Saving a Giant of a Barn: the Benson Timber Frame

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We are now two weeks into the careful dismantling of a beautiful timber barn – for sale –  that dates from around 1880. This timber frame is not as old as many of the structures that we take down and restore here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, but the high quality of the frame more than justifies our efforts to save it. At 34 x 48 feet, this wonderful vintage frame is a big one!

evening light on old barn for sale in benson | green mountain timber framesThe barn’s foundation, roof and sills are deteriorated, and would be very difficult and costly to repair in place. We have purchased the barn and now it is in our court to take down the frame, restore it, and find a new home for this majestic and historic building.

(Let us know if you are interested in seeing the barn!)

Taking Down the Timber Frame Barn: Step by Step

Our first step was to remove an enormous amount of hay from the inside of the building. Thankfully, we had some pitchforks handy. removing hay from the benson frame | green mountain timber framesThe hay piled inside the barn had been hiding a very interesting feature of this barn. The smallest bay, which is where the animals were kept, had built in wooden gutters for removing manure.

Discoveries in an Old Barn

The clever system had two trap doors that could be opened, allowing the waste to be dropped into wagons or carts below for spreading on the nearby fields. There was also a trough in front of the animals where they could be fed. It is really amazing to see the wear marks on the floor from hooves. We can tell where the antsy cow lived many years ago! cleaning out cow stalls in old barn for sale green mountain timber framesWe made another discovery while opening up the walls of this barn. Between layers of siding, honey bees had built a hive at some point in the past.discovering an old bee hive in the benson old barn for sale green mountain timber framesWe collected the brittle wax comb, and I am excited to make candles out of it. Once we find a new home for this barn and re-erect it, I can imagine a celebratory meal in the restored frame- lit by the wax of this bee hive. honey comb in the wall of benson barn for sale green mountain timber framesAs we removed the wide hemlock wall boards, we labeled each one so they can be installed back in the same location. Many of the timber boards are over 15 inches wide, and the patina on them is spectacular.

We can’t wait to wash them, but the temperature will have to get up above freezing for that process to take place and winter really seems eager this year in Vermont. wide vintage boards for sale | green mountain timber frames

Removing the Slate Roof

Once we had the barn cleaned out and many of the siding boards removed, we went on to remove the roof system. This barn still had its original roof- large purple slate from the nearby quarries.

Here we are removing the slate piece by piece.

It was unusual for us to be removing the original roof from a building, as most of our older frames went through at least two, and often four, generations of roofing material before they come under our care. Much of the slate is still good and we will set it aside with the frame for future use. removing slate and roof boards benson barn for sale In order to be as safe as possible, we built a temporary second floor in the barn. This allows us to do most of the board and rafter removal from this deck rather than from the top of the roof or from long ladders. This barn is so large that it took fifty sheets of plywood to create this safe work platform! how to take down an old barn safelyThe effort building the deck paid off, as we removed and labeled each roof board.removing roof boards from benson barn for saleLet me share a couple more interesting features of this barn:

All farmers know how hard it is to keep large barn doors on a building. Inevitably, it seems, they get caught by a gust of wind and torn off the building. Well, it must have been someone with life experience who designed this structure. They built a giant pocket door system and hung the 13-foot-tall doors on tracks on the inside of the barn.

In order to create this space for the doors, secondary posts were added in the doorway bents. In this way, gusts of wind could not get at the doors when they were opened. giant pocket door old barn for sale A good luck horseshoe was nailed to one side of the door opening. horseshoe for good luck benson timber frame barn for saleIt was exciting to get lots of light on the upper queen system. These timbers support the rafters at mid-span, making the roof strong enough to carry the weight of all that slate as well as Vermont’s winter snow. There is a unique and beautiful scarf joint that was used to get the queen plates to span the whole 48 feet.queen system in benson old barn for sale green mountain timber frames

Here is a close-up of the scarf joint:scarf joint  | green mountain timber framesWhile the queen plate is made out of two timbers, the main top plate that creates the eve of the building is not. Incredibly, these hand-hewn timbers are the full length of the barn at 48 feet and 2 inches! Imagine the size of the old-growth tree that was required, as well as the difficulty of getting these beams in place without the use of modern equipment.

These 48-foot timbers are a testament to the skill of the timber framers who crafted this barn, as well as to the strength of a community that would come together to hoist such a barn into place. We are honored to now be the caretakers of this structure.48 foot hand hewn timber | green mountain timber frames

You can see drawings of the barn here on our site.

This old barn is for sale!

If you are interested in this barn, or another timber frame structure, let us know!

 

 

A Day-Trip to Waterford, Vermont…and 2 Surprises Behind a Barn

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A few weeks ago, Matt and I took a drive up and over to Waterford, Vermont. It’s in Caledonia County, and sits right on the border with New Hampshire. Waterford is a town I had never before visited. We were there to look at an old barn for sale.

Gunstock barn home for sale green mountain timber framesWe had been called because the foundation under a large gunstock timber frame is crumbling, and the property owners would like to see this barn saved and re-homed before it deteriorates further. This barn was worth the long drive from our home base. The posts and timbers are beautiful, and even the braces are hand hewn. gunstock timber frame for sale green mountain timber framesWe will be carefully disassembling this beautiful and worthy barn in the coming months, after which we will restore the timber frame. Stay tuned for more information as we get this structure measured, drawn to scale, and listed as an available frame on our webpage.

Exploring this Historic Barn

What we found when we walked around the back side of this structure stopped me in my tracks and struck my imagination. It was an immediate and poignant reminder of the days when this barn was used to store food from the land, and to house and feed the animals that sustained the New Englander’s lifestyle. decrepit farm silo green mountain timber framesThere, next to the barn, was a decrepit old silo, with vines growing up the side. It looked like the turret of some old agricultural castle, and I pushed my way through wild grapes and wild cucumber vines to find the opening. interior of woodford silo and stone foundation green mountain timber framesThe roof had collapsed and I could see vegetation reclaiming the interior. The old stone foundation was mossy and I could imagine the excitement of the farm crew many years ago as they laid these rocks in a neat circle to define the storage space for their crops- no doubt in between the daily chores of feeding the animals, tending the fields along the Connecticut River and milking the cows. a tree grows in the silo green mountain timber framesUnlike most of the old wooden silos that have vertical boards held together with steel rings, this one had vertical studs with thin boards bent to match the radius inside and outside. A sumac tree had sprouted, and its upper branches were capturing the afternoon sunlight as I peered in. A single four pane window was in the top of the silo wall, and in the early days this would have let that same sunlight into the interior to illuminate for the farmer how much of the summer’s bounty remained as the winter months progressed. I am so glad we will be catching the large barn before it, too, is reclaimed by vines and trees.

Surprises Behind the Gunstock Barn

There was another surprise behind the large gunstock barn that we had come to see. As we looked out into the woods, we saw another abandoned structure literally cradled by the limbs of trees. antique corn crib for sale green mountain timber framesI asked about the little barn, and was granted permission to explore it. The owners had not been in it for a very long time, and suspected it was nothing that would be of interest or that could be salvaged. I went in for a closer look.

Each gable rake of the little barn had a tree that had pushed right through the metal roofing. Undoubtedly, this barn must sway with the poplar, maple, and birch trees when the wind blows.

Climbing through the door, I was blown away by the interior. Like the silo, the uses of this structure were immediately apparent.

  1. First, it had been built as a corn crib. The slatted siding on the back gable wall gave me this clue. It had a beautiful stair case up to the loft and the stairs were designed with a half radius at the top and hand made hardware that allowed the stairs to be folded upward and out of the way.
  2. Second, someone had rigged a wood stove on the second floor and a little side table and chair indicated it had been home for someone-perhaps summer help on the farm.
  3. Third, this had been used as a machine shop in the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s. It is absolutely filled with gadgets, tools, hardware and belt-driven devices.

pulleys and wheels in a corn crib machine shop green mountain timber framesinterior of timber frame machine shop and corn crib green mountain timber framesThe incredible durability of old-growth timbers was apparent as I inspected the hand-hewn timber frame. In spite of the trees pressing in, the frame is worthy of restoration, and we agreed to purchase this 14×18 foot frame. Once restored and erected on a new foundation, it will make a remarkable cabin with sleeping quarters on the second floor. We will be listing this corn crib on our webpage soon.

Like many high quality corn cribs from the late 1700s and early 1800s, this barn has braces that go up from the posts to the girts, and also braces that go down from posts to the sills. corn crib interior green mountain timber framesI cannot wait to spend a day inside this barn with our dedicated team doing our best to decipher and document the creative web of belt-driven machines and jigs. We will then begin popping out the hardwood pegs, disassembling the timber frame joinery, and labeling all of the wooden joints. In time, this frame too will have a new home and a continued evolution of usefulness. The constant variable throughout these progressions will be the stout integrity of the structure and its aesthetic beauty.

Our day in Waterford was a good one, spent meeting new people who care deeply about saving the buildings of our New England farming heritage, learning about the farming practices of long ago, and acquiring two more vintage timber frames that are worthy of restoration.

Interested in old barns? Contact us to chat.
– Luke Larson

Kestrel in the Barn!

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About six years ago, we restored and erected this early New England timber frame.

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The frame is a classic size at 30 by 40 feet. The interior of the barn is “clear span,” which means that the 30 foot timbers are so big that no center posts are necessary inside the barn, making it perfect for storing cars.

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The timber frame barn sits nestled at the bottom of Mount Equinox here in Vermont, and wildlife is abundant here. Our client had been seeing American Kestrels in the area, and had the idea of building a nesting box for this smallest of North American raptors. A decline had been documented in the New England population of these birds.

Why not build a box right into the barn?

old barns for sale_Vermont

I have heard that early New England farmers would sometimes cut little bird doors into the gable ends of their cow barns for the swallows. Why? Because barn swallows are so incredibly beneficial for keeping the fly population down in a barn full of livestock. One of my favorite local timber frame barns came to mind, and we chose to copy the style of cut-out from this little gem: timber frame barn with barn cut outsWhen we sided our barn using vintage boards, we cut six holes in the upper section. Copper flashing was used to keep water from going in. Five of the doors are faux, and the sixth has a hole that leads into a nesting box.

timber frame barn with barn swallows

Well, five years past with no kestrels. But this spring a pair moved in! And here is the evidence:

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Kestral in a vintage barn Green Mountain Timber Frames

We are so delighted that this idea came to fruition! It is remarkable to imagine the spring journey from far south, and perhaps even central America, that brought this pair of birds right into the gable of this beautiful vintage barn.

Now the only question is, who is going to climb up into that high gable when fall comes to clean out the nesting box?

Love hearing stories about old barns?
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Restoration of the Roof System on a Corn Crib

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Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we have spent the last couple of days working on repairing, sorting, and preparing the roof boards for a little corn crib for sale that dates to the 1800s. corn crib for sale_Vermont Timber Frames

This homemade corn crib was used by a local farm family for generations. We purchased it and took it apart carefully because the sills were completely gone and it was beginning to settle back into the earth.

A future blog will get more into what makes this corn crib really special and how it will be used, but working on the roof this week got me thinking that I would like to lay out in a blog our process of restoration as it involves roof systems and roof boards.

Old Barn Restoration: The Process

Our first step when we get the frame labeled, disassembled and home is to pull the many antique nails. And I mean many! When a frame comes to us, it has usually gone through several generations of roofing material. Often our barns were first roofed with cedar shingles. This roof will last for 30 to 40 years before it has to be replaced.

From Slate to Cedar Roofs

A barn built in the 1700s had at least two or three iterations of cedar before the next big event in New England roofing: the development of the slate industry. In between these generations of roofing materials, the nails were tapped down into the boards rather than being removed. That leaves it to us to get all that metal out. It is fascinating to see the generations of nails in a single board- from hand forged, to cut, to modern wire nails. We tap them from the inside first, careful not to mark the show surface with our hammerheads. Then we flip the board over and pull them out. We save the handmade nails, and throw the rest into our metal recycling bin. Removing nails to restore wooden beamsRemoving nails to restore wooden timbers

Washing the Timber Frame and Boards

Next, we wash the frame and the boards. It is amazing to watch two hundred years worth of grime fall away from the boards! It feels like painting in reverse – allowing the incredible patina to come through that only a century or two of light and air can create. It is a process that requires great care; if we wash with too little pressure, the patina does not come out, but if we use too much pressure or pause in mid-stroke, the water will raise the grain of the wood and cause an unsightly mark. IMG_3482

We can not put away the boards when they are wet because of the risk of mold. So we dry them in the sun like so much laundry on washing day. The end result of all this handling is worth it when we see the sun shining off these vintage boards. They will make a stunning ceiling when the barn is re-erected. Restored timbers drying in the sun

Reassembling the Rafter System

Next, we are ready to assemble the rafter system. We make any necessary repairs and replacements to the rafter system, and then we assemble one half of the roof at a time. In the next photo, you can see the five-sided ridge beam from a restoration we completed last summer. That particular roof had four braces that went from rafters to ridge beam.

5 sided ridge beam barn restoration

We check the peg holes to make sure that the new pegs will hold strong and true. If necessary, we re-drill a peg hole where a “new” rafter was installed or where we made a repair to a rafter tenon.

restored timber rafters | Green Mountain Timber Frames

Laying out the Timber Roof Boards

Now we lay out the roof boards. All the roof boards are labeled as we take the barn down, but we very often have to straighten some edges and switch out fatigued boards for others with similar color. Remember all those generations of roofing material? Very often there was a drip somewhere at the end of the lifespan of each layer of cedar, and thus very often we have to replace some of the boards.

There are blond “shadows” on the underside of the boards where contact with a rafter shielded them from light and air. We do our best to line these shadows back up on top of rafters. Complicating this process is the fact that half-round or hewn rafters are rarely straight, so the spacing of the shadows varies depending on the spot in the roof. Doing this work while flat on the ground at the shop allows us to be as careful as possible with color matching, board spacing, and shadow hiding. Luke Larson | Green Mountain Timber Frames

Restored roof boards

Checking the Roof Board Labels

As our final step in this part of the restoration process, we carefully go through the boards and check the labels. We have a system of marking the outside of the boards so that we can efficiently apply them when the rafter system is standing.

Timber Frame Label System

The end result is a timeless visual ceiling. Or, perhaps we should rather say time-full. Here is what it looks like on one of our completed frames that now stands as a barn home:

Restored Timber Frame Ceiling

Back to Roof Restoration!

Let’s get back to that roof restoration that we completed yesterday. Here are a few more photos from this week’s restoration of our little corn crib roof. With a footprint of 14×18, this barn is a miniature of some of the larger barns we work on, but it is not small or modest in craftsmanship.

The half-round rafters are beautifully tenoned into the five-sided ridge beam, and the rafter tails have an elegant “swoop” at the eve. When we put this frame back up on its new foundation, the roof system will be ready to support many future iterations of roofing materials.

Stay tuned to learn more about this restoration, and about the exciting future home for this frame.

Have questions about restored barns? Dream of living in a timber frame home?

Contact me!
Luke – 802.774.8972 | Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

Below – enjoy more pictures from the roofing project!

Tenons on the Pawlet Corn Crib rafters

Tenons on the Pawlet Corn Crib rafters

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Rafter tails with swoops on the Pawlet Corn Crib

An Ingenious Corn Crib

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Corn Crib for Sale in Vermont

I first looked at this corn crib for sale last spring. The owner of the property called me, and in his very Vermont way explained that there was a barn on his property that his family could no longer maintain. The property had been in his family for quite some time, and he wanted this barn to be saved. I took a drive to Montpelier, I took a look, and I fell in love.

Old barns for sale_timber frame barn

I purchased the timber frame and we recently disassembled the barn. It was a “corn crib,” a name that applies to a very specifically designed barn. As the name implies, it was used for the drying and storing of corn as well as oats and other food stuff from the garden.

A Corn Crib Built to Last

As the farmer whose family has lived here for three generations told me: “When you moved onto a raw piece of land back in the day, you didn’t much care about your first house. You put something up quick to keep you dry and not frozen, and then you built something real nice to preserve food for the winter.” Well, the craftsmen who built this corn crib did it “real nice.”

Old barns for sale_timber frame barn_with staircase

These stairs lead to a lovely second floor with a steep roof pitch and two windows. We discovered two wooden barrels with sapling dovetailed rings that were tucked into bins. Sawdust was packed tightly around the barrels inside the bins, and it was clear that something very precious and sensitive to heat had been stored in these.

corn crib timber frame rafters

A Remarkable Louvered System

In order to dry and then preserve the corn, the walls were sided with an ingenious louvered system. The siding itself is narrow and gapped to allow lots of air movement through that would dry the corn out after harvest. However, the corn also had to be protected from rainstorms and drifting Vermont snow.

The solution? The builders crafted louvers that can rotate on wooden pegs to close the gaps between the siding. handcrafted louvers_old barn for sale

louvers_old barn for sale

The louvers were attached to each other by small staples so that they could be swung shut in gangs when the farmer saw a storm blowing in. It gave me great pause for reflection when I found a few kernals of corn left behind — from how many decades or even a century before? Of course, I had to save them to see if these corn seeds would germinate in my garden. (Stay tuned)

antique corn crib_corn seeds

We started the disassembly a few weeks ago by removing the roofing and then carefully labeling each roof board.

As we removed the roof boards, we were delighted to discover a name, scrawled in large red cursive, across several of the boards. The letters were faded, but readable. old timber frame barn_roof boards

A Peek into the History of the Corn Crib

Later that evening, I showed the property owner these boards, and it led to him sketching out for me more of the story of his farm. His great-grandfather had worked for someone with the same last name that we discovered on the boards. The gentleman was elderly and apparently farming was not easy, neither physically nor financially. He was unable to fully pay his farm help for the last few years of work on the farm. When the last family member died, the farm was left to the hired hand who had been loyal and worked without pay. That is how the family that I bought this corn crib from came to own the property.

Soon enough, we were down to the bare frame, which is hand hewn beech and pine.

small timber frame barn for sale

After labeling the floorboards, we popped out the ash tree pegs, and began tipping down the bents.

Carefuly Disassembly of the Corn Crib

We were grateful to the maple trees that stood sentry at the entrance as we were disassembling this small 18×22 frame by hand- without the use of a crane or other motorized equipment. In fact, we were able to disassemble this frame without ever firing the generator we had brought with us. It was a frame put up without electrical tools, and one that we took down with only minimal use of our battery tools.

vintage corn crib_tipping up

We labeled every mortise and tenon joint, and after 6 work days start to finish, the frame was down. We shipped the vintage beams and boards back to our shop and cleaned up the site of the structure.

Vermont site_barn restoration

I found it incredibly poignant to see the trees still standing around the perimeter of where this adorable corn crib has stood for two hundred years. I am proud and grateful, to and for the family that has cared for, used, and maintained this building for generations, to our skilled and careful team who took the time to pull each peg with conscientiousness and care, and to the trees from whom this frame was built so very long ago.

Are you looking for a corn crib for sale?

Let me know – I’d love to help.
Luke – (802) 774-8972 | luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

 

Discoveries Made While Salvaging Wood: The Story of the Henderson Barn

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When you do barn restoration and construction in the mercurial seasons of Vermont, the work in the wintertime differs greatly from what we do all summer long. Oftentimes, we spend winter months restoring beams indoors or lining up projects for the warmer months.
Recently, on one cold January day, we went to visit a father-son slate roofer team in Bennington, Vermont. We were there, as we often are, about an old barn. But this time, we weren’t actually interested in restoring the early 1800s barn. Rather, we wanted to purchase the disassembled barn so we could restore and use the beautifully aged beams in other timber frame projects.

Parts Barns: Salvaging Wood from Historic Homes

During our restoration process, we frequently have to source replacement parts to compensate for the toll that leaky roofs and unstable foundations have taken over the past two hundred years on our restoration projects. Whenever possible, we like to use matching vintage wood from similar aged and style barns. In order to get these replacement parts, we purchase “parts” barns. Most often, it is a barn that has not fared well and sadly is beyond the restoration stage. We salvage the sound elements of these frames in order to use them in full restoration projects.

A Remarkable Barn from Bennington

The parts barn that we purchased this January was particularly fascinating and, along with the wooden beams, we found stories of a family and their amazing history! While the frame was beyond repair as a unit, the remaining sound elements are incredible. The rafters were hewn, and the posts were 14 x 14-inch hand hewn oak.

Bennington Vermont Circa 1800

The barn dates from before 1800 and was built by the Hendersons, a family boasting a longstanding history in Bennington, Vermont.  At some point in history, the Vail family is in the story of this property as well, and this is another deeply embedded family in the town and its history. Today’s owners shared this map with me;  on it, you can see how the land parcels in the area were divided among families back in 1800.
1800s Map_Bennington VT Map

1800s Bennington VT land map showing the parcels

If you read through the names on each parcel, you can see that there were many Harmons on this hill and many of these families played a significant role in the events surrounding the Battle of Bennington in 1777.  It is so fascinating to see how the families started out with large tracts of land and then subdivided their tracts to keep family close.

Meet the Barn Owners

We purchased the barn after disassembly from a father/son team of expert slate roofers who live about 1/4 mile from the old Henderson property. The barn was going to be torched, and they couldn’t bear the thought of that history going up in ashes. So, since winter is a tough time to do slate roofs, they took on the tall task of disassembling this frame. They clearly gave great care to this task, as the beams and boards are unharmed, de-nailed, and washed.

Photos: Clues to the Barn Home’s Past

Here are a couple of old photos, dating from the first decade of the 1900s, that show the stately Henderson house. You can just see the barn in the background behind the horses head.
Henderson historic barn home_Vermont_1900s

1900s photograph showing Henderson home in the background

In the next photo, you will see a healthy maple tree next to the couple. It gave me chills to see the dissipating stump of this tree when I looked at the property, and to imagine all the life that has happened in this spot, and in the barn, before and after these photos were taken.

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1902 Wedding Photo in front of the Henderson House

The father and son made an incredible discovery when they were disassembling the barn. Underneath the three-inch floor of the barn, they found a civil war era rifle! Imagine the possible stories behind this weapon being hidden there!
We hope to honor the early settlers of this property who crafted the barn, those who used it for two hundred years, and also the neighbors who invested enormous effort and time into making sure that these beams can stand true again in another historical structure.

Do you have a barn home worth salvaging?

Contact us by email or 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.