The Barn Frame

To identify the way in which the carpenter converted the trees (logs) to timbers and then marked out the timbers in the frame in order to cut the "joinery" or wooden connections that secure the various parts of the frame, enables one to understand Ohio’s historic barns. Interior timbers often can be viewed on all four sides, while those against the exterior can be viewed from at least two or three. This allows for close inspection to reveal clues as to how the barn was built. Furthermore, evidence still remains that reveals how the timbers were converted from logs to square "cants," as well as how they were marked out by the carpenter shaping them into the various pieces that make up the structural frame work. Looking closely at the surfaces or faces reveals how the timbers were "squared up" from logs. This was done by either "hewing" the logs square with an axe, riving them with wedges and froes, or sawing them square. Although the technology to saw logs using water power had long existed in Europe, in the earliest periods of Ohio’s settlement sawmills did not exist, nor the infrastructure needed to transport the timber from the mills to the areas being settled. This meant the earliest barn builders had to hew their logs. Since the timbers were typically cut from the trees on the homestead, the hewing was done either in the woods or at the site where the barn was to be raised. This worked well for the larger timbers such as posts, sills or tie beams, but hewing smaller trees to make the rafters, wall girts (for nailing siding) and braces was not practical. Instead these were split or riven similar to the way shakes were created. For the rafters simple "poles" or small diameter trees that grew in the forest understory were used. They were typically hewn flat on the upper face and framed up with the tree bark still on them. Wall girts were often done the same way, although just as often they were converted (as were the braces) by riving them.

Barns framed completely of hand converted scantlings are not common today in Ohio. They represent the earliest or first period settlement structures, which for most of Ohio is the first half of the 19th Century. They were often small, although one full size Pennsylvania forebay barn built this way has been recorded in Ashland County (Ensminger, 1980) so their utility was compromised as farming operations changed. Barns this age in Ohio would all have been built with wooden shake roofs that were prone to letting in water soon after they were applied, causing the barn timbers eventually to rot. When these barns are discovered still surviving, they deserve not only careful study, but effective stewardship.