Barn Raising: Preparing for the big day(s) ahead

I was nervous. Very nervous. Over the course of the five years it had taken to get to this day, the actual raising of the barn had loomed as a big unknown. Cutting the joinery, while certainly a critical part of the project, was something I could easily get my hands around. As long as I paid attention to detail in my design and checked everything three times when laying out the timbers, it was more or less straight forward stuff. Measure, mark, cut, label, stack. Next.

Finally, the time had come to assemble the pieces and raise the frame. Preparing for that process had been keeping me up at night.

Until very recently I’d envisioned an “old-school” raising. We’d assemble the bents on the deck, gather together dozens of family and friends, lift the thousands of pounds of hemlock timber frame sections (referred to as “bents”) skyward, lock them together with tie beams and pegs, then cap it off with a whetting bush at the end of the day (the tradition of fixing a hemlock bow to the peak of the frame).

Ah, the fantasies. I held onto those visions until just weeks before the raising. As the big day loomed closer I started having second thoughts. I worried about the safety of those I’d be drawing on to help us. As the “what-if’s” started to pile up I set aside the notion of a traditional, human-powered barn raising and looked into renting a crane. That may have been one of the wisest decisions made in the whole project. It also provided great relief for the mental anguish I’d been putting myself through.

Before bringing in the big orange machine, Marion and I had some prep work to do. We spent Marion’s birthday cutting the 8″x8″ sections out of the sub-flooring to reveal the sill plate mortises below (where the frame timbers will connect).

Next, our trusty friend John (Deere) helped carry over timbers from the stacked piles in our middle meadow.

The joinery started coming together. This is the part where I find so much joy. After all the marking, cutting, chiseling, etc. to prepare the mortise and tenon joints, we do not test the fit until raising time. (The timbers are just too big and unwieldy to assemble and check in advance.) We place our trust in the drawings we’ve created and our diligence in checking everything twice (or three times, or more) before cutting.

Once the joints in the posts, tie beams, and braces have all been pulled tight with webbing straps and come-along winches, we secure the joints with 1-inch oak pegs.

The beams that connect the main posts in our barn are modeled after the Dutch style “anchor beams” that use a long through-tenon.

Another set comes together (above) with the straps and winches.

We finished the assembly of three of the bents on day one, then completed the fourth on the morning of day two before heading off to get the remaining supplies and food we’d need for raising day and, finally, taking delivery of the big orange machine.