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

 

 

 

Dismantling Old Barns on Daniels Farm: The Story Continues

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Recently, we wrote about our crew’s journey to Vermont’s North East Kingdom, where we disassembled 4 old barns from the Daniels’ Farm. In this sequel, I’ll explain how we removed the siding from the timber frame structures, show images of the beautiful marks we found on the wood, and share some details about the history of the area. 

How We Removed the Siding from the Gunstock Frame

After we disassembled the 26×50 cow barn, we moved on to the large gem of a barn in this Waterford “family.” It is a magnificent 32×42 foot timber frame that we will be restoring and relocating.

We started by removing the incredible wide siding boards. We labeled each one so that it can be returned to its rightful spot once we find a new home for this frame. The original boards on this frame are water sawn, and oh-so-nice.

wide siding board on gunstock barn home

Witch Hexes and Daisywheels

We made a great discovery on one of the corner boards. When we removed it, we found that a witch hex had been inscribed on the board and then hidden where the board was on the post.

witch mark on gunstock barn restored by green mountain timber frames

The story goes that this hex was meant to ward off evil spirits. We have been coming across this daisywheel mark quite often lately, but it is usually placed carefully over a doorway or in the center of a roof system. I am so curious why it was hidden away in this case! Was there disagreement among the crew and the property owner about the appropriateness of the mark when the barn was being built? Was it hidden on purpose? We will never know.

How We Dismantled the Old Barn

We began building our work deck high up in this barn. We build a continuous platform with planks, plywood, and supporting studs so that we can safely work up inside the rafters. While doing so, we finally got close enough to this board that I had been eyeing from the ground floor:

replacement roof board in 1869 barn home

It is a replacement roof board, as we can tell by the circular saw blade. (You can see an original just below it with vertical saw marks.) This is an important clue as to the age of the barn. If we are reading this date correctly, it means that roof boards were replaced in 1867, indicating that at least one generation of cedar shake roofing had deteriorated by that date, and probably deteriorated badly as indicated by the need to replace some of the boards. Cedar shakes on a barn with good air circulation will last 30 to 50 years. This clue seems to confirm our current working theory that the barn was crafted sometime around 1820.

We also found this antique graffiti on a wallboard:

graffiti or initials in gunstock barn restored by green mountain

Perhaps we will be able to figure out who W.H. was, and what part he played in this barn’s story.

It was very exciting to reveal in greater light the beautiful and sound structure of this barn. The corner post in the next photo measures 15-inches wide at the top. The hand-hewn braces create such an engaging aesthetic.

waterford gunstock frame_historic old barn

The barn came with a beautiful horse-drawn dump wagon in it. This buggy is tired, but we look forward to restoring it for display purposes once we get it back to our shop. I love the color!

horse drawn dump wagon in restored barn frame

Making New Friends in the North East Kingdom

While in the area, I had the great opportunity to attend a meeting of the Waterford Historical Society. It was delightful to meet other folks who care deeply about the embedded history of our places and architecture.

This particular meeting was held in a structure that started out as a tavern and inn around 1820, the same time that our gunstock frame was built just a couple miles away.

In the 1880s, a large brick addition was added to expand the living quarters. The property has recently come under new ownership after some time of neglect, and it was exciting to hear about the planned repairs and refurbishing that the space will have coming. What a joy it was to tour this building!

historic waterford home in north east kingdom

Want to know more about these barns?

The GMTF crew dismantled 4 historic barns up in the North East Kingdom and several of them are for sale. For more details, contact us:

Emailluke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com
Tel: 802.774.8972

Barn Raising and Open House this Friday!

It has been a busy start to the summer at Green Mountain Timber Frames! After several weeks of traveling, we are excited to be spending this week at our home base in Middletown Springs erecting two gorgeous vintage barns on the property.
The larger of the barns is a gunstock two story timber frame that dates from the 1790s. The beach posts are beautiful! We set the sills yesterday in the meadow behind our shop.
preparing 1790s timber frame for barn raising in Vermont
This frame will eventually go down to be raised on permanent sills on Long Island once our client has the proper building permits and the site work completed. We are excited to get to enjoy it here in Vermont for a while!
Here is one of the assembled bents- ready to be hoisted!
gable wall from timber frame barn - 16th century
The second frame that is being erected today is the Atwater Corn House. It came from Middletown Springs originally, and we have found some fantastic history on the barn from a book published in 1867. Here is the barn as it stood on its original stone piers:
1790s timber frame barn restored in Vermont
This morning we set the original timber-framed deck up next to our shop.
preparing for barn raising of restored vermont farm house
The bents are assembled, and the frame will be standing by the end of today (Thursday).
raising reclaimed wood from timber frame barn home in Vermont
Read a bit more about this barn for sale!
Timber frame construction has always been about community- friends and neighbors coming together to help one another put up houses and barns. We want to honor that tradition. Please join us for a celebratory open house on Friday, July 12, 5 – 8PM at 430 West Street, Middletown Springs. We will be grilling; bring a dish to share, your beverage of choice, and an instrument to play.
We had so much fun celebrating the last timber frame raising at our shop, and we are looking forward to this celebration as well! We hope to see you there.

1790s timber frame barn and Green Mountain TImber Frames crew

Saving the Barns of Daniels’ Farm: A Journey to the Northeast Kingdom

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waterford gunstock frame_historic old barn

The Green Mountain Timber Frames crew has just returned from week three in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. We are continuing to disassemble 4 old barns on a historic farm. While this past week was not as dramatic as the take-down of the corn crib that was featured in our last blog, we did make incredible progress as well as some discoveries. We even made some new friends in the area.

Removing the siding and roof from a 26×50 barn

One of the largest barns on the property was once a magnificent cow barn. Unfortunately, the posts have rotted to the point that we cannot restore this barn. It is rare for us to turn down a “save and restore” opportunity but in this case, the choice became very clear as we removed the siding and discovered vast rot in the posts.

Here is what we discovered underneath the vertical siding boards:

wood shaving insulation on historic barn

The walls had been packed tight with wood shavings and sawdust. The Daniels Farm, where this barn resides, had a sawmill on the premises at one point in its history. It must have seemed like a good idea to use the shavings for insulation. However, the end result was that the sawdust held moisture and rotted the frame.

Cows living on the inside of the barn created a lot of moisture through their living and breathing. In the cold weather, this warm humid air moved through air gaps in the shavings, hit the cold exterior boards of the barn, and condensed into water. The sawdust acted to hold this moisture.

A sawmill turned…apple-crusher

An interesting fact we learned about the Daniels’ sawmill was that when it came to be apple picking season each year, the workings of the sawmill were converted to power a giant apple crusher. Apparently, the Daniels and their neighbors made a great deal of apple cider when they weren’t busy making sawdust!

Surprise friends at the Daniels’ fawmill

Early in the week, we met some residents of this barn while removing the siding. And oh my goodness, it was cuteness overload!

baby raccoons hiding in historic Vermont old barn

We built a ramp down from the wall cavity where this family of 3 baby raccoons was living and then left the area alone for the rest of the day. I was so worried that we had scared the mother away.  However, at the end of the day as we were getting into the truck to leave, Andy looked back at the barns. To our surprise and relief, we could see the profile of the mother raccoon perched in the peak of the barn. She had never left at all! Thankfully, we saw little footprints at the bottom of the ramp we had built when we returned in the morning. Mother had led them out to a new home.

While this barn is not restorable, it is certainly salvageable. We will use the roof boards, the siding, and many of the sound beams on future restoration projects. We will even use the nails and the metal roofing.

Speaking of roofing…it was quite a project to remove it all on a hot afternoon!

removing metal from roof of waterford barn

Next, we removed the roof boards. They have beautiful patina and will be a perfect match for replacing some of the boards on the other barns on the property that we will be restoring.

GMTF team removing roof boards waterford old barn

Next, we lowered the rafters to the deck.

Green Mountain Timber Frames crew removing half-round rafters

We wrapped up our work on this barn by popping the pegs out of the sound braces and timbers. When we bring in a machine in a couple of weeks, we will be able to hoist the heavy beams safely down to the ground.

We came across an incredible piece of nail artwork while we were pulling the rafter tips apart. Cut nails were used, and some of them were made from fairly soft steel. Isaac discovered this incredible shape:

curled cut nail art_antique nail from historic Vermont barn

The nail had split apart lengthwise as it was hammered into the rafter. One piece of the nail went straight in, and the other curled up to form this beautiful profile!

This unique nail was one of many thousand nails that we have pulled over the past weeks. They range from large to small, and from hand forged to machine-made square nails. While pulling and de-nailing boards, we keep two five gallon buckets on hand: one for the nails that we can re-use, and one for the bad nails and other scraps of metal that we can recycle. We filled many buckets this past week!

buckets of salvaged nails from timber frame projects

We will soak the nails that are in good shape in vinegar, which will loosen the corrosion. A quick cleaning after that, and these old nails will be as good as new.

At GTMF, we are dedicated to preserving the historic architecture of New England. We restore old barns and build timber frame homes. Using nails like these and the wood beams salvaged from barns like the ones on the Daniels’ Farm, we are able to create historic homes built to last for centuries to come.

If you’re interested in learning more about our work, building a timber frame barn or owning your own barn home, contact us.

Disassembling the Waterford Corn Crib

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waterford corn crib barn cabin green mountain timber frames

Last week we began to disassemble the first of four barns that we will be removing from a property in Waterford, Vermont. All have fallen into disrepair, and the property owners have chosen to see us remove and save the old barns rather than have them deteriorate further.

Below is a beautiful photo taken in the late 1800s in front of the group of barns on the historic Daniels Farm:

Daniels Farm family and barn circa 1898

How I would love to know the occasion that led to this photo being taken!

The farm was once a thriving scene, with over 1500 acres in agriculture. Removing this many barns far from our home base is quite an undertaking, so we decided to start with the smallest of the structures.

You can see our early 1800s corn crib in the far left of the next photo, nestled in back of the two larger barns:

Carriage Barn photo from 19th Century Vermont

This fantastic timber frame structure was originally built to dry and store the corn that was grown on the property. Our first clue to this early history was the classic corn crib siding- narrow vertical strips that have gaps between them in order to allow ventilation for the corn stored within.

In the next photo, you can see one of the corners of the building with the siding still in tact.

corn crib siding on the Waterford Corn Crib Green Mountain Timber Frames

We received affirmation of the original purpose for this barn when we looked up at the roof trim. Do you see it?

corn cobs showing through the soffet trim on vintage corn crib green mountain timber frames

Over the frame’s early years, critters were enjoying the nicely dried corn on the cob. It was probably raccoons that dragged corn up into the eves of the building for their evening meal. I am sure they were very grateful for all that good ventilation to keep their corn dry!

Removing the Roof Boards from the Barn Frame

Once we had the barn cleaned out, we began to remove the roof boards, labeling each one so that it can go back to its original home on the hand hewn rafters.

roof boards stripped from 1:2 waterford corn crib

We also labeled all the beautiful siding boards. As is common with many of the old barns that we restore, some of the boards were replaced about one hundred years ago. We were noticing the uniquely strong circle saw marks on these boards when an older neighbor stopped in to chat.

He explained that there was an early water saw just down the hill, and that he had dug up old wooden water pipes in his field that had channeled water to the sawmill. It was so wonderful to hear some of the local knowledge about the story of this farm and the barn!

waterford corn crib gable siding removed green mountain timber frames

Once the roof boards, rafters, and siding had been removed, we set to work popping out the ash pegs that have held the joinery in place for so many decades.

popping the pegs on the Waterford corn crib vintage frame

Here is a view of how tightly the trees have grown up around the unused structure:

waterford corn crib tucked into the woods - green mountain timber frames

Due to disuse, wet ground, and trees growing so close to the barn, the sills have almost disappeared into the ground. We will have some work to do in repairing these post bottoms, but it will be well worth it to give this gem another life-span.

Carpenter Ants Leave Their Mark on the Frame

We received a surprise when we exposed one of the post top tenons. In the first of the photos below, you can see the incredible sculpture that carpenter ants created, much to my chagrin! They have chewed away all but the thinnest of strips- just enough to not collapse their own home. This post will be replaced from our inventory of hand hewn timbers. The second photo shows one of the healthy tenons in the barn. Now that is how a two hundred year old tenon should look!

In the next photo, we are lifting the top plate off of the posts.

removing the top plate on the Waterford corn crib green mountain timber frames

When we return next week, we will lower the bents to the ground, label the posts and ties, and finish cleaning up the site.

This Old Barn Is for Sale!

This 16×20 corn crib, with its full second floor, will make an incredible little cabin or garden shed once we have restored the timbers.

Aside from wanting to start our large project in Waterford with the most manageable of the four barns, there was another important reason to delay the disassembly of the largest- a 32×42 gunstock timber frame. There is a family of Eastern Phoebes nesting under the eve. We learned that, incredibly, it takes only 16 days from when a Phoebe egg hatches till the birds will take flight from the nest! We will make sure they have flown before we begin disassembly of this magnificent barn.

When I stepped into the gunstock barn on Friday, I realized that the phoebes were not our only winged friends making use of the space. This little fellow had flown down from a nest and was taking a rest on a beautiful antique bow saw.

robin fledgling on bow saw in waterford gunstock frame green mountain timber frames

It seems the family of robins is already on the move! Stay tuned for more information on this large gunstock barn that has been home and habitat to so many over the last two hundred years- from farmers to pheobes.

robin fledgling in the Waterford gunstock frame green mountain timber frames

Do you dream of living (or working) in an old barn?

Contact Us!

 

 

An Ode to Farmers: The Incredible Ingenuity of Past Barn Repairs

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Today, Matt and I were visiting barns on behalf of the Green Mountain Timber Frames team. I am constantly amazed by the creative ingenuity of New England’s early farmers. These brave souls were—and are still—truly a backbone of the beautiful and communal aspects of our local New England culture.

An Ode to Farmers

Having grown up on a working dairy farm, I have witnessed the challenges that face farmers on a daily basis. Thinking of my father, my mother, and my grandfather as they strived to keep a farm running, I pondered the necessity for creativity and tenacity when it comes to getting that hay bailer or tractor running when it is desperately needed. I believe the same principle applied to the ways in which early farmers dealt with their timber frame barns.

Today, as we assessed one particular barn, we discovered some very clever repairs made to the frame over the years. We were inside an incredible 32×52 hand hewn timber frame barn that is badly fatigued and in need of help.

vintage timber frame barn home | green mountain timber frames

Unfortunately, the barn abutting this one was in much worse shape, and I felt quite deflated and heartbroken to see it.

collapsed vintage barn | Green mountain timber frames

This collapsed building still has a few vintage boards and timbers that can be salvaged.

But let’s return to the happier prospect of the barn we had come to see.

52-Feet of Chesnut Timbers

It was built very early, and has many American chestnut timbers. The rafters are hewn, and the posts are massive at 11×11 inches. Of the four timbers that span the length of the building, 3 are an incredible 52-feet of continuous hand hewn chestnut, with the fourth having a scarf joint to join two timbers together.

Imagine that: 52 foot American chestnut timbers that were shaped with a broad axe and an adze- and lots of spirit and grit.

Incredibly, one of the bents is a clear-span 32-foot timber truss. This means it was built strong enough to not need any interior posts, allowing the farmer to move a wagon and animals around inside with ease. In the next photo, you can see the two chestnut timbers that create the truss. They are tied together in the middle with a vertical timber, creating a remarkably strong system.

chestnut timber truss vintage barn | Green mountain timber frames

What about the clever repairs?

It seems that at some point in the history of this barn’s use, the lower timber, which measures 11 x 18 inches by 32-feet, developed a split. Matt and I were studying the repair that was done in the past, and we realized that it was made using the metal rim of an old wagon wheel!

giant chestnut timber frame truss Green mountain timber frames

Here is a close-up of the ingenious repair, recycling no doubt a farm implement that’s use had gone by the wayside:

wagon wheel repair to chestnut timber | Green mountain timber frames

We also discovered a wonderful thing for us modern timber framers to see: a likely mistake made by our mentors who lived two hundred years ago. In a way, it is refreshing to see that even those incredible craftspeople from the past occasionally made an error like we sometimes do!

One of the 32-foot timbers did not have a typical tenon. It sure looks like someone cut this timber too short. We have all been there who have cut mortise and tenons time after time. It is a big “whoops” when it involves an 11 x 18 inch by 32-foot American chestnut timber that was cut and hewn by axe and adze!

In the next photo, you can see where a spline was added to the end of the girt, essentially adding back the section that was missing. If you look carefully at the underside of this massive timber, you can see where a 2-inch plank was let in, and then pegged thoroughly.

sprine repair on vintage timber frame chestnut beam | Green mountain timber frames

This ingenious repair reminds me of a saying given to me by a wise builder when I was starting out as a framer:

“The sign of a great carpenter is not whether you make mistakes or not; rather, it is about how creative you can be about fixing your mistakes when they happen!”

I am trying to remember what error I had made as a 22-year-old to earn me that old “chestnut” of wisdom. I don’t remember what it was, but I am grateful for the lesson that was imparted to me that day, and I remember it still. Well, the repair in this barn held up well. Approximately 210 years, and holding strong!

splined repair to chestnut timber frame

Speaking of holding strong, we saw a real example of the strength of a single oak peg, or trunnion, used in the old days to fasten the timber joinery together without the use of nails. As I mentioned earlier, this barn is struggling, and due to a leak in the roof, one of the 32-foot girts that span the building has rotted completely away.

Incredibly, the 12-foot post that used to be supported by that missing timber is still in the air as part of the queen system supporting the rafters. Here it is:

strength of a single peg in vintage barn

It is amazing to me how these well-crafted barns can hold together in spite of serious distress! Just one peg. Hm, that seems like a possible metaphor for what each of us humans can do for holding together the values that we treasure in our communities. I will save that musing for later. But think about it- a single one-inch peg holding up that 12-foot hardwood post. Incredible.

Just a couple miles from this grand old barn, there stands another. Unfortunately, the main structure is beyond restoration. But when I climbed into the icy basement, I was amazed by a support for the barn that was added sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Clearly, the floor system had been sagging, and a clever farmer knew just how to form up a support for the beams.

Once again, a derelict symbol of past farming practice was recycled. Just take a look at this:

creative concrete forms green mountain timber frames

Old wooden barrels, no doubt leaky or just no longer used, were stacked up with the bottoms cut out. After that, it was as simple as pouring in the concrete! The wood of those barrels is long gone, but their “fingerprints” left no doubt how this impressive pier was created.

Here is to all those who have worked creatively to sustain and stabilize these majestic structures from the past, and also to all in our communities who desire to see our cultural farming heritage preserved for the future!

May those of us dedicated to preserving these structures be as creative, industrious, and as dedicated as those who have come before us.

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