As some of you may already know, we’ve been pretty busy the last couple months building a proper barn for the community – a central place to keep our goats, their feed, their hay, and their water year-round. (And maybe, someday, a place to keep other animals.) This will be a major improvement, because currently the goats are crowded in one small barn, their feed is stored outside, their hay is split between another temporary shed and a giant tarped pile in the driveway, and their water… well, often it’s hauled by the bucketful from home. In the middle of winter with 8-foot snowbanks, that’s not a particularly fun chore. And with potentially four mama goats kidding next March, the little old barn they’re currently in now just won’t cut it!

So we’ve been pushing hard to get the new barn built and ready to accept its residents before this coming winter’s heavy snow. And it’s coming together nicely, even if we’re a little behind schedule. The weather has been pretty gracious.

I figured you might be interested how we’re building this thing. Well, it’s getting built more or less the same way all the structures on this property have been built – slipform stone masonry for its foundation, berm wall, and buttresses, and timber-frame construction for the rest. Conceptually it’s really quite simple. In practice, it can be a little finicky sometimes, but maybe that’s just how construction is in general. We just let Deryk figure out all the hard parts, and he tells us what to do. Seems to work out pretty well.

We picked a site for the barn that was fairly central relative to current and proposed pastureland, and mostly uphill from the gardens since much of what comes out of the barn (i.e., manure) will need to be wheelbarrowed to the gardens eventually. The site also needed to have a sharp downhill slope in it, so that we could drive into the rear of the hayloft from the the lane while still being able to walk the goats directly out to pasture from the lower level.

The site we chose is right next to what we call the Hayfield, and close to the pond. The pond could serve as an extra/emergency water source for the animals, too. But the barn would have a cistern built into in the poured concrete foundation, supplied by rainwater – the same as it is in all the other houses on the property.

The site started out as forest, and so we had to do some cutting and then excavating before it was ready to build anything on. Then we built simple forms for the footings, filled them with concrete, and stuck our first lengths of rebar into them. Footings are the concrete pads you pour to create a level surface capable of supporting the loads you expect them to bear. Deryk has done this a million times before, so he knows how to figure out how big they need to be.

Site before excavation

Footing formsFootings after being poured

Then we set in place forms on top of the footings for the first and every subsequent level of slipform masonry. I explained how all this works in my last post where I talked about the wood shed extension on our house. We’ve gotten quite good at it as a team, I daresay. An really has a knack for making tight fits. I’ll say no more about that.

First level of slipformsFilling slipform walls as a team

TeamworkAlmost done slipforming

And then after all the forms were off, the walls looked like this!

The finished masonry walls

I didn’t mention how we built the cistern, mostly because I wasn’t there for that part and missed taking any pictures of the process, but I did see how we did the root cellar, which is similar. The root cellar was a bit of an afterthought in the design of the barn: We had a bunch of space to fill in the floor, but instead of filling it with dirt, we decided to leave it hollow so that we could store big bags of root veggies to feed the animals over the winter. We lined the base of it with gravel, then built concrete walls around the cavity using slipforms, and then created a structure out of two-by-fours and plywood to support a concrete floor above it. Before we poured the floor we reinforced the surface with a grid pattern of rebar, which is needed to support the weight of people and animals walking all over it.

Getting the root cellar floor ready for pouring

The next step was to parge and tar the outside of the berm and stem walls to protect the concrete from the threat of water seepage. If water gets into tiny cracks in the concrete and freezes, it creates bigger cracks in the concrete and over time threatens its structural integrity; tarring protects against this. When that was done we had the backhoe guy come back and move tons of gravel, soil and sand back against the berm and stem walls, and do some other landscaping while he was at it.

Tarring the berm wallStem wall tarred

Backhoe backfillingBerm wall backfilled

Now it was time to put up the timbers! Deryk and Rodney got the first level of sills and posts up pretty quickly, and the next day we got most of the ground floor posts and beams up. Finished that and started laying out the loft decking afterwards. This stuff can happen pretty fast (if the weather cooperates); it’s like putting together a 3D jigsaw puzzle. When everything’s in place and level and square, all the timber joints get pegged together tight with oak pegs that Deryk has carved beforehand.

Stem wall backfilledRoughing out the loft deck

While Deryk was busy carving the rafters and collars (lots of them), we finished cutting and nailing down the loft decking. We also got the sheathing on front of the barn done. And today with the rafters all ready to go, as a team we put up the trusses. As I mentioned earlier, timber-frame work can be a little finicky; timbers can warp a little as they dry, causing bowing and twists that can make it quite difficult to get them to fit together just right. We just let Deryk make the necessary tweaks to tenons or shoulders or whatever until he’s satisfied. The trusses all get pegged before they are raised into place.

Tweaking collarPegging rafter to collar

Raising a trussGo team

And finally, the barn is taking shape!

Trusses in placeBraced trusses

Braced trussesTime for a break

Next tasks include framing up the dormer, attaching hurricane braces and roof strapping, and by next week putting on the steel roof! Exciting, especially for those of us who aren’t afraid of heights. We’ll be posting more barn updates on our Facebook page.

About Farmer Paul

Paul grew up in a yuppie-laden Toronto suburb, though he lucked out having been raised by eccentrics who rejected the neighbourhood status quo and converted the lawn into organic gardens. In his starry-eyed 20s, his obsession with living sustainably subdued his interest in high-tech anything (somehow scraping by with a computer science degree all the same). His interest in farming was piqued while apprenticing at Everdale, an organic farm in Ontario, and studying permaculture design in BC. He's since operated three market gardens, and now takes a lead in garden management and cheesemaking at Snow Lake Keep.

3 responses to “Building our timber-frame barn

  1. I love seeing your posts. These skills were all but lost in the modern industrial rush. Constructing a building that will long outlive you must give an amazing amount of satisfaction. Congratulations to all of you and keep us posted!

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