A New Home for Mortise & Tenon Magazine

Featured

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. 

Mortise and Tenon Timber Frame Shop Rafters Ridge Pole-14

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.

Mortise and Tenon Timber Frame Shop Sheathing-9

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.

Mortise_and_Tenon_Timber_Frame_Shop_Raising_Bents_Day_Two-12

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.

Mortise_and_Tenon_Timber_Frame_Shop_Rafters_Ridge_Pole-16

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.

Mortise and Tenon Timber Frame sheathing-10

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.

IMG_5923

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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Spring Cleaning!

Reading this in your email? For easier reading – Click here.

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!

Power washing old barn board_Green mountain timber frames.jpg

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!

American chestnut hand hewn barn timber_Green Mountain Timber Frames.jpg

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.

Timber frame beam barn home beam_Green Mountain Timber Frames.jpg

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

Washing timber frame knee brace_Green Mountain Timber Frames.jpg

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

Hardwood knee brace from Vermont Timber frame.jpg

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.

Vermont barn beams for sale_Green Mountain Timber Frame.jpg

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.

Barn style home_wide timber boards.jpg

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!