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Light At The End Of The Trunnel


TRUNNEL: (from “treenail”) A wooden peg typically ¾-in. dia. or larger, usually of oak or other tough hardwood, formerly riven and shaved, now usually turned, and used to fasten timber joints, particularly the mortise and tenon joint.

The advent of the inexpensive wire nail in the latter-1800’s, coupled with the desire to reduce building costs by employing relatively unskilled labor, led to the development of stud (“balloon frame”) construction in the decades following the Civil War. “Two by” studded frames have proliferated since the latter-1800’s and the building technique continues to be the dominant framing method used today. (Prior to the development of cheap, soft steel and the advent of the wire nail in the 1880’s, nails had been cut (square nails) - beginning around circa 1790 - or hand wrought - previous to 1800.)

Traditional timber framing relies on mortise and tenon joinery fixed together by wooden pegs. (Although much of today’s so-called post and beam construction uses steel plates and bolts to attach the framing members.) For our equipment shed we used 1-inch diameter oak pegs throughout. Rather than cut our own pegs with a drawknife, we relied on the quality work of Scott Northcutt in Walpole, New Hampshire.

In the photo above, the drilled tenon is visible with pegs inserted in the mortise cheek. The photo opportunity came out of a mistake that required us to drive the top plate up off the posts in order to reverse a brace that had been installed backward. (With many hands on the barn during the raising, I hadn’t noticed that a brace, which had dropped out of its mortises at one point, had been turned around when it was reinserted.)


During the next work session following the raising, we pulled the top plates tight to the post tops (again using come-alongs and a commander), then drilled and pegged the joints.


Looking up at the frame members (here, the post, braces, bent girt, and top plate), it’s easy to understand the aesthetic appeal of a timber frame.


In the photo above, a post, floor joists and post braces are fitted and pegged in their final form.


We installed a series of housed half-lapped wall girts on the back and sides of the frame near the base of the posts.


Two more wall girts were installed on the sides, midway between the post bottom and the loft floor.


It took a full day to install the loft sub-flooring due to the many cuts that had to be made around the posts and braces. We finished in near total darkness, thankful for the LED light on my skillsaw that illuminated the cutting line as I trimmed the ends of the installed flooring to the final dimension.



Hey Kevin,

It look great.. I am impressed by the lines, they are so clean and true. I bet it is something to just stare at. how did you attach the structure to the sono tubes - do yo have a photo of this?. Also what type of chisels did you use? Where did you get them? You have inspired me to build a smaller scale tool shed.


I embedded L-bolts in the tops of the sono tubes, extending about 4 or 5 inches above the surface. Each of the post bases has a hole drilled at the center to fit over the bolt. I also embedded metal tie straps in the concrete (attached to a piece of rebar about six inches below the surface of the tube). Once the posts were in place, the straps were nailed to the post bases.

My chisels were hand forged by Barr Quarton (barrtools.com) in McCall, Idaho. I can't speak highly enough about his work. They are the kind of tools that can be passed down for generations (hopefully).

Good luck with your own projects.


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