Restoration of an 1806 Barn

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Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we are delighted to have a new member on our framing crew! Matt Peschl is not a new face or a new friend, as he worked with us for key projects over the past 12 years. But now, Matt has officially joined us on a full-time basis and we could not be happier about it!

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Reminiscing About a 2011 Barn Restoration

Luke and Matt worked together on a project in 2011 and we’d like to take this opportunity to share it with you. The repairs were done on a small barn on a beautiful property here in our hometown of Middletown Springs, Vermont. The homestead dates from before 1800 and we believe the barn that we worked on was built in 1806.

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We repaired the red barn, which sits nestled under the mountain among a collection of vintage barns and corn cribs

The barn had two main structural issues: rotten sills and a rotten upper beam called a top plate that supports the rafter bottoms. We decided to start from the ground up.

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The sills were tired from sitting directly on stone for 205 years

We began by using hydraulic jacks to strategically lift the barn up off of the stone foundation. This allowed us access to the sills where they needed work. In our restorations, we use vintage materials for replacement parts whenever possible.

The next photo shows Luke using a chain mortiser to begin cutting to splice in a new piece.

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The beginnings of a scarf joint

With the weight of the barn held up on jacks, we were able to cut joinery on a new sill piece and fit it together with the still sound original section of sill.

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Here we have used an English scarf joint to add in a new section of sill

One eve wall of the barn was close to grade and the sill was entirely rotten. For this wall, we chose to use Locust wood for the sill replacement.

Locust grows locally and is a remarkable species. As a kid growing up on a Vermont farm, I had the opportunity to work with locust for a long time- at times more cheerfully than others! My father, siblings and I cut many locust fence posts from the woods. We would drive the locust directly into the ground and, because of the nature of the wood, it would last many years even when underground.

In fact, I have stumbled across old, grayed locust fence posts deep in Vermont woods. The old fence posts tell the story of much of Vermont’s land being cleared of forest during the 1800s. Now, the forest land is expanding to take up a larger portion of the state. Locust posts, as well as stone walls, stand sentry in parts of our current woodland to tell the tale and transitions of our farming history.

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We copied the joinery from the original sills before installing the new timber

Once we had the barn set back down on repaired sills and had rebuilt the stone foundation, we took a look at the second major issue. What we found was some serious rot caused by a leaky roof at some point in the past. The first roof had been cedar shakes, later replaced by slate.

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Folks, we have an issue!

In order to repair the top plate, we first set up a system to jack up and hold the rafters in order to free up space for our repair.

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The rafters are supported and we have cut out the rotten section of beam

We used an English scarf joint to make the top plate repair. When we need to replace a section in a barn, we use vintage materials from our inventory in order to get a matching color, tone and hue.

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The top plate is repaired and ready to support the roof for another 200 years

Next, we replaced the siding windows and trim on the barn.

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It is a great joy to have Matt on the team again. He joins us with a great amount of experience, both in timber framing and in every phase of construction. Most importantly, we really enjoy his company!

Do you have a vintage barn of your own that needs repairs?
Give us a call at (802) 774-8972.

Want to read about another timber frame project? How about the time we built a timber frame gazebo!

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Dutch Cape House from c. 1800

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Spacious Second Floor

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

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

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

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Here you can see braces strengthening the structure.

The Ingenious Basement

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

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

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

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

Interested in this timber frame or another historic property?

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

 

North Hero Barn Restoration: Before and After

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

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

Removing Roof of timber frame barn home

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

A New Beginning – Near The Frame’s Origins

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

Understanding the Restoration Process

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

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

Ever Dreamed of Living IN History?

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

 

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

Green Mountain Timber Frames - Contact Us

Timber Frame Labeling – The Pragmatics and Beauty

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What is in a label?

When it comes to timber framing – a great deal!

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

Roman Numeral Labeling in Timber Framing_Vermont_Green Mountain Timber Frames_4

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

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

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

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

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

Roman Numeral Labeling in Timber Framing_Vermont_Green Mountain Timber Frames_4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exterior mid post on Gambrel Barn Frame_Green Mountain Timber Frames

Someone took artistic care with this inscription!

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

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

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

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

Labeling system for post and beam historic barns_green mountain timber frames

This builder used much smaller labels and a different marking

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

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

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

Have you seen labels on pieces of your house? 

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


 

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

 

Restoration of a Hand Hewn Pine Barn Frame, c. 1840

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Welcome to the heart of spring in Vermont!

Last week in Pomfret, Vermont, beneath a canopy of new leaves and apple blossoms, we tipped up another beautiful timber frame barn.  Below, you can see the barn as it originally stood in Benson, Vermont.

Old Barn home_Original LocationThis hand hewn frame, made of pine timbers, stood 21 feet wide x 30 feet long and was originally a meadow barn, built in the 1840s. We took it down a few years ago, restored the structure and erected it at our workshop. We used it to store materials until recently, when it was chosen to fit the needs of a new owner.

The goal of this barn restoration project is to erect the restored frame and finish the exterior and interior walls with seasoned barn boards. The owners want this “new” barn to look as if it has called the Pomfret site its home for at least 100 years.

It’s no easy task to restore a timber frame, but the work is exciting and rewarding. This past week, the crew of seven experienced timber framers made good progress each day, intent on creating “visual drama” for the new owner, and getting the job done.

Step 1: Dismantling the Old Frame

Here we are dismantling the previously restored frame to re-erect it in Pomfret.

Dismantling of timber frame barnOnce the frame was dismantled, we loaded it for transport to its new location in Pomfret.

Step 2: Re-erecting the Frame

3pm_historic timber frame from 19th century

We were able to put the 175 year old beams back together in our first day’s work.

Step 3: Putting up the Roof System

The next step was to put up the roof system and roof boards. Since this frame stands 25 feet tall, we had to install a temporary work platform to reach the roof peak.

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Setting up the roof system

From our safe perch on the temporary floor, we carefully set the roof rafters and applied the roof boards.

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Restored barn frame with roof boards applied

Step 4: Putting on the Red Roof!

The next step was to put on a recycled red roof. For this project, we took the roofing from another barn project we also have in progress.  I love it when we are able to salvage old wood or materials from one job and use them on another. One person’s trash is indeed another person’s treasure in my line of work.

Below is our third day of progress.

newly applied red roof historic wooden beamsRestored barn home with red roofStep 4: Applying Exterior Siding

On the fourth day of our efforts, we started applying the vintage siding. We’ll show the finished product in our next blog. Stay tuned!

Pomfret restored barn frame with siding———————–

Every dreamed of living in a centuries old barn? Want to save a piece of New England history? Let me know!  I’d love to hear from you!
— Dan McKeen

The Prohibition Barn, and Other Tales From the Northern Islands

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Today’s blog is written by a guest blogger and master carpenter, Luke Larson.

The 1780s Prohibition Barn

“My grandfather went to jail because of this barn.”

I was standing in the spacious interior of a beautiful and well-kept barn dating from the 1780s. “Is that so?” I asked, and the gentleman continued his story.

Prohibition Barn Home Vermont

We were on the Lake Champlain island of North Hero, only about fifteen miles from the Canadian border with Vermont. I was there to look at the barn because the owner is considering selling it. I leaned against a twelve foot beauty of a hewn pine post as the story continued…

Map of North Hero Island Lake Champlain

Map of North Hero Island – Lake Champlain

Prohibition lasted in the United States from 1920 until 1933. The manufacture and sale of alcohol was prohibited, which gave rise to a healthy black market with whiskey runners smuggling alcohol south from Canada. As the story goes, friends of the barn owner were involved in this trade and the authorities were hot on their tail. They sped a car full of liquor into the wide eve door of the barn and quickly threw hay down from the loft to conceal the vehicle and its clandestine contents. Unfortunately for my friend’s family, the cops discovered the car under the hay and the owner of the barn (this man’s grandfather) spent time in prison.

But year’s later the barn still stands, remembering those decades ago when it was used to smuggle liquor to Vermonters thirsting for the hard stuff!

Below is an interior photo of the Prohibition Barn. This would make an incredible loft living space!

Loft Living Space Potential

Imagine the hay being hurriedly cast down from this loft to cover the contraband almost 100 years ago!

The Prohibition Barn was the second barn I was to visit on the island. The first barn, on my trip up north, was the Hero Barn and the two barns had a lot in common.

Both barns date from the time of the heroes for whom the Island was named: Green Mountain Boys, Ethan Allen and Ira Allen, among others. Incredibly, both barns are twenty-six feet wide by thirty-six feet long, and both have hand hewn chestnut braces. While it was common in that era to build barns with hand hewn vertical and horizontal timbers, I have come across only one other barn in my work where even the diagonal braces were hewn. It is a good clue as to the very early construction of these barns, and makes me wonder if both might have had the same builder.

The Hero Barn  – A Gunstock Timber Frame

I love the stories that barns can tell, and all the history engraved in them. The gunstock Hero Barn, a few miles south from the Prohibition Barn, has the skeleton of a very early log cabin just feet from the barn. As settlers moved north, they would have quickly erected a structure to live in while constructing the rest of the buildings.

It was the middle of December as a great crew and I carefully disassembled this barn frame, and I quickly understood why the original dwelling was only feet from the animal barn with a covered passage between the two! Oh, the wind it was a blowin’!

Here is a photo of the collapsed log house, with the barn behind it.

Collapsed log house right next to the barn home This Hero Barn, which I now have in stock, is a gunstock frame made with oak and American chestnut. The term “gunstock” refers to the solid oak posts which flare at the top, providing more strong wood for joinery.

This barn has a ridge beam, which is a thirty six foot American chestnut beam in perfect condition.

Notice how the gable rafters are braced to the ridge beam.

This barn has a ridge beam, which is a thirty six foot American chestnut beam in perfect condition. Notice how the gable rafters are braced to the ridge.Below is a classic “signature” of the builders, a daisy wheel displayed top center on the roof boards. Elsewhere on this blog, you can read about the purposes of these daisy wheels. Notice that you can see the original cedar roof through the gap between the boards. The cedar was later covered with metal roofing.

Signature of timber frame builders etched in restored woodHere are a few photos of the process of taking down the Hero Barn:

Historic Barn removal photoRemoving Roof of timber frame barn homeThe photo below shows the gunstock posts and strong chestnut girts. The far post in the photo has rot on the top. I have now acquired another hewn oak gunstock post which I will use for the repair.

Historic New england barn frame for restoration

Collar tie on a gable rafter pair.  High quality joineryBelow is the weathered but strong collar tie on a gable rafter pair. The quality of joinery on this barn speaks to me of heroes perhaps less well known than the Allen boys, who put such quality craftsmanship into these two barns on the island.

High quality joineryAfter careful washing and restoration, this barn will be ready to tell its stories to a new family, and even begin to absorb new tales into its weathered and long history.

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A tremendous thanks to Luke of Larson Carpentry for sharing this with us!
Contact Green Mountain Timber Frames if you are interested in learning more about either the Prohibition Barn Frame or the Hero Barn!
E: Luke@greenmountaintimberframes.com
P: 802.774.8972

You can read another guest post from Luke when he shared with us the details of a Gambrel barn home in Danby, Vermont. 

Coming soon! Renovations on the Gambrel House in Rutland County, VT

Back in May, I wrote about a timber frame house, built in the 1800s. It has a gambrel roof, easily identified by the double slope on each side of the roof.

I’ll be writing more about this post and beam home in the coming weeks – so stay tuned!

Gambrel Roof Timber Frame

Available Historic Barn for Sale – from 1800s

In the meantime, if you are interested in this historic timber frame – or another frame we have in stock – please do let me know!