Restoration of the Roof System on a Corn Crib

Featured

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

IMG_2620

Rafter tails with swoops on the Pawlet Corn Crib

Behind the Scenes: How do you restore old wood?

Today I want to share a bit about the “behind the scenes” work that goes into restoring historic properties. I am going to share the process we use to restore 240-year-old roof boards on a barn from 1774. And while I recognize that the technical sides of my work may be less fascinating to some of my readers, I do know that there are a few of you out there who are interested in learning about the nitty-gritty details of timber framing.

So how does one restore 240-year-old wood?

Restoring old timber frames and turning them into new custom barn homes is a multi-layered task with many steps along the way. A significant part of the work is spent carefully refreshing each piece of timber, from the siding to the roof boards.

As I walk you through the process step by step, I’ll show pictures from the 1774 barn roof boards we recently restored. Most barns we restore have slate roofs, but slate was only discovered in Vermont in 1834. This barn was originally roofed with local white cedar shingles as its first roof. Sixty years later they added a slate roof.

The first step in this project was to remove the slate shingles from the frame. We then created a temporary roof to protect the antique beechwood beams during the renovation process. In the photo below, we had already removed the slate over the winter months and covered the roof with a piece of strong black plastic to protect against the spring rains. This also helps keep the frame in good condition until we could officially start the dismantling process.

1774 Barn with slate roof shingles removed

1774 Barn with slate roof shingles removed

We then carefully removed each roof board. During this removal process it’s important to label the boards, using a system that is clear to everyone working on the project. After restoring the beams, the labeling system will help us as we reassemble the hand hewn frame and return each board to its original location in the post and beam structure.

Label vintage roof boards

Notice labeling on unwashed roof boards

Once we dismantled all of the boards and timbers, we loaded them onto a trailer transporting them to back to our shop in Middletown Springs, Vermont where we spent several weeks restoring the timber frame.

Transporting boards on trailer

Loading the boards on to a trailer

Back at my shop, we unloaded the trailer and carefully scanned each roof board for old nails. We removed all of the wooden shingle nails that we found in the wide roof boards, knocking out about 100 nails per board which is typical in pre-1800 timber frames.

Scanning the timber beams for wooden shingle nails.

Scanning the roof boards for nails.

The next stage was to wash the boards. In this project, we had a washing party to remove 240 years of Vermont life. As we washed the wood, it was fun to imagine all that has taken place beneath these boards and beams during their long watch – from Ethan and Ira Allen sleeping underneath the boards (or at least their horses!), to wheat thrashing, to generations of families tending animals and storing hay for over two centuries…

Washing vintage wood boards

Washing vintage boards

Washing old timber boards

After we thoroughly washed the boards, we left them out to dry for two sunny days.  Sometimes it can be a challenge to find two sunny days in New England!

Flip boards for dryingWe flipped and turned each board to ensure they were completely dry.

Drying vintage timber boards for restorationIn this final picture, you can see the results. Two hundred and forty-year old wood – restored for our future.

Restored wood from colonial time

A roof board first cut 240 years ago, restored. It’s amazing to think about. I stare at the 250 rings of growth and realize that these boards were ‘born’ nearly 500 years ago. Early timber framers in Vermont (1750 to 1800) had the luxury of being able to use the finest of materials – first cut trees, grown strong over centuries. Trees in New England had never been cut for lumber before.

In this restoration project, as with other barns we have restored from this time period, the wide pine roof boards were made from first cut timber. You can recognize this  beautiful wood from the tight bands of growth rings, showing slow, strong growth. In addition to strength, the aging process over 240 years give the boards a color that can’t be duplicated. Now the boards are restored and ready to shed water again.

I hope, as with each of our projects, that the future owners will maintain these structures. When this frame is re-erected, with all timber and boards restored, it will allow us to have a glimpse into the past. After the raising, we can imagine how proud these builders must have felt to erect such a fine barn. (And of course they did it without the help of power tools and cranes.) We are honored to restore their work which can now stand for centuries to come.

Want to come see some of the timber frames at our shop in Middletown Springs? Please let us know!