- Published on Friday, 01 March 2013 10:37
This past autumn, we had a particularly exciting opportunity to salvage thousands of board feet of wormy American chestnut and red oak lumber from a dairy barn here in Fayette County, West Virginia. Built in 1934, the barn had served its purpose for many years before falling into disrepair. Its cinder block walls were cracking and becoming unstable, and the roof of the barn was already in pretty bad shape when this past summer's derecho storm came through and sealed the deal. After receiving their insurance money for the damage to the barn, the new property owners decided that it was a good time to have it removed.
Though no longer usable as a barn, there was an incredible amount of high quality salvageable material in the structure. Hundreds of square feet of corrugated metal roofing would provide the perfect covering for the outdoor stacks of reclaimed lumber back at our base camp. The planks supporting this metal roofing were beautiful rough cut red oak on the order of 1000+ board feet, and just about everything else in the wooden structure was wormy American chestnut!
On a crisp October morning we got started on the deconstruction. It felt great to be up on the roof peak overlooking the surrounding farms and also to be gaining access to these wonderful materials. We quickly and carefully removed, denailed and stacked all of the corrugated roofing, and in a few hours time, Brian and I had already started prying off the oak planks from the roof rafters.
Though it takes slightly longer on the front end, we have found that it is best to remove all of the nails from each board immediately after being pried off of the structure. This reduces the chances of injury to both workers and to the lumber. It also makes the wood easier to move and stack every subsequent step of the journey. Our mindset in deconstruction always in "harvesting materials" as opposed to "tearing down a building". The photo above is a detail of the red oak planks from the roof. Note the beautiful quarter sawn figure on the middle board hiding just underneath those rough saw marks!
Over the course of the next six days, the barn slowly came apart. First the roof planks, then the chestnut rafters. The second floor became a temporary denailing station until it too was removed. None of the flooring from the hay loft was salvageable. Pine does not seem to hold up to weathering and wet/dry cycles. Fortunately, chestnut is a very rot resistant lumber species, and nearly all of the floor joists underneath this flooring were in wonderful condition as were the posts and beams that supported them.
Without the nails, the lumber stacked easily into our trailer, and every day we took a nice load the short distance to our wood shop in Oak Hill. All in all the deconstruction yielded a surplus of useful material. Of course, the 2000+ board feet of wormy chestnut framing lumber was the most valuable, but there was a great deal of other salvage. The roofing planks have found their way into a number of projects already, and the corrugated metal roofing is already being put to use protecting our lumber. We also were able to find some interesting and useful tools from the old dairy barn including a number of old heavy duty syringes that we use to inject glue into the cracks of damaged boards. Old gates and barn hardware will no doubt find their way into some furniture someday, and the steel hitching rail that ran the length of the barn will also likely make at least two custom table bases in the future. Newer building materials like OSB, wall studs and plywood were also salvaged. We like to recycle material for shipping crates and packaging also!
Our first commission from this material was for a dining table from the owners of the very barn that we had just torn down. They had purchased the land and dilapidated dairy barn a few years back and built a beautiful house on the rolling acreage on the back side of the property. Using a nice selection of the roof rafters, we made them a 76" x 46" table with tapered legs cut out of some of the barn beams.
Their dining room actually overlooks the ramparts of the old barn. It must be kind of neat to sit down at the table for a meal and look out at the spot where the boards were harvested. We hope they enjoy it for many years to come! Without the wooden structure holding it together, the block walls in the old barn quickly collapsed. This spring, the family plans to have the site cleaned up, but are hoping to preserve the old grain silo for a project in the future.
Though it is likely second growth, the chestnut recovered from the barn has wonderful character and color tone. Also, as a characteristic of it's original cutting and milling in the early twentieth century, there are plenty of worm holes to add interest to the lumber surfaces. We are already producing some wonderful pieces from this lot of wood. If you would like to enjoy something built out of this chestnut or red oak in your home, please contact us. We would love to build it for you!
- Published on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 06:22
There are so many things that I love about what we do here at VTLC that it is hard to pick a favorite. Pursuing deconstruction opportunities may take the cake though. Exploring old structures and finding out what they are made of is a lot like a treasure hunt. You never know what you are going to find, and it is exciting to think of the woodworking possibilities when looking at all kinds of beautiful old lumber locked up inside a building's construction. I also really enjoy meeting new people, and it's always a treat when you get to hear about the history of the property and the area from someone who has lived there a while.
I followed up on a new deconstruction opportunity a few days ago in Fayette County, West Virginia and found a great candidate. Crooked Run Road meanders through the pastoral countryside just south of Fayetteville. It's definitely an old road that passed through some of the original farms on the plateau. We recently tore down a 1930's dairy barn out here. As she drove by and watched us work day after day, our new friend Autumn decided to contact us about a house on her property just down the road.
Last Saturday, I showed up to take a look around and had the pleasure of getting a tour of the house from Autumn's father Wayne, and his dog Gypsy. Wayne had originally purchased the house and property in the sixties and as he put it, "It was an old house even back then." Originally built in 1904, the structure was part of a hundred acre farm that has since been subdivided. I could tell just by looking at the place from the outside that it would yield some good reclaimed boards.
Weathered cedar shingles, a rusty metal roof, old poplar fascia boards and a hand cut stone chimney all added charm to to the old dilapidated structure giving testament to the building's age. A spot in the roof was peeled back from the weather and I could see that the roof sheeting was made from white oak planks. Often these are spaced widely apart under the metal roofing, but these ones appeared to butt against one another indicating that there should be plenty of planks under the metal for us to reclaim.
First we took a look inside. Though some of it was covered up with newer layers, it was easy to see that the original floor was old tongue and groove oak, a classic and common choice from the time period. Even after over 100 years this floor still looked beautiful and only slightly worn. Not much of the house's structure was visible from the interior as it was covered with wall paneling and drywall, but I was able to determine that much of the framing in the walls and rafters would be hemlock.
We then took a look around back and I crawled underneath to look at the under-structure. Oak floor joists supported by a hand hewn center beam were exactly what I was hoping to see. Brian and I had just been talking about how we were starting to run a little low on our oak framing lumber, and what do you know? Here it is for the taking. We are looking forward to getting to work on this one in the coming weeks and will be sure to keep everyone posted on our progress. I can't wait to see what kind of furniture that we end up creating from this beautiful old virgin timber lumber!
- Published on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 06:56
We recently finished a deconstruction project down the road in Mount Hope.
The town of Mount Hope has a rich and varied history. It is the subject of many stories of early Fayette County and the pivotal role of coal in the plateau as well as the New River Gorge. Before the Great Depression, more than twenty coal companies had offices in the city. Their commitment to the town and the development they spurred ensured that even after the devastation of a city-wide fire, Mount Hope rebuilt in less than two years and remained one of the most modernized townships in the region. Unconfirmed reports claim more than thirty thousand people lived within walking distance of the city at its peak.
Currently, Mount Hope is undergoing another revitalization after nearly five decades of decline. The historic offices of the region's largest coal company, the New River Company, are occupied by new developers Trinity Works. Trinity coordinates what must be Fayette County's largest project since the coal boom, The Summit Bechtel Family Scout Reserve.
Our names are Gabe and Drew, friends of VTLC over at Earnest Demolition, LLC. The owners of this house called us up after receiving an order from the city to remove the dilapidated and hazardous structure from their property. With more than a century of history, this building served as everything from a loving home for four generations to a convenience store. Now that the house is cleared, they're hoping to rebuild soon on the land. Read on for more info about the project or venture over to our Facebook gallery to see more pictures.
Reportedly built around 1900, the owners told us that the original structure was moved (ever seen a house moving?) to this, its final, location sometime shortly after the Fire of 1910. Over the years they expanded and remodeled the structure, suffered two fires, and finally vacated it in 2006.
We didn't find a vapor barrier in the rear of the house, a ticking time bomb for any primarily wood building. Coupled with a hole in the roof the support beams weakened and the floors degraded. The walls literally fell in on themselves, bringing the fully furnished house to its usable end.
We set to work in early December and completed the project in under two weeks, just in time to go home for the holidays. We used no power tools or heavy equipment in the job, only hand tools and a whole lot of elbow grease. A single 30 yard dumpster rented from the fine folks over at Oak Hill Garbage Disposal was enough to take care of the refuse. The rest, an estimated 65-70% of the entire material removed from the site, we either salvaged or recycled. The average demolition contract for a single family home sends more than 6 times as much volume to the landfill.
Our first impression of the house had us thinking we'd be lucky to salvage 30% of the structure at best. However, through diligent work almost entirely by hand, we were able to pick through the piles of trash and sequester unique and invaluable materials. We found a more than modest cache of wormy chestnut framing lumber, super wide poplar and hemlock planks, some cherry boards, white oak joists, and mostly hemlock beams. In the very back of the basement, we even found a 15 foot american chestnut 8"x8" holding up the only part of the house that was standing.
We also found a handful of antiques, and were able to return some family heirlooms to the owners. We recovered a couple coal load tags (a pit tag), a copper oilwick miner's lamp, a brass handled fire poker, and a homemade anvil forged from a flat bottom railway rail. We're finally able to wash our work clothes with a recovered and functional Maytag Wringer Washer, and we are coveting the numerous Coca Cola bottles manufactured in various West Virginia and Appalachian glass factories. Try recovering items like those with a backhoe!
This spread of lumber is typical of the era and in this type of construction. They are what allow the craftsfolk at Virgin Timber Lumber to make such incredible reclaimed wood furniture. If you're interested in having a part of this history in furniture or in raw form, we're drying the lumber now and would love to reserve you some. Contact us through the website and we'll make it happen for you!
- Published on Wednesday, 28 September 2011 09:37
On the back roads of Nicholas County, some friends and I were heading home after a great kayaking run on the Gauley River. Driving the winding roads on the north side of the canyon, we come upon this guy on a big red farm tractor tearing this little old house apart. I actually saw him working on it earlier in the morning when we passed by to set our river shuttle. He had a huge, fifteen foot tall fire going with all of the lumber and material he was throwing on it.
We decided to stop for a few minutes, if for nothing else than to chat with the old timer. It turns out that someone else was going to tear the place down for him and salvage the lumber, but they kept putting him off. He let me take a look around as I was very interested to see what kind of antique lumber he was burning.
Oak and Poplar lumber were the primary species within the structure. Hand hewn oak beams with square wooden pegs supported the base of the structure giving testament to the antiquity of the building. By now it was 6:30 in the evening, the fire was smoldering and the man looked tired. Though he said that he was going to keep working, I knew that there would be plenty of material left in the morning. He agreed to let me pick some boards if I came back.
The next morning I showed up at his door with an empty pick up truck. Over the next couple of hours I filled the truck with selected pieces of lumber while he "delicately" pulled the house apart with the fork attachment on his tractor.
In the old days, before the Pink Panther started making insulation, they would paper the inside walls of houses thick with newspaper to stop the drafts from coming in. This turns out to be a great way to determine the approximate age of a building as well. Check out the date on the photo below... December 15, 1918. This lumber is almost a hundred years old!
The truck filled up quickly, and I regretted not bringing along the trailer or any of my tools, else I could have really capitalized on the opportunity. I enjoyed talking to the old man also. He was a nice guy and full of knowledge about local history and culture. I am always impressed with the wisdom of old time back woods West Virginians. They know everything about the important stuff in life.
- Published on Sunday, 28 August 2011 12:19
Isn't it great when an opportunity comes knocking on your door. My good friend Adam Stephens, owner of Marathon Bikes, contacted me to tear down a small house in the center of Fayetteville. He and a local attorney, Tom Rist are currently redeveloping a downtown property that will someday be a social and commerce hub in our bustling little town.
Adam was already prepared to chew up the house with a rented excavator and throw it in a huge dumpster, but he called me up to see if I wanted any of the lumber. At first glance, I could tell that there was some good stuff in there. Oak and Chestnut floor joists between the first and second floors were enough to entice me to take a break from the wood shop and schedule a deconstruction for the upcoming days else I would miss out on the opportunity.
Deconstruction is just the reverse of the building process, therefore I like to start at the top when taking down a house. Being the hottest few days of the summer, I showed up at first light in hopes of being off the roof before the sun started to barbecue me. Straddling the peak, I peeled back the roof until I could stand in the attic to more safely remove the rest of the roof and get to the rafters, many of which were nice rough cut Chestnut and Oak and Hemlock. The fact that I was only stung once by the swarms of displaced wasps, hornets and yellow jackets proves that everyday miracles are possible.
With the help of Adam, one of his friends, and the limited use of the excavator with claw attachment, we were able to take down the little structure and clear the building site in three tedious days. From the deconstruction, I was able to salvage three truck and trailer loads of lumber including some nice long Chestnut 2x10's and plenty of other goodies to add to our growing stock of precision milled reclaimed lumber.
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