“Did a Farmer Build This Barn?”

Featured

Reading this in your email? For easier reading – Click here.

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

 

Dutch Cape House from c. 1800

Reading this in your email? For easier reading – Click here.

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!

IMG_3277

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.

IMG_3091

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.

IMG_3252

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.

IMG_3238

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.

IMG_3237

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.

IMG_3235

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

IMG_3231

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.

IMG_3274

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

Reading this in your email? For easier reading – Click here.

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.

2
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.
3
The ridge beam and rafter braces were one of the lovely features that caused us to love this barn!
4
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.
5
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

Green Mountain Timber Frames - Contact Us

Timber Frame Labeling – The Pragmatics and Beauty

Reading this in your email? For easier reading – Click here.

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.

Timber Frame Label System_Green Mountain Timber Frames_7

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

 

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

.Reading this in your email? For easier reading – Click here.

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.