Kestrel in the Barn!

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

timber frame barn for sale

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.

timber frame barn_Vermont

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:

kestrel-house-in-a-vintage-barn-garage-green-mountain-timber-frames.png

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?

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Roofing Material: A Weighty Decision!

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I remember one time as a kid when a great-uncle told me about the historic New England turkey drives. As I listened open-mouthed, he told me that New England farmers of the 1800s used to join up in the fall to collectively bring all the turkeys they had raised down to Boston. It was before the days of the interstate and refrigerated trucks, and as he recounted, they would shepherd thousands of turkeys across the countryside over a number of days.

vermont-wild-turkeys

The turkeys would collectively roost on the ridges of country barns every night. “And that, my friend, is why so many Vermont barns have big sags in the ridge line – it was the weight of all those fat turkeys on their way to market!”

To this day I am not totally sure if he was pulling my leg completely about the “historic turkey drives,” but one thing is for sure: there are indeed many historic barns with saggy roofs. In our voyages around New England viewing barns, we very often find sway-backs. That is, buildings where the roof has sagged dramatically under the weight of slate.

The history of our slate industry

Green Mountain Timber Frames has its base of operation right on the edge of a slate valley and it is fascinating to think about the interplay of geography, geology and population movements as it relates to this industry. Slate first gained attention in our area around 1834. The first known barn to receive a slate roof in our area was in 1848. By the end of the 1800s, the slate industry in our valley was booming, bringing in groups of skilled quarry workers from Wales, Czechoslovakia, Poland and many other parts of the world where people had experience with slate.

Before this, our barns were roofed using hand-split cedar shakes.

handsplit-shingles-or-shakes_historic-roofing

Hand split shakes – image courtesy of http://www.nps.gov

Builders would cut cedar logs into 30 to 36 inch lengths and then split them into shingles using a tool called a froe. In some places where there were not readily available streams for early water powered sawmills, builders would forego roof boards completely. Instead, they would heavily brace the rafter system to make it ridged, and then would install strips of wood called purlins spaced up to 36 inches apart. They would then apply long hand-split cedar shakes directly to the purlins.

From cedar to slate

Cedar is a natural, light, and wonderful roofing. Like the planking on an old wooden boat, it would have large gaps when dry. As soon as the first rain drops soaked in however, the cedar would swell and shed the water beautifully!  However, cedar roofs last only a few decades. As the cedar started to fatigue on our earliest barns, farmers began to replace it with slate. What could be better than a local product that will last as roofing for 200 years? What farmer really has the time to replace cedar every few decades?

There was just one little problem…cedar shakes weigh about 400 pounds per 100 square feet. Slate, on the other hand, weighs as much as 1,000 pounds on that same roof surface! On a typical 30 x 40 barn, this means that the new roof weighed as much as 9 or 10 tons. For a barn designed for a lightweight roof, trouble came a-visiting, especially when the heavy Vermont snows also piled high on top of the slate.

before-and-after-barn-transformation

How does geography fit into this?

Here at GMTF, we have recently viewed a number of barns in northern Vermont. These structures were far from the slate quarries and were thus more likely to receive roof makeovers with multiple generations of cedar, followed by lightweight metal roofs (once that industry came into full swing.) We find that, unlike with slate, many more of these northern barns survived with roof-lines in tact.

How do we restore these barns?

There are several building techniques that we use to rehab a barn that was built for cedar rather than our modern heavier insulated roofs.

We find that the old barns with ridge beams faired much better over the past couple of centuries.

1790-barn-with-5-sided-ridge-beam

This 1790s frame received slate mid-life, yet look how straight the roofline remained because of the 5-sided ridge beam!

To further strengthen a ridge beam roof system, we sometimes add vertical posts going from heavy timbers to the ridge beam. This transfers the weight straight down and minimizes the outward thrusting forces that otherwise can push the eve walls out.

historic-timber-frame-barn_green-mountain-timber-frames

In this historic barn, there are posts going up to the ridge beam to further strengthen the structure.

 

As builders became aware of the weight issue, they often added a “queen system.” This is a structural system that picks up the weight of the rafters at mid-span and transfers this weight down to the heavy girt timbers and posts. On many of our oldest barns, we use vintage timbers to create this type of a system.

barn-featuring-queen-system-as-rafter-support_green-mountain-timber-frames

This  “queen system” helps to support the rafters.

queen-system-for-rafters-with-vertical-posts_green-mountain-timber-frames

Queen systems come in many shapes. This one uses vertical posts rather than angled.

Another method we use to beef up the rafter system is to add collar ties to the rafters. These horizontal timbers create a triangle within each pair of rafters, which is one of the strongest geometrical shapes in nature.

collar-ties-on-north-hero-vermont-barn

We installed these old-new collar ties to help stiffed the roof on this North Hero, VT frame.

How can we repair slate fatigue in place? 

On a recent project, we were asked to help prepare the structure of an 1860s house for a new roof. The builders had sized their rafters for a light roof and then installed slate. The sag was tremendous. We did not want to disturb the original plaster of the ceilings beneath the rafter system. Our solution, after the slate was removed, included first adding collar ties in the attic.

new-collar-ties-to-strengthen-rafter-system-in-old-vermont-barn

New collar ties stiffen these old, undersized rafters.

Next, we screwed 2 x 4 rippings over the top of the existing rafters and snapped straight chalk lines.

img_4006

We used a string with chalk on it to snap a straight line

Here is how it looked after we used this technique on all the rafters:

curved-shims-on-new-roof-system_green-mountain-timber-frames

Making all these curved shims made us consider going into the wooden boat building trade!

Next, we put new plywood over the whole roof and it was ready for roofing!

new-plywood-roofing-on-vermont-frame_green-mountain-timber-frames

Ready, set, and on goes a new roof!

Restored slate roof by Green Mountain Timber Frames

The finished project has a much flatter and straighter roof.

Conclusion

It is so interesting, as we travel around New England looking at barns, to imagine the various economic, geographical and sociological forces that all played a role in barn designs! We are grateful to have learned from the craftsman of the past who figured out how to properly build roof structures to withstand the various forces that material and weather throw at them.


Want to live in your very own historic barn?
Let us know!

802.774.8972 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

  • To learn more about the fascinating history of slate, check out the fantastic Slate Valley Museum in Granville, NY.

The Bitter-Sweet of Mud Season Barn Restoration

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Mud Season – the bitter/sweet time of year.

While the temperatures have at long last inched their way above the zero mark, here in rural Vermont the ground is still solid. Timber framing in the famous mud of New England’s spring beats the challenge of working in snow squalls and sub-zero temps, but it’s still not for the faint of heart!

Sure, our winter coats and work gloves have been shed but now we must muddle through our work area.

Mud Season in Vermont Building restored barn homes

Proof that mud season has arrived

As more snow melts, the damp ground slowly releases the grip of winter, churning out a soft, murky surface under our feet that you can sink into up to the ankles.

Construction continues nonetheless, so we throw down a carpet of hay to make the work area easier to traverse. Timber Framing in the Mud Vermont

There is, of course, a wonderful silver lining. Not only is old man winter behind us, but best of all, mud season means the maple sap is flowing! Cold nights and warm days bring the sweetness of spring.

Sugar house in maple season_Stacy Birch Photography

Sugar house in maple season – Photo by Stacy Birch

Going – Going – Going … Gone!

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How do you dismantle a timber frame for restoration?
Here’s an overview of the process: 

Going… Before barn restoration_Vermont barn home Going… Historic timber frame in vermont Going… Dismantling timber frame for restoration and preservation GONE! fomer site of historic barn home Thanks to all of your help and support, this timber frame from Tinmouth, VT is now being restored at the Green Mountain Timber Frames workshop in Middletown Springs.

After carefully skinned the old timbered house, we took it apart, timber by timber, making sure to label meticulously along the way. Over the next two months, we will professionally restore the timbers, before reassembling the frame in New York. Look forward to the results in late summer, when we re-erect these historic beams for another 235 years! In the mean time, we hope you will stay tuned with our blog!

Saved! Historic Timber Frame Barn Home Finds New Owner

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here!

A few weeks back we wrote about this beautiful colonial American barn home that was
about to be destroyed.

Side view of historic house

Now, just two months later, I am pleased to share the great news that we have found a new owner for the Hod Hepburn house.

It’s hard to describe how grateful I am – how thrilling it is to know that there are others out there who share my passion for history and who are willing to invest in saving these beautiful pieces of America’s past.

If it wasn’t for the power of modern technology, and the wide reach of this very blog, I am certain that this house, built originally in 1780, would now be nothing more than rubble.

The house was built originally in Tinmouth VT but will be reassembled and restored in New York.

Tinmouth Vermont Old Barn Frame

Despite the cold weather and many feet of snow, we are already moving forward on dismantling the frame. The first step is to clean out the centuries of dirt, dust and artifacts from the large barn home. Here’s a glimpse of what the interior looked like before we got started:

Interior of barn frame

PreMucking out of timber frame barn

We’ve spent the last week cleaning up the house and opening up the plastered walls. This before and after shot will give you a good sense of what I mean:

Before and After Clean Up of Barn

Below you can see the rear view, before and after. Try to ignore the tar paper and note the post medieval roof system!

Before and after timber frame dismantling and restoration

Once “muck-out” is complete, we will move on to labeling all of the timbers and carefully removing them. We will restore each of the hand hewn beams at our local workshop. From there, we will ship the frame off to New York where we will reassemble the restored frame.

Below are some videos of the inside of the house. In this first one, we take a walk through the rooms of the home and see all of the treasures left behind from decades ago. There’s also an unusual, small stairway:

In this video, you can see the second floor, post-dismantling:

Check out the clip below to see how the attic looked before dismantling began.

And here’s the spectacular view from the roof, sans roof boards.

Thank you again for helping us save this post and beam house!

Know of another barn in need of saving? Looking for your own historic barn to call home? Contact us! We’d love to help.

Timber Framing: Captured on Video!

Green Mountain Timber Frames is now of video!

But before I show you the video, let’s take a look at this before and after shot.
Antique Timber frame before afterYou may remember back in 2013 when I wrote a few times about the timber frame we had restored and erected up at Sissy’s Kitchen in Middletown Springs. A gunstock timber frame, it was built over 250 years ago.

For this project, we erected the restored frame with help of the one and only Vermont Jeepgirl (otherwise known as Crane Operator extraordinaire, Sue Miller.) Luckily for us, she made a video recording of the raising day!

Hats off to Sue for capturing our madness!

Vermont Crane Operator_Vermont Jeep Girl

Vermont Jeepgirl Sue Miller

It was a great crew that worked on this frame. Here we are, standing proud in front of the restored timbers.

Construction experts from Green Mountain Timber Frames

Construction crew from Green Mountain Timber Frames

This frame – even before it became a new storage barn – saw a lot of good times! For a couple months, the erected frame stood on the beautiful lawn behind Sissy’s Kitchen in Middletown Springs, Vermont.

Test Barn Raising of Timber Frame Barn Home

Test Barn Raising of Timber Frame Barn Home at Sissy’s Kitchen

While we waited for the right buyer, the frame housed many a dinner party and afternoon tea, just around the corner from the workshop of Green Mountain Timber Frames.

Summer evening party at Sissy's under antique post and beam frame

Summer evening party at Sissy’s under post and beam frame

I want to send out a huge thank you again to Sissy for letting us have all this fun, right in her yard!

Timber framer Dan McKeen and Sissy in Vermont

Have more timber frame projects worth capturing on video? Let us know! We would like to hear from you!

Backyard Barn

We spent a few days at the end of this summer putting up a reclaimed barn at the back of my property for my daughter and her husband. We enjoyed beautiful late summer days and with a small crew of 7 people, we were able to re-erect the restored barn in a day.

timber frame roof and joineryMany hands make light work!

crew of timber frame barnIt’s nice to be able to use my skill to help my family out – and of course there is nothing like having my grown kids nearby! On this project, I was also able to use some of the leftover timber and reclaimed wood from other projects. A great recycling project all and all, and one that makes for an eclectic, one-of-a-kind, beauty of a barn.

This barn comes from a two part structure from a farm in New York state. The oldest section was from the 1840s and has been sold to a customer. The barn in this blog was probably added on to the 1840 barn in the 1900s and was not finished with traditional joinery. As a historic piece it has little value, but the timbers are strong and sturdy and I knew it would make a fine shelter for the kids’ farm equipment and hay.

Original new england barn

The original barn under black plastic, circa 1840s. Addition probably 1900, being dismantled.

We dismantled the newer barn first and restored it with traditional joinery. (That means that we let in the bracing and tie timbers with mortise and tenon joinery, instead of just nailing things together.) While this takes a bit more time than using a hammer and nails, it gives the barn a much more authentic, historical and structural look.

Here we are putting up a bent (or side wall).

installing side wall of barnHere the 2×4 roof purlins are being applied. post and beam barn

The recycled metal roof was screwed to the 2x4s.

Restored barn with roof boards

The next step was to build a second floor which you can see (from below) in the next picture.

floor joists are half roundsWe used a mixture of common 2x6s doubled up and half round timbers to create the floor joist system. The flooring is 2 inch planking.

We’ve started the siding by using some newer recycled boards. We will have to cut three feet off the top to find the second floor, but it is doing the job for now. The remainder will be finished with older boards.

Reclaimed wood siding on timber frame barnWe will also be attaching a shed roof to this wall in time. In the picture above, notice the future shed wall sill and top plate timbers in front of the tractor.

The ground level of the barn is for storing mowing equipment while the second floor is for storing hay. As you can see below – it’s already in use!

second floor of hay barn in useWhile the barn is highly functional and my son-in-law is pleased, this barn is still a work in progress. As we gather more siding from other jobs, we plan to wrap the frame entirely with siding that doesn’t make the grade for our paying customers.

Here’s how the frame looks today. We should have all the siding on by Thanksgiving.

recycled siding for timber frame walls

Interested in having your own barn home or backyard barn? Let us know!