The client’s wedding was in a week, and the barn in which he’d marry was in pieces on the ground. It was crane day, and a Friday, two things that don’t usually go together. In the worst case, a crane day on Friday means you don’t have an additional weekday in case you hit a bad snag; in the best case, it means the crane operator wants to get home, and the roof frame flies in fast and loose. In a week we’d complete a job started almost exactly four years earlier. Back then, Arron was patrolling the net, looking for a barn in need of saving, and spotted a damsel in West Poland, ME. That Saturday, he dragged his teen-aged son with him to visit the barn and get some driving practice. The frame was for sale, but not the land beneath it. It would need to be documented, disassembled, repaired and rebuilt elsewhere. When Arron arrived, another potential buyer was already poking around.
Arron wanted to repair the barn, but needed a buyer; Charley wanted the barn, but needed someone to repair it. It was a good match. Since then, PTF has embarked upon a number of projects with Charley, most notably the disassembly, repair and rebuild of his Carpenter’s Shop two winters ago. The West Poland barn was neatly stacked in a Dairy barn at his home, awaiting its turn on a long to-do list. This fall, as Arron’s son prepared for his sophomore year in college, PTF erected a barn that had spent four years being designed and refined in Charley’s head.
Charley needs the barn to house his three draft horses, donkey and a flock of sheep. The draft horses wouldn’t fit under the barn’s original girts, 6′ 4″ above the sills, about 6 inches shorter than your standard doorway. He designed a foundation that raised the posts 2′ 8″ above grade, creating 9′ of clearance for the horses. The perimeter posts are each tenoned into a sill, which rests on a foundation wall. Each drive post lands directly on a 8″ x 8″ granite pier. Precisely 7′ tall, the piers rest directly on two longitudinal footers, 4′ below grade. A frost wall was poured between the posts; it’s top level with grade. Each post is point loaded upon a foundation wall that extends below the frost line and rests on a connected footer. This will prevent the posts from moving due to annual freeze and thaw. Ensuring that each drive post landed on its granite post required precise cutting, measuring and measuring again.
The barn we took down was built in the mid-19th century; it has hewn posts and both sawn and hewn girts. The center drive posts are more than 24′ tall, and are joined directly to the rafters. The ties are discontinuous, the outer tie mortises over the eave post, and tenons into the drive post. The plate is also discontinuous and is dropped eight inches below the top of the post. The original barn was almost square in plan, 38′ x 39′. With all that livestock, Charley needed larger bays, and decided to extend the length of each bay from 9′ to over 13′; the rebuilt barn is 38′ x 56′.
In early August, our first task was to repair the bents. Eighteen of twenty original posts could be reused or repaired, and thirteen of the original tie girts were salvageable, most requiring face fixes to their outer ends. All of the original braces were nailed, and we replaced them throughout with mortise-and-tenoned braces. Originally, the barn contained no loft girts within the bent beneath the ties; the loft joists had rested on top of eave and drive girts. We inserted loft girts into the bents, to better connect the eave and drive posts. Each drive post was 24′ long, hand-hewn, and twisty. We used the traditional scribe rule method to install the new framing members. Using a transit, we built a level “table” on which to assemble the bents. The “table” is eleven stacks of 6″ x 7″ cribbing laid out to support the post feet, the joint between tie girt and post, the joint between tie beam and post, and the rafter apex. We laid out each post and shimmed it level. Considering the twist of the posts, we leveled by measuring off the arris. On each timber, the two best faces are established as “reference” and the corner where they intersect is called the arris. The handhewn surface may vary, but this way, our posts will still line up on the foundation. We fit the tie beams and checked measurements, squaring the bent by measuring across diagonal corners. Then we laid the new loft girts and braces out on top of the bent and used a level and combination square to scribe their shoulders to the associated post or tie girt. Not one of the original rafters could be salvaged, except maybe for use as a dugout canoe. We increased the size of the rafters to 7″ x 9″ and used string lines to scribe them to the bents. Due to the time restraint, we weren’t able to scribe the actual rafter timbers to the bents until their final fitting before crane day, and this ultimately pushed our crane day from Thursday to Friday. Next time, we’ll go slower and scribe rafters while we’re fitting the rest of the bent.
By the time the bents were fit, the foundation was poured, and sill timbers cut. We were able to use the foundation as our “table” while we fit the eaves. This was ideal, because the drive posts could be laid directly over their granite piers. After the posts were laid out and square, the new, longer eave girts and plates were laid out and scribed. This is where the use of reference faces becomes essential. During assembly, reference face is always up. When fitting the eave walls, the reference face is 90 degrees to the reference face that was used to fit the bents. By consistently measuring and laying out the timbers to the same point along the arris, we can ensure that the eave joinery will fit tightly when the building is standing.
Crane Day required the entire crew. Placing the barn on a high foundation wall meant the loft girts were high, 9′ above grade, and the plates were 7′ above that. For each timber, there needed to be a crew member on the ground and two more up high. We used blue frame staging along each eave and a scissor lift in the drive. After bent one was raised, a dozen more timbers needed to be placed (loft girts, drive girts, interior post and braces) before bent two could be flown in and connected. When the bents were all standing, the 7″ x 9″ x 25′ rafters were each flown in and fitted over the drive posts. Lastly, the crane set the purlins. It was 3:00 pm on a Friday, and they came in fast.
Sheathing the roof that Monday was exhausting, the boards were hemlock, and green. But we finished with a couple days to spare. This barn has had a long life. Like marriage, it is the product of hard work, thoughtful attention, adaptation and love. We wish Charley and his bride the very best.
For more photos click on album, below.