Saturday, November 17, 2007

Restoring a classic timberframe barn.

A good neighbor recently told me of a timber frame barn that has been slated for removal. In fact, he said I could have the barn if I would take it down and remove it from the property. I've chased down similar leads from others before, and those all turned out to be duds. In spite of my skepticism, I drove over an hour on back roads to see if this barn was for real, and really worth saving. When I found the barn, I was pleasantly surprised.

For starters, the timbers, the rafters, the roof sheeting, and the braces are all solid oak. In fact I'm pretty sure it's made entirely of old growth white oak, which is one of North America's most rot resistant hardwood species. (Look at the quarter sawn patterns on the rafters and braces in the photograph at the right!) The barn is also a genuine dutch-style timber frame (i.e. 4 posts per bent, 3 aisles), of excellent craftsmanship, most likely built by German immigrants or early descendants given the date and location of the barn. It's had a good roof on it since it was built, as there is practically no water damage to any of the interior wood members. That's the good news.

Now for the not-so-good-but-correctable news... Some of the timbers will need to be remade due to abuse and thoughtless remodeling by previous owners over the years. For instance, each of the classic-dutch tie-beams between the tallest two posts of each bent were removed many years ago to allow for installation of a hay trolley on the ridge beam. Surprisingly, the barn has suffered no distortion from that modification. But when the hay trolley was installed, the farmers got serious about storing tons of hay on the second floor, and several floor joists were warped or broken as a result. (When the barn was originally built, hay was probably stored loose, not in dense bales.) Also, 3 of the 24 posts will need some rework because the bottoms of them were hastily repaired to remedy decay at the foundation intersection.

Finally, I noticed that one of the posts was snapped clean in two. When I inquired about it, I was told that eagerness to dismantle the barn spurred someone to tie a cable to their new 3/4 ton truck and tug on the barn. The truck gently pulled a wheely and the barn wouldn't budge. So the driver backed up to allow slack in the line and got a run at the effort. Fortunately for the driver, the airbags did not deploy, but the lone post snapped, leaving the rest of the barn standing as if nothing had happened. Now that's a testament to the integrity of German timber framed barns built of white oak. This one is surely worth restoring.

The two story barn is currently 50 feet long (6 bents with 10 feet between each bent), but it could be easily shortened in 10 foot increments to say 40 or 30 feet. It is 32 feet wide, with the aisles spaced 12, 8, and 12 feet. The frame could serve as the basis for an awesome shop, garage, cabin, modest house, house addition, or of course a great livestock barn. I would love to put it on our farm, but we already have 5 barns... though none nearly as nice as this one!


The barn was burned down this week... a piece of history (and a lot of good white oak timber!), lost to lunacy.


Anonymous jm said...

You also need to check out Bare Hill Barn House on They dismantled, moved and are recreating a timber frame barn into their house. Very cool.

November 18, 2007 at 8:33 AM  
Blogger oldmilwaukee said...

Neat, very neat. One difference between that barn frame and this one, is that their barn has a "common purlin" type roof whereas this barn has a "common rafter" type roof. Neither is better than the other I suppose, just different.

I also see they did exactly what I was thinking about doing... they built a knee wall to set their frame on, thereby giving them another 18 inches of ceiling height on the first floor. Most of these barns have low first floor ceilings... and some of the post bottoms have "melted into the ground" over the years. The easiest way to fix this seems to be to set the whole shebang on a knee wall.

Thanks jm. Fascinating blog - I could spend hours starring at their pictures. Got to work on the house though!

November 18, 2007 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Pete Hanlon said...

Off current topic. I've watched your Blog for over a year now. Great home!

In researching home building online, I've found very little information about underground plumbing and foundations. How did you go about getting information on this such as drain, sewer, and water lines located properly before you poured the foundation?

Keep posting!


November 24, 2007 at 12:11 PM  
Blogger oldmilwaukee said...

Actually Pete, I just put a few 4" (I think that's the size - but that sounds small to me now) PVC lines in my concrete forms when we poured the walls of the basement. When we wrecked the form, voila, there were my possible locations for my water lines, drain lines, etc. (I also put a 6" line in for the fresh air make-up to the fireplace). Drilling large holes through concrete after the fact is not cheap or easy. Right now, the utility holes in my foundation walls are plugged until I get my whole plumbing plan figured out. Building a house on a slab would take a lot more planning... sorry I don't have more info. I'd go to a home improvement store and look through their how-to books (for free). good luck in your search.

November 26, 2007 at 10:01 AM  
Blogger brad_bb said...

Hello Oldmilwaukee,
I've been following your progress for a year or so. I was reading about your slate floor and I have something for you that will be a great help for installing bathroom or kitchen fixtures relative to the tile or slate or whatever hard flooring or wall tile you use. Please contact me directly so I can explain/hook you up (freebie). Regards. Brad in Joliet, IL.

December 9, 2007 at 11:11 AM  

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