlain.

Understanding the Restoration Process

In the following Before and After photos, you can see the restoration process taking place at one of our shop sites.

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Above: Many of the beams needed repairs or replacement. One of the top plates was replaced completely during the restoration process. In the restored photo, all of the beams are once again sound.
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The ridge beam and rafter braces were one of the lovely features that caused us to love this barn!
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During the dismantling of the barn, we labeled all of the roof boards so that they would go back to the original location. In this “after” photo, we have put all boards back on the roof and used some replacement vintage material to fill in the gaps.
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The beautiful December sunset here in Vermont showcases the lovely detail where the rafters intersect with the ridge beam. In the restored version, we have made all the edges of the boards straight once again, so that the gaps between the boards are minimized.

Ever Dreamed of Living IN History?

At Green Mountain Timber Frames, we turn old barns into beautiful new homes, studios, offices, barns and more.

 

For details, please contact Dan or Luke:
802.774.8972
luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

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Timber Frame Labeling – The Pragmatics and Beauty

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What is in a label?

When it comes to timber framing – a great deal!

The homes and historic barns that we disassemble have many individual pieces. A timber frame can easily have over two hundred different pieces of hand crafted wood and each piece has been carefully fit and adjusted to create a specific joint. Individual timbers and braces were scribed to each other. Braces in a building may look interchangeable, but they are not!

Roman Numeral Labeling in Timber Framing_Vermont_Green Mountain Timber Frames_4

We use the terms “bent” and “plate wall” to describe the two types of cross sections in a barn. There are two plate walls in every timber frame, which are the exterior walls where the roof comes down.

“Bents” are a cross section going in the other direction, creating the gable ends and supporting systems for the interior of the building.  A frame can have anywhere from two bents to six or even more, depending on the barn size. Here is a scaled drawing of one bent cross section of an 1840s timber frame. This barn has four bents. Multiply this cross section by four and you can imagine the four bents, usually similar but not identical. Labeling System_scaled drawing of one cross section_1840s timber frame_Green Mountain Timber FramesThere are also the two eve walls with multiple braces, which can’t get mixed in with the “bent” braces! Timber Frame Label System_Green Mountain Timber Frames_2So how does one know where to put each piece of wood?
The labeling system!

History of Labeling Timber Frames
In many of the older barns and homes, even the roof boards and floorboards were labeled! Long before a crew of framers, farmers and family showed up for a house raising, someone had carefully organized the materials and designated a spot for each piece. 

Why would it make sense to label even the roof boards?
One reason is that the boards were often still in the tapered shape of a tree trunk. In other words, they are wider at one end – the base of the tree – and narrower at the other. By switching the direction of the taper – board to board – as you moved up the roof, the framers could get the most width possible out of each board without getting too uneven before reaching the peak of the building. 

Roman numerals were the most common method for inscribing labels on the beams and boards:

Roman Numeral Labeling in Timber Framing_Vermont_Green Mountain Timber Frames_4

We recently completed the restoration of a 1790s gambrel home. (You can read about it in this blog.) This frame is a wonderful example of the way that craftsmen of the past insured that the timbers all ended up in the right place.

In the gambrel house we restored, there are four bents for a total of 12 posts on the first floor. There are 8 more on the second floor.Gambrel Barn Home_Green Mountain Timber Frames_3

But how do you designate which side of the building each piece will live on?
Each exterior post is a component of both an eve wall, and a member of a bent. Therefore, each of the joint sections must be labeled. When we cut a new frame or relabel an old frame, we use “B” for bent, and “P” for plate, or eve wall. On top of this distinction, we distinguish which of the two eave walls any given post or brace belongs to.

In the gambrel, the original builders added a diagonal line to the numbers in order to make this distinction. This line makes post #4 look like this:Labeling System_1840s timber frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames_5Note the four slashes, and the one slash with an additional diagonal cut. The opposite wall does not have the diagonal marking. 

Below is a label on a floor joist that had us stumped for a while. Then we realized – the framers were distinguishing the roman numeral 9- IX, from the roman numeral 11- XI. What if on raising day someone was looking at the floor joist upside down?

Joist Number Nine Drops Down_Green Mountain Timber Frames_6

Joist #9 drops into the “summer beam”, the central heavy timber that supports the floor system.

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Here is #11, not to be confused with #9!

We have not seen this marking before, but surmise that it meant 11. If anyone has seen this designation for 11 before, please tell us about it!

How do you designate that a post is a center post rather than located on an exterior wall?
Here is how they labeled an exterior mid post on the gambrel:

Exterior mid post on Gambrel Barn Frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Someone took artistic care with this inscription!

And here is the label on an upper post that supports the rafter system. Notice our modern (and much less attractive) label on the tenon where it will be hidden:Modern Label on Tenon_Green Mountain Timber Frames_9The gambrel has a unique system where the floor girts and joists went out beyond the eve to create an overhang. Heavy planks rested on the joist tails. Here is a photo of the labeling of those planks:Labeling System for heavy planks on joist tails_green mountain timber frames_10Another beautiful inscription was often placed on a central board in the ceiling. This photo is one of these daisy wheels:Daisy Wheels_Timber Frame Labeling System_11We re-label each joint as we take it down. Occasionally, in the excitement of disassembly, we miss a piece or even mis-label. When we are stumped, we often look for the original labels and figure out where it will be “at home.”

Pragmatic & Beautiful
These old labels are both useful and artistic. They were created using very sharp chisels, often of a “gouge” or cupped variety, as well as compasses. The labels add beauty to the finished space when visible. As with all aspects of vintage frames, much can be learned about the people who crafted the barns or homes by looking at their “handwriting.”

Some label inscriptions are flowery and large; others are more subtle and small, meant to disappear visually once the frame is up.

Below is a brace and post from the North Hero barn:

Labeling system for post and beam historic barns_green mountain timber frames

This builder used much smaller labels and a different marking

How did the framers come up with these markings, and are they universal? 

We do not know how the craftsmen from the past decided on the specifics of their labeling systems. The pragmatic aspect of the labels means that each frame contains its own logic. That is to say, it is a self-contained system that can differ frame to frame. We are just grateful when we see the labels match each other on each joint and we know we’ve put the pieces back together correctly! We like to imagine the framers carefully making the inscriptions generations ago, and we are grateful for the artistic care represented in these labels!

Here is one of my favorites – a label designating a second floor post and brace on the gambrel:Second floor post label_Green Mountain Timber Frames_11

Have you seen labels on pieces of your house? 

Please let us know what you might know about old labeling systems! In particular, we are curious if anyone has seen the representation of 11 that we’ve shown on the gambrel floor joist. We’d love to hear from you.


 

Green Mountain Timber Frames specializes in restoring historic timber frames and old barn homes. Interested in more information?
We’d love to hear from you!
(802) 774.8972
Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com