“Did a Farmer Build This Barn?”

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Since we inspect dozens of barns every year, and because we’ve got lots of barns for sale, we often receive this question. In the 18th century, who, exactly, was it that was crafting these beautiful structures that required such skill and attention to geometry, math, fine woodworking skills, and practicality?1790-barn-with-5-sided-ridge-beam

At times, we have heard the question asked in a mildly derisive manner, as if it was built by farmers rather than carpenters. At other times, we are asked in a tone of reverence for the broad spectrum of skills required and the appreciation of raw materials, motivation, communal commitment, and just plain hard work involved. It is in the latter spectrum that we solidly fall in our assessment of our New England structures and their creators from so long ago.

Our Latest Vermont Timber Frame Project

This week we spent two intense days disassembling a beautiful addition on a house in Tunbridge and Chelsea, Vermont. Two towns, you may be asking? Yes indeed-the town line ran right through the center of the property, and the house is in Tunbridge, while the addition was in Chelsea. While mid-stream on the addition dis-assembly, a town truck from Tunbridge came by, and the driver stopped. Leaning far out the window of the dump truck, he called to us, “What, moving out of Chelsea, eh?”

The joke was followed by much guffawing and laughter. I am not sure why that dump truck had been driven to the literal dead end of the road, but I am suspicious it may have been for the purpose of telling that joke- and I love it! News of renovations and changes travel fast in our small Vermont towns.

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The first time I looked at the addition, the snow banks were deep.

Early gunstock timber frame green mountain timber frames

What a difference a couple of months can make in Vermont! The house is a beautiful 1820s gunstock frame.

Let’s get back to the theme of “farmer built.” As someone raised on a Vermont dairy farm, and accustomed to the great joys and hardships of farming, I can not state strongly enough my appreciation for the barns and their builders of yesteryear. We at Green Mountain Timber Frames are so fortunate to get the insider’s view of many local barns, and we have been able to trace the progression of a master timber framer through our valleys by observing unique “signature” qualities of frames.

Recently, we noted a very unique rafter birds mouth detail for example that we have seen in only two local structures- which “happened” to be only 20 miles apart. Was this a case of farmers sharing ideas and techniques with their neighbors, or is it because a master builder traveled around the area coaching and aiding as farm families built their barns?

Hand hewn rafters green mountain timber frames

The rafters are beautiful petite spruce with a half-lap joint at the peak.

In the case of this structure in Chelsea/Tunbridge, we found an extra special clue that the addition was indeed farmer built. They used pieces from a split rail fence as collar ties to support the rafters!

split rail collar tie green mountain timber frames

I would love to have heard the conversation where they decided to grab some rails from the nearest fence! With the property being high on a mountain, it would have been a long trip to a saw mill, and the split fencing was right there. “Keep the job moving!” we builders like to say.

collar tie and hand made nails green mountain timber frames

Note the beautiful hand-made nails that hold the collar tie in place. The family for whom the country road is named were blacksmiths as well as farmers, and I am certain they made these nails themselves.

The posts of the addition had been devastated by carpenter ants, and the foundation was crumbling. Because of this, we will not be restoring the frame. Rather, we will use the hemlock roof boards and the beautiful rafters on the future restoration of another building.

vintage hemlock roof boards green mountain timber frames

The roof boards have beautiful color that only time can create.

We are grateful to the property owner for his desire to see the materials recycled. Just like the farmer who originally put this structure together, we want to recycle all that we can. In fact, we left those vintage pieces of split rail fence behind with the property owner, and I expect they may be put right back into the fence that is only thirty yards from the house to “live another day” back where they came from.

Are you looking for historic barns for sale? Want a new-old barn home?
We’d love to help! 

Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com or (802) 774-8972

 

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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!

Glamping – The Timber Frame Glass House

 

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I’m always looking for a new and exciting timber frames to build, so when the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind post and beam glass cabin came my way – I jumped!

Glamping a timber frame glass house

Why camp…when you can glamp?

GLAMPING:

noun. 1. a form of camping in which participants enjoy physical comforts associated with more luxurious types of holiday. Word Origin. C21: blend of glamorous + camping.

A client of mine recently asked us to help glamorize the tent platform in her wooded Vermont backyard. Using salvaged timbers that Luke and I had on hand, we turned a simple raised platform into a glamper’s dream. The tiny timber frame glass house we built makes for an unmatched camping experience – and will stand for decades to come.

We started the construction by building a frame using reclaimed white oak timber and some leftover hemlock beams. Below you can see the skeleton of the 12′ x 12′ shed.

 

The client had acquired several glass windows and doors. A real Vermonter, she gathered a group of friends to transport the glass panels all the way through the woods to the site of her new glass house.

hoisting beams for glass house construction

We used the two large panels of glass (measuring an impressive 6′ x 8′ each!)  as the sides of the house.
timber frame vermont glass house

Because the structure is largely glass, it presented a bit of a construction challenge. We needed to include enough “wind braces” to make sure that the structure can withstand the howling winds of a New England winter. You can see the cross beams and braces in the image below.

glass house by green mountain timber framesAs for the walls that are not made of glass, we covered them with traditional siding. The final structure is truly one-of-a-kind – made up of 70% glass – and allowing for a nearly unobstructed view of the surrounding woods.

Glamping in a timber frame glass house

My friend couldn’t wait for the siding to be applied so spent the first night in a tent in the cabin.  The black flies and skeeters are wicked bad just now.

Secretly, we’re hoping our client lets us camp out here as well! The temptation of a night of camping under the stars, without mosquitoes – seems almost too good to be true!

Want to see some other projects we’ve done at Green Mountain Timber Frames?
Check out our completed timber frame projects!

 

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

 

Spacious, Hardwood 1840s Timber Frame – For Sale

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We’ve named it the Meadow Barn. 

1_”34’x46’ hand hewn, hardwood timbered barn frame”

This beautifully kept timber frame barn, hailing all the way from Northern Indiana, was built amidst the prairies and the corn fields.

Former “meadow barn” surrounded by soybeans

Throughout the winter, the barn was used to store hay. The 34 X 46 foot structure stood far from the farmhouse itself, but strategically within the fields so that the balers wouldn’t have to transport the hay too far. Come springtime, the farmers could come back for the hay.

Who Built This Beautiful Barn?

The timber frame was likely built by New England timber hewers. Around the same period, in the 1840s, New England was adapting to water-powered saw mills. This meant the demand for craftsmen, who were skilled in creating square timbers using only axes and adzes, was on the way out. So the hewers headed west for new opportunities. 

What Makes This Barn So Remarkable?

While New Englanders had cut down most of the eastern hardwood trees and started building  with soft woods like pine, hemlock and spruce, Northern Indiana offered forests rich with hard wood timber. This frame was built from beautiful, first-cut red and white oak, beech, black walnut and ash.

Pic 2_Gable end wall, loft space possible in roof rafters

Wonderful White Oak Roof Boards

Because hard woods were still prevalent in Indiana, even the roof boards on this barn are hard wood. In fact, the white oak boards are so beautiful, the new owner could use them to make stunning flooring.

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In the picture below, you can see the full length, hand hewn timbers.

Pic 4,_Loft space evident

The following picture showcases the soft, warm colors of the hardwood.

Lovely color of hardwood hewn timbers

Standing the Test of Time – An Old Barn in Excellent Condition

The frame itself is in excellent condition, with straight lines that have stood up to over 165 years of grueling winters and winds in the mid-western plains.

Picture 6_Simple geometry survives  165+ years of prairie winds

Endless Possibilities

Spacious and sturdy, this frame offers an expansive 1560 square feet of space, with the option for a second floor. We could easily add in a loft system in the rafters.

This barn frame could become a great room or a complete home. It could also become a restored barn, restaurant, studio or vintage vehicle storage.

Want to Call This Beautiful Frame Your Own?

Give us a call at (802) 774.8972 or email Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

From Fatigued Old Barn to Beautiful Great Room

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Meet the “Fatigued Old Barn”

It was a frigid Vermont winter day when we first visited this old barn back in February of 2015.  It was too cold, even for us seasoned Vermonters. With more than two feet of snow on the ground, I wished I had brought my snow shoes.

Here’s a glimpse of how the barn looked – on the left – when we first met.

Original Restored Barn_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Before (800x601)The owner had called us to ask if we could dismantle this aging barn and restore it as a new Great Room, attached to their home. The barn, built originally in the 1850s, was indeed a perfect match for the house, a two story country home also built in the 1850s. 

Original Barn and 1840s Home_Green Mountain Timber Frames_Before (800x601)

Original barn beside 1940s barn with wooden silo.  House is in the back ground, on the right.

Dating the Barn

Judging from the 43 foot hand hewn beams, I concluded that the barn must have been built in the middle of the 19th century. Tall trees were still being hewn by hand into long square timbers. Shorter timbers, such as posts, were sawn at a local mill. During that time, sawmills could accurately saw up to 20 feet of timber, so the hand hewing guys were called in for the longer timbers. I often wonder if those guys – the “old school” timber framers – must have felt like horses when automobiles started to become more prevalent.

The Transformation Begins

Step 1: Dismantling

Once the snow melted, we traveled to Cavendish, Vermont to begin the careful process of dismantling the barn. The barn looked far more inviting during spring.

historic wooden barn with red roofIn three weeks, a team of six men dismantled the 30 x 43 foot barn and shipped it to the Green Mountain Timber Frames shop in Middletown Springs.

Cavendish Historic Barn before restoration _Green Mountain Timber Frames

Barn being dismantled, starting from the top.

Step 2: Restoration at the Shop

Once at the shop, we carefully washed all the timbers. We then laid them out in their new configuration of 21 x 35 feet and did a lot of joinery work. Next we assembled the roof structure, de-nailed the roof boards, gave them a solid washing, made them straight again, and finally re-applied them to the roof rafters. We made sure everything was well labeled, and then shipped the restored frame back to the Cavendish house site.

You can see much of the process in the pictures below:

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Laying out the restored hand hewn beams into the new design.

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Roof rafters re-adjusted and fitted, waiting for original roof boards

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Rafters with restored roof boards applied and then labeled

The Great Room is Born – in Two Days

Because we had done the restoration work at our shop, re-erecting the frame for the new Great Room was a pretty straightforward task that took only two days.

In weather that was a far cry from the snowdrifts of February, we reassembled the frame under hot August sun with a team of four men and a mighty Lull (lift machine).

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Re-erecting the restored frame (the Lull is in orange)

Day One: Getting the Frame Up

During the first day, we spent about ten hours at the site. By day’s end we had most of the structure up, thanks to the help of the Lull and an experienced crew.

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Frame is up by the end of day one with a few roof rafters

Day Two: Raising the Rafters

Day two was even more fun as we placed all the roof rafters – always an exciting part of a barn restoration project – and experienced the structure taking its final shape. After hundreds of hours of our labor, the refurbished frame went together like a Lincoln Log set.  It’s gratifying each time to watch new life breathed into a formerly very distressed timbered, old barn.

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Finished frame. The roof is protected by tar paper, ready for the next stage.

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View from beneath the roof of the restored frame, with our friend the Lull behind.

The plans to complete this barn frame include a fireplace, large glass doors, a screened porch and a mudroom entryway. Truly it will become a GREAT room.

Coming Up Next:

This was a challenging and rewarding restoration project. Our next blog will feature a stunning new timber frame boat house, designed and built by Luke Larson and his crew. Stay tuned!

Post and Beam Sign Frame for the Vermont Farmers Food Center

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Most of the time here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we restore 18th and 19th century barns and turn them into new timber frame homes, barns, great rooms and more.

But this summer, just for fun, a different project came into the mix when I was asked to put together a very “organic” sign frame for Rutland County’s Vermont Farmers Food Center.

Reclaimed Wood_Green Mountain Timber Frames_wooden sign for Rutland VT Farmers market

Here’s the frame. The sign itself will be attached soon.

Reclaimed Wood_reclaimed Timbers_wooden sign

You can still see the curve and shape of the tree in the two braces and heavy timbers.

How does one make a timbered sign frame out of half round locust trees?

To begin the process, I chose to use local locust wood.  I found the logs at Ken Gagnon’s saw mill in Pittsford, VT. Armed with these rugged timbers, I was ready to begin building.

Why locust trees?

I used locust because their wood is comparable to “pressure treated” wood. Locust naturally has many of the properties of pressure treated wood, without any chemicals needed to preserve the wood’s fiber. Remarkably, locust can easily withstand being exposed to the elements for 50+ years.

Building the sign frame

Ken Gagnon sawed flat sides on the front and back of the sign timbers, making it much easier for us to do the joinery. I carefully studied the surfaces to decide the placement of each timber.

Because locust wood is very hard, we used a chain mortiser to make the mortises (pockets). This time-saving piece of modern equipment is very exact, and reduces wear and tear on our arms. However, I still had to scribe and chisel the rounded sides of the four beams to make them fit together tightly when the joinery was completed.

Chiseling Timber Frames_ Green Mountain Timber Frames

Expert timber framer Luke Larson works on joinery.

Joinery in Timber Frame Sign_ Green Mountain Timber Frames

Tools used in making a joint.

We connected the beams using mortise and tenon joints. Once erected, this joinery allows the frame to be a very strong structure, even in heavy winds.  Because the wood is locust, the joints won’t rot.

Below you will see the two pieces being joined:Rutland Vermont Sign_Timber Frame Joinery_ Green Mountain Timber FramesThe Diagonal Braces

As we were building the sign, I felt that adding in some locust limbs for the diagonal braces would enhance the look.

Locust Wood in Timber Frame Sign by Green Mountain Timber FramesHeading out to the woods, I found some locust trees. I cut some limbs that had natural curves. We pealed off the bark and eventually carved tenons on both ends of each piece.

Tenoned Joinery in Locust Wood_green mountain timber framesAll in all, it was a fun project that took the Green Mountain Timber Frames team about 50 volunteer hours to complete.

Interested in your own timber frame structure?

Our main focus is on historic properties and timber frame homes, but we have other talents as well!  Interested in furniture that compliments a timbered home or something else special?

Let us know! 802.774.8972