Saving a Giant of a Barn: the Benson Timber Frame

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We are now two weeks into the careful dismantling of a beautiful timber barn – for sale –  that dates from around 1880. This timber frame is not as old as many of the structures that we take down and restore here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, but the high quality of the frame more than justifies our efforts to save it. At 34 x 48 feet, this wonderful vintage frame is a big one!

evening light on old barn for sale in benson | green mountain timber framesThe barn’s foundation, roof and sills are deteriorated, and would be very difficult and costly to repair in place. We have purchased the barn and now it is in our court to take down the frame, restore it, and find a new home for this majestic and historic building.

(Let us know if you are interested in seeing the barn!)

Taking Down the Timber Frame Barn: Step by Step

Our first step was to remove an enormous amount of hay from the inside of the building. Thankfully, we had some pitchforks handy. removing hay from the benson frame | green mountain timber framesThe hay piled inside the barn had been hiding a very interesting feature of this barn. The smallest bay, which is where the animals were kept, had built in wooden gutters for removing manure.

Discoveries in an Old Barn

The clever system had two trap doors that could be opened, allowing the waste to be dropped into wagons or carts below for spreading on the nearby fields. There was also a trough in front of the animals where they could be fed. It is really amazing to see the wear marks on the floor from hooves. We can tell where the antsy cow lived many years ago! cleaning out cow stalls in old barn for sale green mountain timber framesWe made another discovery while opening up the walls of this barn. Between layers of siding, honey bees had built a hive at some point in the past.discovering an old bee hive in the benson old barn for sale green mountain timber framesWe collected the brittle wax comb, and I am excited to make candles out of it. Once we find a new home for this barn and re-erect it, I can imagine a celebratory meal in the restored frame- lit by the wax of this bee hive. honey comb in the wall of benson barn for sale green mountain timber framesAs we removed the wide hemlock wall boards, we labeled each one so they can be installed back in the same location. Many of the timber boards are over 15 inches wide, and the patina on them is spectacular.

We can’t wait to wash them, but the temperature will have to get up above freezing for that process to take place and winter really seems eager this year in Vermont. wide vintage boards for sale | green mountain timber frames

Removing the Slate Roof

Once we had the barn cleaned out and many of the siding boards removed, we went on to remove the roof system. This barn still had its original roof- large purple slate from the nearby quarries.

Here we are removing the slate piece by piece.

It was unusual for us to be removing the original roof from a building, as most of our older frames went through at least two, and often four, generations of roofing material before they come under our care. Much of the slate is still good and we will set it aside with the frame for future use. removing slate and roof boards benson barn for sale In order to be as safe as possible, we built a temporary second floor in the barn. This allows us to do most of the board and rafter removal from this deck rather than from the top of the roof or from long ladders. This barn is so large that it took fifty sheets of plywood to create this safe work platform! how to take down an old barn safelyThe effort building the deck paid off, as we removed and labeled each roof board.removing roof boards from benson barn for saleLet me share a couple more interesting features of this barn:

All farmers know how hard it is to keep large barn doors on a building. Inevitably, it seems, they get caught by a gust of wind and torn off the building. Well, it must have been someone with life experience who designed this structure. They built a giant pocket door system and hung the 13-foot-tall doors on tracks on the inside of the barn.

In order to create this space for the doors, secondary posts were added in the doorway bents. In this way, gusts of wind could not get at the doors when they were opened. giant pocket door old barn for sale A good luck horseshoe was nailed to one side of the door opening. horseshoe for good luck benson timber frame barn for saleIt was exciting to get lots of light on the upper queen system. These timbers support the rafters at mid-span, making the roof strong enough to carry the weight of all that slate as well as Vermont’s winter snow. There is a unique and beautiful scarf joint that was used to get the queen plates to span the whole 48 feet.queen system in benson old barn for sale green mountain timber frames

Here is a close-up of the scarf joint:scarf joint  | green mountain timber framesWhile the queen plate is made out of two timbers, the main top plate that creates the eve of the building is not. Incredibly, these hand-hewn timbers are the full length of the barn at 48 feet and 2 inches! Imagine the size of the old-growth tree that was required, as well as the difficulty of getting these beams in place without the use of modern equipment.

These 48-foot timbers are a testament to the skill of the timber framers who crafted this barn, as well as to the strength of a community that would come together to hoist such a barn into place. We are honored to now be the caretakers of this structure.48 foot hand hewn timber | green mountain timber frames

You can see drawings of the barn here on our site.

This old barn is for sale!

If you are interested in this barn, or another timber frame structure, let us know!

 

 

An Ingenious Corn Crib

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Corn Crib for Sale in Vermont

I first looked at this corn crib for sale last spring. The owner of the property called me, and in his very Vermont way explained that there was a barn on his property that his family could no longer maintain. The property had been in his family for quite some time, and he wanted this barn to be saved. I took a drive to Montpelier, I took a look, and I fell in love.

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I purchased the timber frame and we recently disassembled the barn. It was a “corn crib,” a name that applies to a very specifically designed barn. As the name implies, it was used for the drying and storing of corn as well as oats and other food stuff from the garden.

A Corn Crib Built to Last

As the farmer whose family has lived here for three generations told me: “When you moved onto a raw piece of land back in the day, you didn’t much care about your first house. You put something up quick to keep you dry and not frozen, and then you built something real nice to preserve food for the winter.” Well, the craftsmen who built this corn crib did it “real nice.”

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These stairs lead to a lovely second floor with a steep roof pitch and two windows. We discovered two wooden barrels with sapling dovetailed rings that were tucked into bins. Sawdust was packed tightly around the barrels inside the bins, and it was clear that something very precious and sensitive to heat had been stored in these.

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A Remarkable Louvered System

In order to dry and then preserve the corn, the walls were sided with an ingenious louvered system. The siding itself is narrow and gapped to allow lots of air movement through that would dry the corn out after harvest. However, the corn also had to be protected from rainstorms and drifting Vermont snow.

The solution? The builders crafted louvers that can rotate on wooden pegs to close the gaps between the siding. handcrafted louvers_old barn for sale

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The louvers were attached to each other by small staples so that they could be swung shut in gangs when the farmer saw a storm blowing in. It gave me great pause for reflection when I found a few kernals of corn left behind — from how many decades or even a century before? Of course, I had to save them to see if these corn seeds would germinate in my garden. (Stay tuned)

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We started the disassembly a few weeks ago by removing the roofing and then carefully labeling each roof board.

As we removed the roof boards, we were delighted to discover a name, scrawled in large red cursive, across several of the boards. The letters were faded, but readable. old timber frame barn_roof boards

A Peek into the History of the Corn Crib

Later that evening, I showed the property owner these boards, and it led to him sketching out for me more of the story of his farm. His great-grandfather had worked for someone with the same last name that we discovered on the boards. The gentleman was elderly and apparently farming was not easy, neither physically nor financially. He was unable to fully pay his farm help for the last few years of work on the farm. When the last family member died, the farm was left to the hired hand who had been loyal and worked without pay. That is how the family that I bought this corn crib from came to own the property.

Soon enough, we were down to the bare frame, which is hand hewn beech and pine.

small timber frame barn for sale

After labeling the floorboards, we popped out the ash tree pegs, and began tipping down the bents.

Carefuly Disassembly of the Corn Crib

We were grateful to the maple trees that stood sentry at the entrance as we were disassembling this small 18×22 frame by hand- without the use of a crane or other motorized equipment. In fact, we were able to disassemble this frame without ever firing the generator we had brought with us. It was a frame put up without electrical tools, and one that we took down with only minimal use of our battery tools.

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We labeled every mortise and tenon joint, and after 6 work days start to finish, the frame was down. We shipped the vintage beams and boards back to our shop and cleaned up the site of the structure.

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I found it incredibly poignant to see the trees still standing around the perimeter of where this adorable corn crib has stood for two hundred years. I am proud and grateful, to and for the family that has cared for, used, and maintained this building for generations, to our skilled and careful team who took the time to pull each peg with conscientiousness and care, and to the trees from whom this frame was built so very long ago.

Are you looking for a corn crib for sale?

Let me know – I’d love to help.
Luke – (802) 774-8972 | luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

 

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.

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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