Nov. 15, 2013 – When I tell people what I do, I sometimes run into the misconception that preservationists are single-minded, inflexible, and uninterested in innovation and design. It’s true that at Preservation Timber Framing we think that if a frame stands strong for 200 years, it probably has good design to thank, and that time-tested building details last longer. We also think it’s possible to combine contemporary design with the stewardship of a historic property, and achieve successful results. True-Randall Farm was just such an example. The connected farmstead required repairs to house, barn and ell. The clients have a strong preservation ethic and want to preserve the original framing members but they also wanted a functional kitchen with clean, modern lines. The ell had been extensively renovated by previous owners, and the clients decided to dedicate that portion of the house to the new kitchen. They preserved any original framing within the ell (and without) that remained.
Even working within a strict preservation ethos requires adaptability. The house and barn at Randall’s Hill retained most of their original elements and were repaired traditionally, with in-kind materials. Both house and barn had rotten corner posts, but the repairs to each post were entirely different in scope and in design.
The barn repair was a more typical, and traditional, fix. It was also more extensive, because the rot extended above the girt that supports the right loft bay, and the frame was more accessible to repair. In order to get access to the post, we stripped the corner of trim, clapboards and sheathing. We affixed an L-shaped bracket, custom-made for lifting, to the exterior of the post, and built a cribbing pile beneath and just to the outside of it. Beneath the bracket and on top of the cribbing pile, we inserted a dead man (temporary post) and hydraulic jack, which would be used to level the corner, and support the weight of the post and roof above it (See first photo, above). We also inserted a deadman beneath the loft girts to pick up the weight of the loft (See “Barn corner post removed…,” center of photo).
Lee carefully cut away the post where it was rotted, and removed the braces. With a circular saw, auger bit and timber framing chisel, he cut the female half of a center tenon scarf joint onto the part of the post that remained. We used a center-tenon scarf on this post to preserve both the reference (outside) face of the post and the inside face that was most visible. The fix was also oriented to resist any outward thrust that was transferred from the rafters.
Lee cut the second half of the post out of a large 10 x 10 timber, the same dimension and species of the piece that was removed. In order to fit the post fix into place, we used a free tenon at the bottom of the post fix (see diagram, below).
Lee cut an extended mortise into the front gable sill and a long open slot on the adjacent face of the post fix. After the post fix was installed, and the center tenon scarf was fit and pinned, a free tenon was inserted vertically into the extended mortise in the sill and slid into the slot in the post. The remaining mortise space in the sill was plugged with a wedge, and the free tenon was pinned into the post.
After the post was fixed, I replaced the loft girt in the front gable, and neighboring braces, door post, and nailer. Unfortunately, this barn typified the worst case scenario involving hidden rot. Working in preservation we face a harsh reality in which, sometimes, significant rot can be completely hidden, and once rot is uncovered, it can’t be re-sheathed until repaired.
We also performed a post repair on the Federal-style house and, in contrast with the barn, we could disturb none of the interior surfaces. In this way, the repair was similar to the timber frame repair at the Marrett House in Standish, where the framing had become detached from the plaster and lath, but the plaster and lath still needed to be preserved, with early 19th century wallpaper left intact.
The post requiring repair was located at the front-right corner of the house. We first noticed that the front eave and right gable sills were punky. The rot in this post did not extend upwards past the second floor girts, or inward throughout the post thickness, except at the very bottom. This fortuitous turn of events allowed us to repair the post with a three-stepped lap joint – cutting away the exterior surface of the post to the depth of the rot, and using epoxy and fasteners to install a new-in-kind repair that fills the negative space left by the rot. Relative to the post repair in the barn, this was a non-traditional fix, utilizing modern epoxy and fastener technology. It was the appropriate fix for the level of rot and its context.
The contrast between these two methods of post foot repair, and the combination of traditional repair and contemporary use in the ell, shows that the best preservation is adaptable. Our process is developed from traditional methods, but it isn’t staid or prescriptive. Part of the reason we document the multitude of barns we come across is that they provide us with a greater variety of long-lasting approaches to repair. We’re always eager to learn a design solution that is new to us, it’s just that the best solutions we’ve found have been proven over 200 years.