Bright-Minded Home October 2017
Q+A with Peter Truslow of Houses and Barns by John Libby on using reclaimed wood in timber-frame buildings
While Houses and Barns by John Libby is known for building timber-frame structures, they also renovate existing conventionally framed and timber- frame buildings. Recently, the design-build company reused existing timbers on both a remodel in North Bath (see page 84) and the Wolfe’s Neck Farm barn restoration in Freeport. We asked lead timber-framer Peter Truslow about the process of reclaiming old wood.
Q.WHAT DID THE NORTH BATH REMODEL ENTAIL?
A.The clients wanted to update a 1970s building to a problem-free, low-maintenance home. The hand- hewn timbers that accented the living and dining areas were pre–Civil War, eastern white pine timbers from an 1800s barn. They were in good shape, so all we had to do was take them out, put in new drywall, and reattach the beams. Preserving them brings a lot of character and history to the updated home.
Q.HOW WERE THE EXISTING TIMBERS REUSED IN THE WOLFE’S NECK FARM BARN RESTORATION?
A.The Wolfe’s Neck barn, originally built in the late eighteenth century, had withstood the elements for over 200 years. After a thorough inspection, we determined that it was necessary to do a complete dismantling of the frame rather than perform the restoration in place. This approach allowed our crew to remove and inspect every joint in every beam and clean all the timbers thoroughly. Most timbers were reused without modification, although others needed restoration, and some needed to be replaced. New timbers were made to match the originals in every detail, which included replicating the hand-hewn look, applying a dark, matching stain, and reembedding the timbers with original hardware taken from the old beams. The result is an old barn that preserves history and valuable wood but is now structurally sound and looks as good as new.
Q.WHAT ARE THE PRIMARY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN OLD AND NEW TIMBERS?
A.Old timbers typically have annual growth rings that are much tighter, indicating slow-growing trees from a mature forest. Today’s timbers are from faster growing trees, so the growth rings are larger. Old timber often contains nails, bolts, or screws, and the wood is extremely dry and more difficult to work with than new timber. Additionally, when using old timber, the sizes and lengths of beams are determined by the material that is available. This limited availability can drive the design of the timber frame, whereas building with new timbers provides for much more flexibility in the design. On the other hand, new timber cannot match the patina and character of timber that is hundreds of years old.