February 2009

This is my new barn blog that is not available anywhere else in the entire world. This should be both educational and fun for everyone.p40102881


Barn owners often find that one of the most interesting aspects of a timber framed barn is the recognition and verification of the type of wood species that was used in its construction. This often conjures up images of the ancient trees and forests that were the sources of the timbers in these buildings. The original trees of the sizes that were attained in such lush primeval environments have long disappeared from almost all natural arboreal areas in North America. Such trees that yielded great timbers were cut and formed by builders such as posts, cross ties and barn length beams. Such beams up to one to one and a half feet across came from trees that were not indiscriminately chosen by builders but were most often chosen due to their ready availability in the forest and also their strength and durability and other traits.

In many areas of the northeast hardwood species such as maple, beech, ash, chestnut and very often oak were utilized in the construction of certain barns in various areas. Softwoods such as hemlock and more often pine were also used. Often in certain areas particular barns were constructed almost exclusively of either one or perhaps two species. Such an area for example was in southeast Pennsylvania where the great majority of barns their main construction timbers were of oak. Beams from oak timbers – genus – Quercus – were rather easily formed and possessed great strength and resistance to rot – especially the white oak variety. Long straight trees of oaks yielded great sized beams and to this day barns over 200 years retain great dimension oak timbers.

Other trees of other genus and species provided the necessary support in other areas and states. In many barns of certain areas of the Mahantango Valley northeast of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and particularly in Holland Dutch style barns in the Schoharie and Mohawk River Valleys of New York State pine timbers achieved massive dimensions – often over 18 inches in diameter and sometimes up to a full two feet across. Great beams came from great sized trees.

The identification of wood species in a barn is most often not a difficult task. A small slice or piece of wood is taken from a beam and then examined either by the naked eye such as the case of oak (end grain) or by means of a hand held lens. The wood piece is then keyed out by a process of elimination and in 90% of cases the wood is categorized by species. Quite often one or perhaps two species of wood only are used in the great majority (above wagon floor) of timber framing elements in a given barn. Innumerable barns in southeast Pennsylvania consist of oak timbers.

It is quite remarkable how often historic building (house or barn) owners mistake species of wood used in a structure for another species. The assignment of chestnut –genus – Castanea – is notoriously made for the identification of so many species of woods seen in so many barns. Occasionally especially in certain local areas chestnut was used.