Solstice: A Time for Reflection and Preparation

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As we arrive at the darkest time of the year, and as the temperatures here in the Vermont hills have begun to dip below zero, our team has had the opportunity to slow down, rest a bit, and reflect. It has been a year very full of restoring timer frames, and especially after back to back barn raisings in Virginia and Georgia, we were ready for a break.

So, what was an appropriate way to spend these past couple of weeks as the darkness encroached and the thermometer went low?

One of the ways that we have caught up, both pragmatically and spiritually, was to give some attention to our arsenal of hand tools.

antique hand tools at the green mountain timber frames office

At Green Mountain Timber Frames, we carry on the long tradition of hand-cut joinery, and we treasure our collection of tools that were designed to work in unison with, and be powered by, human hands. We use these tools constantly in a work restoring barns, and it is important that they be maintained.

Just like the vintage timber frame barns that we restore, these tools hold tales of their own. I am convinced that they have a “memory” in them of all the past generations of hands that have wielded and used them to craft joinery. I am further convinced that this history embedded in the tools helps us in our craft. I will return to this thought in a few minutes.

Tales Told Through Axes, Adzes and Chisels

First, let me tell you about some of the tools we have tuned up in the past couple of weeks:

In cleaning the metal of a set of mortising chisels, I discovered a clue to one past owner. Cleanly stamped in the blade of the chisels are the initials “AEW.” I would love to find out who this was who used these beautiful hand made chisels.

detail of vintage mortising chisels hand stamped

I also cleaned the metal and sharpened the edge on this gorgeous old “slick.” The 3-inch wide edge on this chisel glides across a tenon with a beautiful momentum when we use it to shape a wooden joint.

timber framing slick chisel

In organizing our tools, we pulled out some of our axe and adze collection.

hewing axe and adze collection

Last week, I took time to carve a new oak handle for my favorite broad axe. The head on this tool dates back to the 1700s, and it is a joy to swing. I have spent many quality hours and days with this axe, walking into the woods with it and an adze over one shoulder, and a jug of water carried in the other hand, each blade carefully wrapped in oiled leather to protect the sharp edges.

My time carving a new handle was meditative as I reflected on the work it has done for 200 years, as well as remembering the sweet music it makes when biting and shaping a tree into a beam. Now, in the coming year that is nearly upon us, I can once more walk out into the woods with this old friend, find a tree to hew, and we will make music together.

Another one of our team members, Isaac, recently cleaned an old axe head that we found in the dirt floor of a barn that we were taking down. When he showed it to me, it looked to my eyes like nothing more than a giant lump of corrosion. Being a metal worker, Isaac saw something I did not. After grinding and sanding away many decades worth of rust and putting on a new handle, this tool is beautiful! Now that it is back in use, I can’t help wondering who’s hands last swung it before Isaac’s, and how long ago.

antique felling axe owned by green mountain timber frames

Meanwhile, our staff member Andy spent time cleaning up some rusted old strap hinges that we have gathered from various barns. He used a bath of vinegar and baking soda to eat away the rust, followed by wire brushing and a quick bake in the oven to stop the corrosion process.

antique strap hinge

Here is a closeup of the clean hand-wrought metal:

antique strap hinge cleaned by green mountain timber frames

Uniquely American Framing Squares

There is another beautiful antique that we use nearly every day, and it received some attention last week. I recently learned that 16-inch by 24 inch framing squares are a uniquely American tool. While there were similar tools used in Europe previously, they really gained momentum here with the advent of what in framing lingo is called “square rule” joinery. In fact, the first patent for this type of square was awarded to Silas Hawes in Shaftesbury, Vermont in 1817. That is not far from our shop location!

We use the framing square to lay out the lines for every joint that we make, from post top tenons to girt mortises. The beautiful old square that I just cleaned with oil and a Brillo pad was a yard sale find. It is made with such care! The metal is thickest at the 90-degree angle, and then tapers down towards the edges in order to make it both strong and light. The numbers are stamped into the metal, and there are tables and graphs to help a framer do the geometry related to various roof pitch angles. It cleaned up beautifully!

antique framing square green mountain timber frames

Taking time to clean and sharpen our hand tools has felt like exactly the right way to enter into a space for reflection at this turning point from darkness to light- to look back at our own year and the much longer lifespan of these tools, and to look forward at increasing daylight and exciting projects and endeavors to come.

Honoring the Craftpeople Who Inspire Our Work

Remember how I mentioned that I believe the stories of past craftspeople who have used these hand tools help us do our work better? Perhaps there is some mystical connection that I feel to the folks who have used these tools on so many different projects. That may be, but I am more certain of the fact that the care that has been given to these tools over the decades and even centuries inspires us to work to a higher level when using them today.

I have gone through many modern electric tools in my own career to date, but I am still using some of the same hand tools that were gifted to me by my grandfather. This speaks partly to the quality of the old ways, and partly to my own mentality. It is easy to throw away a cheap electric tool and reach for another, while I expect and plan on setting time aside to sharpen or tune-up a hand tool.

Like our own human selves, these old tools need time for care, for sharpening, and for new handles. I believe there is a metaphor hiding there for us all to consider- especially at this time of year when the light is low, and activities in Vermont are best conducted in front of an old-fashioned wood stove.

A Holiday Blessing

I want to share with you a very special blessing that was spoken to our team last year at the holiday season. It was written by our dear friend and wise woman Leslie. Dear friends, as you take time to reflect and celebrate during this holiday season, may the light of your unique gifts and talents increase in brightness.

For those who work with their hands:

May your palms stay open with fingers nimble and skin supple, allowing you to feel the roughness of the wood, the smoothness of the clay, the pulling of the yarn, or the stretch of the fabric. 

May you see the wholeness in the piece as you begin, and as the shape of your work takes form, may you allow for the changes and the imperfections to be part of the beauty of your handwork.”

-Written by Leslie Silver, Middletown Springs, Vermont

coffin plane green green mountain timber frames

Tales from the Atwater Corn Barn

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“Mr. Perry procured a deed of one of the original proprietors of the town of Tinmouth in 1777 of a large piece of land, then in that town, now Middletown.” So begins the story of one of our most magnificent barn frames for sale.

1790s timber frame barn restored in Vermont

How do we know this?
Because this history of our very own Middletown Springs is recorded in a series of lectures that were delivered by Barnes Frisbie, a resident of the nearby town, Poultney Vermont. The lectures were given in 1867. What a treasure of a book, and a true gift to those of us here that seek to find the human and architectural stories in our history!

History related to the Atwater Corn House green mountain timber frames

Frisbie continues the tale: “In the spring of 1778 he (Mr. Perry) shouldered his ax, all he had to bring but the clothes he wore, and took possession of the land. It was the same piece of land long known as the Azor Perry farm, and now owned and occupied by Jonathan Atwater.”

Frisbie tells further of Azor’s clearing of the land and his construction of a simple cabin, which he covered with wooden poles and bark. He made himself a bedstead of poles and elm bark. He managed to get a cow the first summer, “which he wintered on brows; that is, he cut down trees and the cow ate the tops.” Imagine the hardship and fortitude needed to fashion a house and fields with just an axe!

In 1779, Perry was married in Bennington, Vermont. In the book from 1867, we are told that, “He had managed, in the year before he was married, to save enough to get a calico wedding dress for his wife, and some few indispensable articles of household furniture to commence with.”

Azor Perry was apparently a renowned and fearless hunter. There are stories told—no doubt growing with each telling around the tavern table not far from his homestead—of his bold encounters with bears. In one of these tales, Perry was called on by his neighbors to help with a particularly troublesome bear that was killing sheep and hogs, and damaging the crops on West Street. A great deal of effort had been made to kill this bear, but the creature had alluded all attempts thus far. The neighbors decided to enlist the help of Azor Perry, and he agreed.

After asking for the help of one other man, Perry headed into the corn field while a small crowd watched at a distance. He told his companion to go closer to the bear, shoot at it, and then run back. “If you kill it, very well. If not, he will be after you. Run behind me—I will stand here.”

Indeed, the bear was wounded, and in a rage, it ran at Perry. The story goes that Azor cooly stood his ground until the bear was just twenty yards away, and then fired. The flintlock gun misfired! Again and again, Perry snapped the trigger as the bear advanced, finally getting the gun to fire just as the bear reached him. As told in the 1867 lecture, “In this affair, he did not appear to manifest any fear or any other feelings except that we was vexed at his gun.” This incident happened on the Buxton Farm, which is just across the brook from our Green Mountain Timber Frames shop.

Azor Perry had eleven children, and one of his daughters married a man named Jonathan Atwater. Together they developed the land further, building a corn barn and a cider press. The corn barn is mentioned in the fabulous 1867 book as being located between the Atwater house and cider mill.

The corn barn fell on hard times in recent decades, due to neglect and a leaky roof. Green Mountain Timber Frames purchased the structure, disassembled it, and we are now delighted to have the restored frame standing at our shop property.

Here is a photo of the frame when it was being disassembled at its original location:

Atwater Corn House interior view green mountain timber frames

It sat on stone piers high above the ground. This was because corn and grain were stored inside, and the elevation helped to keep rodents at bay. Extra support beams were added along the eve walls where vertical bins held the weighty corn as it dried.

Reerecting the Atwater Timber Frame

We re-erected the frame this summer. We started setting the sills for the barn at 6:30 in the morning, and had the main cube of the frame up by lunchtime.

Here is a photo of the barn’s most recent raising day:

historic barn raising in Vermont

We set the timber-framed deck on temporary wooden piers and leveled it.

Then the bents were raised one by one, and the top plates and braces installed at the eve:

Green Mountain Timber Frames crew raising bents

Rafters were put in place, and we could really see this structure taking shape again.

We have put a roof on the Atwater Corn Barn, and applied siding. It is a beautiful space!

restored historic barn for sale by Green Mountain Timber Frames

The barn was originally used to store and dry corn on the cob, and it also had one bay dedicated to living space- presumably for seasonal farm help. I envision the future use of this barn to be a cabin, a space for writing or art, or as a traditional farm outbuilding once more.

I hope that we have done honor to the courage and fortitude of Azor Perry and his son-in-law Jonathan Atwater with our restoration of this barn. I recently visited the grave of Jonathan Atwater here in our cemetery.

grave of Jonathan Atwater here in Middletown Springs VT

This barn is for sale! 

You can see more photos of the 18×30 barn as well as drawings of the space here.


Please let us know if you are interested in the Atwater Corn Crib or another one of our historic barns.

– Luke and the Green Mountain Timber Frames team

tel:1-802-774-8972
luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

 

 

 

Green Mountain Timber Frames Has a New Home

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If you’ve been following the Green Mountain Timber Frames Facebook page, this is old news, but I know that not everyone has heard…

We have a new home!

Green Mountain Timber frames staff

The GMTF team our new property!

That’s right, GMTF has purchased a brand new homebase in our hometown of Middletown Springs, VT. In fact – fittingly – the new property is located right near the home of GMTF founder, Dan McKeen.
When Dan started the company over 30 years, he could not have imagined how it would grow. I have been honored to take over the reigns and build up a team of talented, caring and fun-loving staff members who join me in restoring historic buildings and perserving the oldest barn frames and timber structures of Vermont and New England. Together, we look forward to carrying on Dan’s dedication and passion for restoration and the preservation of history.

So what’s the new property?

As a team, we had been looking for some time to move our restoration shop to a larger and more open piece of land, and we found just the right place to dismantle and restore our many old barns for sale.
In choosing a piece of land, I had three key priorities:
  1. First, I am deeply committed to staying in the beautiful little mountain town of Middletown Springs. With a tight-knit community, small school and beautiful setting, this town where Green Mountain Timber Frames began has been supportive and it is home for the majority of our team.
  2. Second, I wanted a space with plenty of open space for restoration work, careful storage of timbers, and that has the room to stand up some of our vintage frames. I also needed it to be on a paved road so that we can get large trucks and trailers in and out all year- even in Vermont’s famous mud season! In a town with only a few miles of paved road, this really narrowed down the options.
  3. Third, I wanted a space that would be beautiful and conducive to creative work.
Well, this property has it all!

Green Mountain Timber Frames New Barn Home

The site currently has a small house and one large barn. We will be brainstorming and planning for how best to facilitate our restoration work on vintage barns, corn cribs and post and beam structures of all shapes and sizes. The spot also boasts a gorgeous 14-acre meadow, where we had a team celebration the afternoon of the closing.
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Green Mountain Timber frames new home in Vermont 4

Celebration in the meadow

The farmstead has been kept in organic practice, which is right in line with our philosophy of preservation and care for this precious earth. The maple forest is beautiful and has a whimsical stream running through it.

Green Mountain Timber frames new home in Vermont

There are about 1400 maple sugar taps on the property, so stay tuned and watch for the Green Mountain Timber Frame label next spring on a bottle of something very sweet! ​

Green Mountain Timber frames new home in Vermont 3

Mostly – I want to say thanks!

I want to give a huge thank you to everyone – near and far – who has supported this endeavor of the restoration of our New England historical barns, and especially to those hear in Middletown Springs who have been so supportive of our work to purchase this new space.

~Luke Larson, Owner of Green Mountain Timber Frames


Looking for barns for sale?

Want to live in a piece of history? Give us a call!
802.774.8972

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.

The Little Barn Playhouse Comes Home

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Today’s blog is from Green Mountain Timber Frames founder, Dan McKeen.

It was 35 years ago that I first set out to build my twin daughters a playhouse. I was a young timber framer and a proud father of two, four-year-old girls who loved the outdoors, exploration and pretend just as much as I do. Eager to create a special home where they could hide and climb and create magical worlds together, I built this tiny little treehouse for them back in 1982.

35 year old timber frame treehouse

Rachel and Amanda in their very own home.

Rachel and Amanda spent hours in the wooden treehouse, just as I had hoped. But by and by as the years passed, the playhouse went out of use and was in need of some more young love.

So 25 years ago I sold the playhouse to a friend. When I asked him if I could buy it back, he agreed and said that he was looking for a bigger, small structure for himself. So we found him a “milkhouse” and traded the playhouse for the milk house with a few thousand dollars to make up the difference.  (I’ve mentioned this story before and if you follow this blog, you may recall reading about it in my posts here and here.)

New Playmates for the Little Playhouse

The playhouse spent the last 2+ decades in my friend’s yard, where it was loved and played in, on and around and bore witness to countless secrets whispered under its eaves. But my friend’s child, like mine, grew older and in the meantime, I had become a grandpa. This could only mean one thing:

It was time for the playhouse to come home!

And come home, it has! I embarked upon this latest barn” restoration with the energy and enthusiasm of a six-year-old! I took the playhouse home and gave it a full makeover so it can house games and delight for dozens of years to come.

Restoring the Playhouse

In anticipation of the homecoming, I first cleared out just the right spot for the playhouse.  My friend Ed pruned some Cherry tree branches and a sturdy platform deck was created for the little house. (How fitting that the wood we used for the platform was excess wood from the milkhouse Ira barn project we did in 2013.) It is all old growth Spruce, treated with linseed oil, so it will last for a good many years.

Next, I headed over to my friend’s place to transport the playhouse back to my yard. In the image below, you can see the little barn house arriving to the Green Mountain Timber Frames shop for restoration.

playhouse arriving for restoration at green mountain timber frames.jpg

At our shop it was time to begin the restoration work. (After all, restoring barns is a bit of a passion of ours!)

Restorint barn style kids play house barn_4

There were boards and framing to restore, hinges to fix, countless corners to wash and windows to replace. I also had my dear friend Nance help give the playhouse a faux paint touch up to make the blue siding look like vintage barn board.

Moving barn playhouse to new location

Here’s the refurbished playhouse being set in its new home.

After placing the playhouse on the platform, I needed to give my grandkids (and every kid around) an easy way to get inside. We had recently removed a pine tree that was threatening our house. We used the stump as a base for the staircase, carving the lowest step right into its hearty wood. The stump will provide good stability to help keep the stairs from shifting in Vermont’s inevitable freezes and heaves.

Once the playhouse was set in place, it was time for some fun! I outfitted the little building with a kitchenette, a mailbox and plenty of soccer balls. Then, Ed added in a new rope swing and topped it all off with a 90 yard zip line.

The angels were with us throughout this project. I asked a former client, now friend, to coach me on zip-lining. He let me know that he had 275 feet of cable in his garage, waiting for just the right use. In the end we needed 273′. Serendipitous indeed!

Christening the New (Old) Playhouse! 

This past Sunday, the new playhouse was inaugurated in style! No less than 12 kids – my grandchildren among them – came by to test out the house and the swings.

The verdict? I have a feeling my yard will be filled with many little feet and bigger voices – and I couldn’t be happier. There are dragons under the floorboards and pirates hiding in the bushes and so much more adventure awaits!

Enjoy this slideshow of the playhouse today! 

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Contagious Renovations

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Here in our tiny hamlet of Middletown Springs, Vermont, renovating historic buildings seems to be something of a trend.

The Green Mountain Timber Frames headquarters and workshop are located in the center of the village, directly across from the Town Green. From here, we can watch the daily happenings as the 745 or so residents come and go. As of late, we’ve noticed that many locals are busy renovating some of our beautiful historic buildings. Of course, we couldn’t be more excited!

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The view across the Town Green

It started when our neighbor to the east on our Town Green painted their 1880s Victorian house, in preparation for a family wedding.

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Next, the Community Church, north of the Town Green, decided it was time to paint the church steeple.

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And wouldn’t you know it, here at GMTF, on the west of the Town Green, we are erecting a 1790s barn frame for fine tuning before it moves on to its final home.

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Luke’s brother, lawyer Chris Larson, lives across from the community church and he is repairing his porch. You can see his progress below!

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Luke, who lives right up the street from our shop, is also renovating the porch on his 1885 Victorian beauty.

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Want to add your own renovation project to the mix?

We renovate historic barns throughout New England and New York!

Contact us for details!

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!

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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!