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!

Restoring a 30 x 42 Barn Frame – Our Latest Endeavor

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Despite winter’s encroachment here in northern New England, we’ve been hard at work at Green Mountain Timber Frames.

For our most recent project, we have been restoring a beautiful 30×42 foot barn frame from New York state. Built in the 1790s, it is a fine example of a gunstock frame.

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Look at the handsome grain and joinery of this gunstock oak post

What is a gunstock timber frame?

This means that the upper timbers all come together at the same elevation. It is an incredibly strong method of construction.

img_4239 However, there is a drawback to gunstock frames: it can be challenging to install a second floor because the rafters start at the same elevation as the loft. It is not an issue for storing hay, but can be a challenge when designing a bedroom! The team, which includes a restoration architect, our client and ourselves, figured out a way to install a second floor in this particular barn. We used scarf joints to raise the height of each post, which allowed us to create a 20 foot loft area below the height of the upper horizontals.

Technical challenges of assembling this timber frame

It’s a good thing we love a challenge, because with this frame, (unlike most) we couldn’t make all the changes without assembling the frame. Why? Because of the angled “summer beams”-the large timbers that pick up the weight of the floor joists. (We will get to the reason for the splayed summer beams in a bit.) Doing compound joinery on a 220 year old structure is only possible if you erect that section allowing the joinery to be measured and fitted in place.

Creating the second floor

So how did we solve our little technical problem? We began by erecting half the barn frame behind our shop.

erecting-half-a-timber-frame

This timber frame is predominantly white oak, so we wanted to match the original species of wood. We purchased white oak timbers from Ohio since white oak is hard to find in our area these days. Given the long span of these beams, we had to use 10×12 inch timbers. For the new posts, we used 10×10 inch timbers.

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White oak timbers

In order to help the new timber blend in with the old, we used the old method to create an authentic texture: a broad axe and an adze.

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Here’s a shot of Luke, hewing the new oak beams

Next, we created crooked joinery, because the heavy carrying timbers are splayed, rather than the typical perpendicular or right angles to each other. The only way we could be certain the timbers would join together properly and securely was to fit the timbers in place.

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We chopped and chiseled…made templates…and set the 1000 pound timbers in place.

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Chopping

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Chiseling

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Making templates

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Setting thousand pound timbers

This now creates a second floor that did not exist originally!

But why did we have to angle the carrying timbers? 

To maintain the original ladder we tightened up the two posts carrying the heavy floor girts. The ladder rungs will be set in the close pair of 10×10′ white oak posts. We have not placed the rungs between the posts yet.  That was the least of our problems…………

The end wall will have a 12 foot bay window between those posts.  Along with the owner and architect, we wanted the heavy summer beams, combined with the posts, to frame the large bay window in a fascinating way!

So the owner gets his ladder and his bay window and a very unusual design that makes this particular frame restoration much more interesting.

In order to check new joinery on other sections of the frame, as well as to store it safely until spring, we put the whole barn up and applied a temporary roof.

 

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Here’s the 30×42′ frame tipped up with a temporary roof.

 

Next steps in the restoration process

Our next step is to set all the hand hewn floor joists into these heavy carrying timbers using traditional joist pockets. But, for the moment, we have moved on to another outside project. With this structure standing and roofed for the winter, we will have plenty of opportunities to return to this task when it is raining or snowing! In the spring, we will label everything, disassemble, and ship the frame to its final location. It will be ready to stand strong and true for another 220 years.

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Note the incredibly wide original siding boards!

Stay tuned for a story on our next project: a timber-framed porch. We better get going on it, as we received our first heavy snowfall of the year this past week!

Have a blog idea for us?
A pressing question about historic timber framing? Let us know!

(802) 774.8972 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

Spring Cleaning!

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As one of the fist steps in the timber frame barn home restoration process, we power wash all the individual elements of a frame. This includes all the beams, every brace and each board that we are able to save and re-use.

Since winter in Vermont usually means sub-freezing temperatures, the piles of “dirty laundry” tend to pile up, waiting their turn with the washing team. Well, spring is here, and the washers are running!

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Our newest team member, John, washing a thick vintage siding  board.

Think about cleaning your house and the way grime builds up. Now imagine the dirt that collects in the hidden places of a 200 plus year old house or barn! It can be… pretty amazing!

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This 26 foot long top plate has not seen the light of day, or a cleaning, since it was hoisted into place 210 years ago!

Washing beams and boards can be a tedious, wet, and cold task. Yet we also find it very satisfying and even exciting to watch the real patina and natural beauty come forth from underneath the dirt.

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Look at the difference! This American Chestnut timber has received one pass from the power washer on the lower section.

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What a contrast between the washed surface and the dirty one!

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The final product of the cleansing is an amazing color that can not be replicated in new materials.

We do not use any soap in the washing. The water alone is enough to bring out the color. Wood ages as a result of exposure to air and light. While boards exposed to excessive sunlight turn silver, protected wood surfaces take on a beautiful glow.

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It took more than 200 years for this Beech timber to take on its patina.

The Art of Power Washing Old Timber Frames

Washing barn timbers and boards is not just a matter of pointing and shooting the stream of water at the materials. If we let the powerful water get too close to the wood, or if it strikes the surface at the wrong angle, the result is “raised hair” on the surface. Too much power in the spray slightly shreds the grain of the wood, causing the wood fiber to separate slightly on the surface, which can damage the patina and lead to a rough surface. Power washing takes patience. We can’t do too much, yet we must get the surface clean. The distance and angle from sprayer to old board has to be “just right!”

When the timbers and boards are washed, there are still steps to be accomplished. The boards must be dried before they can be stacked or else they will mold. We have to get creative in spreading the boards out to dry! We flip the boards halfway through the drying process. Eventually, we are ready to collect them carefully into piles for storage under cover.

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Vintage boards drying after washing.

The timbers and boards shown in these photos are from the 24 x 26 cape style house that we disassembled this past winter.

Stay tuned as we move towards a full restoration of this wonderful little timber frame! We better get back to work- the pressure washers are calling!

 

A Comparison of Timber Frame v. Stick Built Construction

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This week’s guest blog is from builder and timber framer, Glenn Tarbell. Glenn has collaborated on many projects with Green Mountain Timber Frames over the last two decades.  Recently, he built this beautiful timber frame garage for a client. 

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Why Use Timber Frame Construction?

Recently I had a customer who wanted a new garage. They live in a beautiful wooded area with large oak trees near a wetland. Their house is not large and has a low sloping roofline. The siding is rustic, rough sided pine that is stained. They asked me to build a two bay garage.

Timber Frame v. Stick Built

I inquired if they would be interested in a timber frame garage rather then a traditional stick built garage if the pricing was not considerably higher. They loved the idea of a timber frame and we began the design process. The pricing for a timber frame style building was only slightly higher, so we decided to go with it!

Designing the New Garage 

In the design phase, we talked a lot about the height of the new building. The customer did not want a garage looming over everything. We talked about enclosed and not enclosed bays, power needs, and building materials for the roofing, siding and the timbers. They also needed storage for kayaks and canoes and windows on the south face for garden starts.

We decided that the final building would be a barn-garage. We would create a structure that looked like a barn with an extension for the traditional hay hook or, as we discussed, a canoe hook. The customer had a rope system with a vintage pulley that has already pulled the boats into the upper half story for the winter.

The structure we finally designed has one fully enclosed bay with an overhead door and a shed roof off one side for the second bay. We ultimately choose this look for two reasons: height and looks.

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Building the Barn – The Construction Process

When it came time to start building the garage, we chose hemlock wood for the frame. This is a ridged softwood that works well for timber frames. We cut the joinery traditionally using chisel, saw and chain mortiser. Then, we dry fitted all the parts of the frame at my shop. Seeing the mortise and tenons fit together and then seeing the bent sections laid on the sawhorses was wonderful. Dry fitting the frame gives a sense of what the building will become, while also allowing for us to check for accuracy in layout.

2_All the bents are up

Here we are drilling 1-inch holes for the wooden pegs.

The barn posts are six by six, the girts are eight by eight, the rafters are four by four and the braces are three by six. As a big pile of wood it does not look like much, even with the joinery cut. But on raising day, wow, it takes on a look of its own.

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Here you can see all the bents assembled and the frame with shed walls erected.

And here’s a look at the new garage once the roof sheathing and trim were on:

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Pricing Timber Frame v. Stick Built Construction

When pricing this kind of project and determining the cost difference between timber frame and stick built construction, I have to look at the two styles of building with the thought, “What steps will be different?” Siding will be applied in the same manner in both building styles, as will trim, roofing and sheathing. The only real difference then, is the framing.

It took nine days to cut out the timber frame and tip it up, including roof sheathing.

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The frame with all the 4×4 rafters in place.

To build a traditional stick built garage with roof sheathing, it may take seven to eight days to get to the same point. Therefore, the difference in this project was two days of labor.

Timber Framing – A Worthwhile Investment

In the end I think timber frame construction makes more sense both financially and aesthetically. Even if it takes a bit longer and requires a slightly larger initial investment, (usually 15-20% more) a new timber frame is strong. Barns built this way have lasted hundreds of years.

Standing in a timber frame feels good. You can see the craftsmanship of the builder and know that the history of barns and houses built this way dates back hundreds of years. So whether you build a new timber garage or use a vintage timber frame barn as the frame for a garage, from my experience timber framing is usually the way to go. It’s cost effective and the building can last for centuries if the roof is maintained.

Interested in your own timber frame barn or home? Let us know!

We’d be glad to hear from you! 

Luke – Green Mountain Timber Frames
luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com
802.774.8972

Geometry in Historical Frames – a guest blog

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This week’s guest blog is from architect and historian Jane Griswold Radocchia. You can learn more about her work in her personal blog. She writes here about her encounter with one of Dan McKeen’s barn restoration projects and how she could determine that the builder of this 1791 barn used geometry to build the original frame. 

“I invited myself to a Green Mountain Timber Frames barn dismantling earlier this fall. Of course I was glad I went.

Here’s what I saw:

Three historic barns from Hartford, NYThe three barns sat, connected in an L shape beside the road on the uphill slope of a valley. None of them faced the road, on their west and windy, side. Instead they faced south and east, creating a protected barnyard, a sun pocket. In the middle, protected from storms and wind, was the corn crib. Other farm buildings repeated the pattern, facing south, no doors on the west.

Hartford NY Historic timber frame corn crib

Hartford NY Corn Crib

The main barn also had a door on the north, directly across from the one facing south. It fronted on the farm road and looked at the house across the way. Two doors across from each other were for threshing and ventilation; a north-facing door was for bringing in hay and grain on the shady side of the barn in summer.

North side view of historic timber frame

North side view of timber frame

North side view of timber frameHow could I tell that geometry was used in building this frame?

After we had climbed up to the rafters, Dan McKeen handed me prints of the frame measured and drawn up by James Platteter. James Platteter is a master furniture maker and Dan was lucky enough to work with him on this project and have him dedicate his time to drawing up the detailed plans. (Do take a look at Jim’s beautiful work on his website.)

To have a sense of the building, I checked some of the dimensions. The framer really did make his barn 30’- 1” wide!  He also made it 42’-6” long. The diagonal of a 30’ x 30’ square will be 42‘-6” long. The shape of the floor for the barn is based on √2.

Both that extra inch and the √ are indications that the master-carpenter for this barn used geometry to determine its size and framing.

The carpenter had a pretty good rule! Over 30′ and his rule was only off by 1”. But how did he share his dimensions with apprentices if their rules differed from his?

He used geometry!
Geometry is a language, one most of us haven’t mastered. Our ancestors spoke (drew!) it well and used it for construction.

How did the farmer build his barn?

He probably hired a timber framer, a master builder. The framer knew about how big his barn should be and how it would be used. He began his design with a square with 30′ sides. This initial measurement of 30′ set the foundation for all the measurements of the barn.

How?

One side of the square would become the width of the barn. Then, the builder crossed the square with its diagonals – corner to corner – and swung his compass, extending the diagonal to meet the side of the square. The length of the diagonal became the length of the barn.geometric drawing of timber frame barn

square geometric corners of timber frameAbove, is the floor plan of the barn: 30′ wide, 42′-6” long.

The new rectangle on the end of the square was also a good height for the wall of the barn. So the framer drew a square on each corner. Using the diagonals for those squares he swung an arc to locate the ridge. You can see the squares and the diagonal in the diagram below.

Ridge location in timber frame barnThe framer may have used the barn floor for his layout just as carpenters today use the floor of a house to lay out rafters for the roof above. If so, it would have looked like this:

floor for raftersHere is the drawing of the end elevation showing that layout.

North gable end view of barnThe red x on the right is the original square. The dashed line is the arc locating the ridge. To locate the second intermediate post the framer used the side of the square, the height of his wall, as an arc.

Diagonal determines placement of the braceWhere it crosses the diagonal, he placed the post.

diagonal post placementThe north and south walls used the same geometry. The right end was laid out as was the end wall. The space for the door was a square. The left side was divided in half, as marked below by the diagonals. I enjoy finding that the braces followed the line of the diagonals. The barn door height was determined by the point where the arcs cross.

Final drawing of timber frame historic geometryThe east wall used the same geometry – first the square at its diagonal marking the right hand intermediate post; then the remaining space divided in half.

east wall timber frame geometry

The framer applied this same geometry as he laid out the roof, the braces and collar ties. The whole barn evolved from his first length: 30’-1”.

I look at this: so simple, so sophisticated. I am amazed! The geometry is there, but we have forgotten it. It is so beautiful!.

I will follow Green Mountain Timber Frames as they dismantle other pre-1800 barns and house frames for more confirmation of how early timber framers used geometry in structural design.”