Way Out West: Timber Framing on Whidbey Island

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Last fall, we were way Down East, tipping up a beautiful frame on the coast of Maine. Fast forward a few months, and the crew of Green Mountain Timber Frames found ourselves a world away, this time delivering a restored frame to Whidbey Island, off the coast of Washington State.

Welcome to Whidbey

Our talented building crew traveled west to deliver this 28 x 38-foot frame from the 1700s to a wonderful client. The gambrel style barn frame will be a beautiful new home, made from these historic timbers. We had restored the timbers back home in Vermont and then carefully prepared each beam before tying the frame aboard this flatbed for the long drive west.

Preparing historic timber frame for shipment

Out on Whidbey, we found a sweet Air BnB on the island and had the privilege to wake up to this view each morning:

Whidbey Island Green Mountain Timber Frames

Barn Raising: Day 1

Here’s a look at how we tipped up the frame, and the progress we made each day. On Day 1, we began with a pre-raising blessing. Then, we spread out the posts on the deck before tipping each one up by hand. The frame had four 28-foot girts. You can see us placing one of them below, with an assist from a telehandler.

Let’s get a closer look at these beams!

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Closeup on the Gunstock Posts

Notice how the gunstock post tops each have two tenons. One locks into the top plate on the eve wall, while the second receives and holds the girt that crosses the width of the building. The girt end also has a half-dovetail that further holds everything together.

Below, you can see the gunstock post standing strong against Washington State evergreens. A friend came by to use it as a perch and take in the view.

bald eagle perched on restored girt

Barn Raising: Day 2

We spent the second day installing the second-floor joist system. One unique element of this frame was that the girts and floor joists project out beyond the top plates. The rafters then sit out beyond the top plate, gaining two extra feet of living space on the second floor. You can see this overhang in the bottom right image below.

There is a 38-foot chestnut timber that runs down the center of the structure. It is half lapped over the 28-foot girts, creating a beautiful joint over the central posts. In the top right picture above, you can see the labeling in the beams. The original builder created these marks using a small gouge chisel.

Second floor deck

Second floor deck

By the end of day two, we had completed the second floor deck and were ready to begin installing the queen system, which will support the rafters and frame the space for the second-floor bedroom and bath.

Barn Raising: Day 3-4

We spent the next two days working on the upper cube (the Queen System) of the frame and preparing to put up the rafters. We installed the heavy three-inch beech planks that run the length of the eve. The rafters sit on this overhang. The queen system, which supports the rafter pitch change on this gambrel, has eight more gunstock posts as well as two more 38-foot timbers and four 22 foot queen girts.

On the right, you can see how the heavy eve planks are half lapped to each other, and pegged to the overhanging floor joists and girts. In the upper queen post to girt connection, we added a hidden steel plate and threaded rod that will reinforce the good work of the wooden joinery to ensure that the roof can never spread.

Barn Raising: Finishing Up!

The next step was for us to install the rafters and apply the vintage roof boards. Under clear blue skies, we finished up the project.

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We had a wonderful time on this project and made some new amazing friends on Whidbey Island. The building wrapped up with applying vintage roof boards on the structure, which we covered with tar paper for weather protection. We also installed the original, arched-collar ties. We are so grateful to the craftspeople from the late 1700s who built this frame, all who helped us to save it from demolition, our friend and client in Washington, and to the crew who will now close it in and make it into a home.

Green Mountain Timber Frames crew

Our amazing team!

 

If you dream of living in a historic home, let us know! We do travel and would love to build a beautiful timber frame home for you.

Contact us at Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com (802.774.8972)

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A New Home for Mortise & Tenon Magazine

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Today’s guest post comes from Joshua A Klein, a talented furniture conservator/maker from the Maine coast and the brainchild behind Mortise & Tenon Magazine

We have enjoyed working with Joshua over the past year and are delighted and grateful to have him write (and photograph!) for the Green Mountain Timber Frames blog. Our whole team has poured over his publications and we can not recommend his work strongly enough to our fellow woodworkers and kindred spirits in appreciation of yesteryear’s craftsman. It has been a true honor to collaborate with Joshua, his family, and his team. 

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The GMTF team along with the crew from Mortise & Tenon, in front of the future Mortise & Tenon headquarters

It’s long been a dream of mine to have an antique timber frame workshop to build furniture in. Sure, I could have built a brand-new stick-frame shop and hid the frame underneath boards but as a period furniture maker and conservator, I revere historic craftsmanship. I find it inspiring to work at my craft while surrounded by tool marks left behind by artisans 200 years ago. The awe-inspiring craftsmanship of our ancestors was something I wanted to connect to in the deepest way. I wanted to be immersed in it.

When it came time to put up a new workshop/headquarters for my publication, Mortise & Tenon Magazine, I sought out a hand-hewn frame from Green Mountain Timber Frames. The 24’ x 26’ beech and chestnut frame was built in Pawlet, Vermont around the year 1800.

About a year ago, Luke purchased the neglected house and he and his crew carefully disassembled it for restoration. The frame was in great shape with the exception of the rafters and ridge beam, which suffered fire and leak damage. I went down to see the frame in person this July and became even more excited about it. This frame is absolutely gorgeous. 

Luke and I discussed how to rebuild the damaged rafter system. I told him I wanted old material, as close to the original roof system as possible. He did some digging and came up with a five-sided pine ridge beam as well as round cedar rafters from a barn in Addison, Vermont, virtually identical to the original.

He and his crew replicated the original roof system using these reclaimed materials. They took great care to leave the original surfaces unmarred. They also de-nailed and washed all the 1-1/4”-thick sheathing. As Luke put it, “There is nothing like the patina of old boards.” I totally agree.

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The five-sided ridge beam and rafters are wonderfully matched to the style and size of the original.

Raising the Frame

This September, Luke and his crew brought the restored frame up to my place in MidCoast Maine. Matt lifted the assembled bents with the telehandler as Luke directed it into the mortises. It was incredible to watch these two work together. Their subtle but effective communication showed that they’ve been doing this a long time. As each tenon slipped seamlessly into its mortise, I couldn’t help but think about how well the resurrection of this frame honored the original makers.

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The final gable bent is set into place

Mortise and Tenon Shop Building Timber Frame Raising Day Three-13

John trims the excess length off the oak pegs

The whole team got involved with the methodical placement of the rafters. Luke said the first pair of rafters is the hardest, especially when they have diagonal braces and a collar tie to be installed along with them. After the first gable end was secured, the rest dropped into place without issue. As they worked through down the ridge, the manual lift helped stabilize it and hold it at the optimum height (decreasing as they went along). The whole process took several hours of careful adjustments and minor paring of the tails that were a hair too wide for their pockets.

Mortise and Tenon Timber Frame Shop Rafters Ridge Pole-6

The first pair of rafters being set, and pegs driven into the rafter braces

By midafternoon that day, the last gable was installed. We drove the final pegs into the joinery and the crew made tiny adjustments before the ceremonial tacking of the evergreen bough onto the ridge.

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Placing an evergreen bough on a newly raised timber frame is an ancient tradition, meant to respect the trees from which the frame was built.

The next day, we nailed gorgeous 200-year-old hemlock roof sheathing in place. Because the crew had already cut, fit, and labeled the boards before bringing them up, the installation process went quickly. The patina in these boards is sacred to this crew. Because they work so hard to de-nail, power wash, repair, and straighten edges, they are very careful not to scratch the beautiful interior show surfaces.

Finishing the Shop

I have to pinch myself standing inside this frame. It far exceeds anything I ever imagined and I consider myself blessed to be the next caretaker for this historic structure. I am leaving the interior unfinished with rough sawn old sheathing boards and the frame completely exposed. All the insulation will be installed in a 2×4 wall built outside of the frame and then exterior sheathing attached to that. I’ve also purchased a pile of antique window sashes (with wavy glass) that I am beginning to restore for the shop. From the inside, it will look like an 18th-century cabinetmaker’s workshop in all its rough-hewn glory.

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The vintage sheathing boards are thick hemlock, and the patina is something that only time can create through the play of air and light.

I am so grateful for this crew and the frame that they’ve restored for us. Luke, Matt, Isaac, and John are not only exceptional craftsmen, but they are incredible people to spend time with. I left the experience inspired.

This building is the new home of Mortise & Tenon Magazine. All our articles will be written and edited here, our instructional videos will be filmed here, and in this place woodworking classes will happen. We will make many memories within these walls.

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Thank you, Luke and crew, for the care you’ve taken with this restoration. Your conscientious workmanship honors the craftsmen who built it over 200 years ago. I hope M&T’s use of it will continue to honor the work of their and your hands.

You can read more about the history of this timber frame in our blog from back in 2016 about the Dutch Cape House from 1800.


Interested in owning your own historic post and beam frame?
Drop us a line.

 

 

 

“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.

timber frame addition in the snow green mountain timber frames

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

 

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