If forced to choose, I think most of the PTF crew would choose hand-tools over machines, our chisels and mallet. Fortunately, we don’t have to choose, and one of the pleasures of our job is that we have a broad range of woodworking tools with which to solve the problems we face in the shop and in the field. There are those of us who drool over the machines, and those of us who jealously guard our antique molding planes. I tend to fall into the latter category, but I am here to admit that the three-year-olds were right. On a beautiful spring day, big yellow lulls and tall blue manlifts are even better than my little buddy Quinn thinks they are.
A couple months ago, Shawn and I were facing the end of an enormous barn that looked as if it had been attacked by a pair of xylophagus tyrannosaurs. The two corners posts, and the sheathing around them, were absent, and the large triangle of the gable end teetered on a center post, which was significantly supported by a neighboring tree. The ends of the tie beam had rotted off just enough to disconnect from the eave plates, but not so much that their weight was reduced.
The framing of the barn is unique. A center drive post extends to the ridge, and is connected to the left eave by a tie beam. On the right, a strut rises to the right rafter, and the right rafter heel joins directly with the top of the right post. This gives the barn an incredibly high drive on the right side. The client wanted to repair the entire barn, but due to financial concerns, and the fact that the gable end was disintegrating before our eyes, we decided to sacrifice the last gable bent. If the condition of the last bent is cautionary tale about the consequences of roof leaks, the condition of the rest of the bents is a testament to good timber framing. Above the deck, the frame is in remarkably good condition; below the deck is frankly a little scary, and we will be stabilizing there next.
The challenge was to disengage the gable end from the roof, without allowing it to crash into the barn, and to do that, we used the lull, man lift and chain saw to great effect. A man lift allowed us to stay above the fray, and carry the purlins and roof sheathing to the pile on the ground. Once the plate, purlins and roofing in the last bay were removed, the gable end was composed of a center post, braces, a tie beam and two rafters. The rafter-tie beam connection was completed rotted through. The stability of this limited framing in a stiff breeze is a testament to braced joinery. We were able to cut the rafters into pieces above the floating gable end tie beam, and then chop the center gable post into pieces from the top down.
This job challenged my perceptions of preservation and the kinds of work I enjoy. This barn will serve as a good example of a preservation through triage and we were able to save an interesting structure for a client who had limited funds. I learned that big machines can be as attuned to their task as a hand plane, and just as fun on a sunny day.