Saturday, February 28, 2015

Baring the bones of a house: The Cobb- Hepburn House

The Cobb- Hepburn House is coming down.

Luckily it will be saved and reused.

I was there to measure and record.

The house suited its site. It was "built to the weather".

Set on a foothill ridge with fields sloping off on all sides, it had good drainage all around.

It faced east and looked south to the road, the view, and the sun. The parlor was in that sunny front corner. Deciduous trees just beyond let in winter sunshine, shaded the house in summer.

The wind here comes from the west and the south, The house was backed up against the mountain to the west, sheltered by it, below the wind coming over the ridge. The kitchen and its door were on the north end. An orchard to the southwest scattered the wind's force.

The family had died out; the land sold to the farmer who lives next door.
His daughter didn't want to live in the house.

It wasn't built for our modern era and it had not been cared for.

The entry hall is 4 feet deep, almost too small for 2 people to pass; certainly too small to welcome visitors.
The stair is 30 inches wide, and steep.
The only bathroom is on the first floor off the kitchen.

The bedrooms are only accessible through each other.

One door was mounted upside down, including the latch. Was it a quick fix - 100 years ago? - so the door would swing the right way?

Except for electric wires stapled to the walls and some interior storm windows the house hasn't been updated since the 1950's.

I was there to record its layout and proportions, to record how the builder used the materials he had: wood, plaster, nails, some iron, marble, stone, and glass.
It was cold - 5*F when I began measuring in the morning, about 15*F when I left mid-afternoon: not ideal for exposed fingers.The crew needed me to measure so they could continue dismantling, so I kept my hand warm with a propane heater. I photographed the rooms as an auxiliary record.

I have been back several times. The temperature has never been above 20*F at 2pm in the sun.

The crew is knowledgeable, experienced and interested. We share what we find and what we know, what we wonder about. We measure together.They need accurate dimensions to repair the frame for reconstruction.

2 kinds of scribe marks and offset marks are clearly visible. The 'B' on the post and beam are one pair of many.

The frame seems to have been built several years before the second floor ceiling joists - cut by a saw mill, laid out in a different pattern - were installed. Other joists were moved to allow space for the stair.
A third fireplace and another exterior door (frame and door!) were found under layers of wallpaper.
The 1st floor sheathing on the front facade had been replaced with plywood. One bedroom had not been finished until cast iron stoves were in use, 40+ years after the house was framed.

The videos are by Dan McKeen of Green Mountain Timber Frames.


Monday, February 9, 2015

A barn built in the 1830's

Green Mountain Timber Frames measured this barn before they dismantled it to use its frame anew.

Due to the wood used - poplar, beech, hemlock - the layout and the construction we think this barn was built by a farmer without an extensive background in framing. We think it dates to the  1830's.

 The floor was dirt, the head room under the hay loft not quite 6 ft.
What was it used for? Sheep perhaps? Sheds, windows and a silo were added over the last 180 years, making the original purpose hard to read.

I start with the farmer.
He had some wood of a certain size and length he could use for posts and beams for a barn. He knew how the barn would be used and where it would go.

Probably he had a carpenter square - they were readily available. But maybe not, as his dimensions don't quite fit. And he was much more comfortable with the old-fashioned geometry of the 'whirling square'.

He started with the width - 18 feet. He made a square: 18 ft wide, 18 ft. high - first diagram.\
Or so it seems. Today that height is 17'-10", 2". I think originally the width was also 17'-10". His inch seems to have been just a bit smaller than today's inch

He could have started with a string about 18 ft. long. He could have used a compass with a 27" radius, stepped it out twice for 4'-6", twice more for 9' and doubled that for 18'; or a pole 4'-6" long.

In his square he laid out his center lines and then the star that joins the points - the second and third diagrams. This is a medieval framing system which came to New England with the English colonists.

I have added circles to mark how the lines of the star cross at the locations of the girts, I've added a green dashed line to show how the height of the wall is 2/3 the height of the end wall. Almost. It's off by 2"

Using a carpenter square to layout a 3/4/5 triangle does not work as well. The wall height isn't high enough. The lower girt can be determined - see the green circles - but not the upper one.
While the frame appears governed by the traditional English framing geometry, the frame itself has dropped girts - a Dutch traditional way of framing. The girts are mortised into the posts below the upper beam. This combination of framing methods is sometimes referred to as 'American'.

The floor plan is simple: three 3/4/5 triangles. If the width is 18'  the length should be 40'-6" . It was 40'-2" measured on site. The men repairing the frame tell me it is 40'-1"; that the 2 interior bents are at 13'-4 1/2" from each end.

If one arm of the 3/4/5 triangle is 17'-10", the other is 13'-4 1/2".
3/4 of one side of a 17'-10" square = 13'-4 1/2". So either framing system fits the floor plan.

Dan McKeen, GM Timber Frames, also tell me 3 girts are beech, one poplar.The top plates are poplar and in good shape. The posts are sawn hemlock and hewn beech. The ties are sawn hemlock.

I looked at how did this farmer/framer laid out his girts in the side walls.
Here I tried - on the right in red - 3/4/5 triangles. The intersections - red circles - using a triangle that includes the rafter tails, are close, but convoluted. Not simple.
However, a square laid out inside the frame - on the left in green - neatly divides the space in thirds - green circles.

The star of the square used for the gable end laid out along the side also notes the placement of all the  girts.

The numbers on the early carpenter squares were engraved by hand. It is possible that this farmer/framer owned a square that was very slightly off. Or he used his own measure.

The man who built this frame comes alive as I study it; I've met him. Now I want to ask how he learned to frame - who taught him? what tools did he like? where did he start? were we right about his choice of materials?