Prior to the Industrial Revolution, when lumber mills and nails became widely available, large wooden structures in America were held up and knit together by hand-hewn beams.
The process of hewing timbers for post and beam construction has been used in Europe since the 12th century. As settlers moved westward in the 18th and 19th centuries they cleared trees to make the land usable for agriculture, homes, and towns. Trees that were straight, large and tall were generally most desirable, especially when building large structures like barns.
Sometimes trees were felled during the fall but were not used for a building project until the following spring. The bark and wood between the scoring marks was then chipped out for the entire length of the beam.
A log was ready for hewing after all the large, irregular areas were removed and the log was close to the size of the timber that it would become. Hand-hewn beams have a number of unique features, which give clues about the experience level of the craftsman, or original use or the age of the beam. Before the advent of readily available, standardized nails, timber-framed structures were held together using mortise and tenon joints. The character, experience, and circumstances of a craftsman are most apparent in the mortise and tenon. When looking at hand-hewn beams you may also notice straight lines extending upward from the edges of a mortise.
For these settlers, each log that was transformed into a timber would become a part of their future.
When Europeans first began settling in North America, quickly erecting shelter for themselves, their crops and livestock was their first priority.
In the Scribe Rule, each timber was connected to its neighbor with a completely custom connection or joint. After the pre-assembly process was completed, erecting the building was a build-by-numbers assembly method. Finding a beam with reference marks on both sides almost always means the beam was used in the center threshing bay. In his book Barns of the Berkshires, Stephen Donaldson describes how reference marks can also help to date a beam. After about a century in the New World, settlers began adapting their building techniques to the resources that were available. The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation has a project that focuses on historic barns in Connecticut. This new building technique meant that scribing and reference marks were no longer necessary. Before the first nail cutting machine was invented in the 1790s all nails were hand wrought from iron bars. Swing, or tie, beams were used to span large distances and allowed a farmer to create huge, open bays in their barns. When time was of the essence or having four squared sides was not important, craftsmen created live edge beams. Wane is the presence of bark or irregularity of an edge due to a natural curvature in the original tree. Over time many of these barns became almost unusable either out of safety concerns or because they were too small for the equipment and storage needs of the modern farm. Very little written documentation is available about the building process in early American history. Today, much of what we know about construction from that era has been learned through a process of reverse engineering. Integrating reclaimed hand-hewn beams into a home, office, or business is to own a piece of American history.
Established suppliers will have a large inventory to satisfy your needs whether you are looking for a single beam for a mantle or 100 beams for siding your home. After the desired reclaimed timbers have been chosen, the supplier should take care of all processing and logistics.


The processing of each timber should be customized based on the specifications and needs of your project. Many suppliers of reclaimed wood have the ability to kiln dry timbers if necessary to kill any mold or insects that might be present in the beam. At Distinguished Boards & Beams our aim is to ensure that your reclaimed hand-hewn beams meet your expectations.
Focusing on the hewn face, dovetail corner, chinked style of building, Progresses into repairing and restoring. From Proenneke's journal, and with first-hand knowledge of his subject and the setting, Sam Keith has woven a tribute to a man who carved his masterpiece out of the beyond.
Rachel Carley holds a Master's Degree in Historic Preservation and puts her knowledge to good use in this book.
First published in 1872, this book is filled with advice on the best ways to plan and construct dwellings in any location, using wood, earth and gravel. At first glance you may feel this is just another glossy picture book on beautiful log homes and cabins, but it's not just about decor, it's about a way of life where simplicity itself can be sensational.
Christopher & Skinulis lead you on a photographic journey of the many faces of log homes including Post and Beam, Dovetail, Chinked, Scribe-fit, Traditional and Modern. Almost every man (women are saner) dreams, at least once in his life, of getting away from it all, deep into the woods, and going it alone.
Prior to the advent of the steam engine, timber frame structures were built utilizing local trees, both hard wood and softwood species, that were felled and hand shaped to unique specifications using a laborious broad adze hewn method that required a tremendous amount of craftsmanship, hard-work, and strength. Arc Wood & Timbers works with an intricate team of deconstruction subcontractors and barn busters to procure and refurbish the highest quality of hewn beams available throughout our historic rural landscape. Customer Quotes“We value Arc Wood & Timbers for their vast knowledge of wood and its inherent characteristics, and for their overall resourcefulness. Arc Wood & TimbersWe offer a wide variety of woods from reclaimed vintage structures, salvaged logs, and sustainably harvested trees. Maybe its first home was a barn in New Hampshire that was built by English settlers in 1781 as they worked to find their place in a new land.
When Europeans began settling the Americas they brought with them their building techniques, which had been passed down and refined through the generations. They used the largest and straightest trees on their land to create the structural timbers that would ultimately provide shelter for their loved ones and livelihoods.
It was completed entirely by hand and many hours of manual labor went into the creation of any one beam. The craftsman located and measured what would eventually be the timber within the log and marked along the length of the log with a chalk line or string.
These scores went deep into the wood but the goal was to keep them either at or just shy of the marked guideline. This process removed most of the large, rough surfaces and prepared the log for the final hewing process. Their hopes and dreams were riding on their ability to make sound structures that could withstand the harsh winters and hot summers of their new land.
Putting the reference marks on both sides of this center beam but only on the hidden side of all the other beams made the marks appear random and thus protected a craftsman’s trade secrets. The Scribe Rule method of building had been almost completely replaced by newer building methods by the late 1820s. Once mere survival was not the sole focus, they saw that they were surrounded by an abundance of old growth forests, which were home to numerous large, straight trees. Their site has a detailed description of timber framing techniques and building methods that were used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries including an excellent narrative about the Scribe and Square Rules.
Therefore with this technique various parts of the building, which served the same function, were identical and could be interchanged. These beams were taller in the center than they were at the ends, which made them exponentially stronger. A hammerbeam was a large beam that protruded from the top of a sidewall and supported the roof but did not span the entire width of the structure.
Live edge beams have two sides that have been squared and two sides that are largely untouched and maintain their natural curvature.


This may be seen along an entire edge but more commonly it is present intermittently along one or more edges.
Barns that were built according to the Scribe Rule will have a greater variety of beam sizes that can be reclaimed. If the supplier doesn’t have the timbers that meet your specifications in their on-site inventory, they will work with their network of vetted tradesmen to locate beams that match your needs. It is ideal to do the minimum amount necessary to take your beam from barn to ready to use. Depending on the intended use of your reclaimed timber, beams can be power washed to remove the decades of dirt and build-up, which often reveals an underlying rich brown patina.
The most common example is when reclaimed beams are going to be used for custom millwork or flooring. Our promise is that the timber that is delivered to your job site will be 100% usable and ready to start its next chapter as part of your story. From creating arches and arcs in timbers to working on scarfs in logs, this planers prowess is well known. Creating a mortise and tenon, which fit together perfectly was an art form requiring precision and patience. Or maybe it was a master craftsman who had gotten behind schedule when he fell ill and was now racing Mother Nature to finish the barn before the onset of the winter snows.
Any that was left was most owned by the church or the aristocracy who needed tall, straight trees to build cathedrals, ship masts, fortresses, etc. These reference marks were often roman numerals and would help the builder identify where each post and beam was to be joined. According to Donaldson, after the late 1820s the Square Rule became the predominant building method with its popularity persisting until milled lumber and standardized nails became both widely available and affordable. This was in contrast to the Scribe Rule in which each joint between a post and a beam was unique. Wane was created as the craftsman was trying to make a square edge while at the same time compensating for the timber that was not completely straight.
Whereas beams from barns built according to the Square Rule make it easier to get a larger inventory of more or less uniformly sized beams.
They sheltered not only animals and equipment but they also provided a protected space for farmers to process wheat and grains. As time lapsed and barns were being lost to the elements or progress we were losing an importance piece of American heritage. The best suppliers accept only the highest quality beams and are therefore able to minimize the amount of processing necessary to prepare the reclaimed timbers for your project. In these instances, after a beam has been processed and cut, the entire surface can be cleaned and brush sanded to create a smooth surface that is free from slivers.
Much of the wood that is reclaimed from historic structures has co-existed with at least some level of moisture for many years. Cutting machines made nails more available, but nail making was still a very labor-intensive process that required two people to operate each machine. Think about the size of tree needed to create a beam of this magnitude and the horse, mule, ox, or manpower required to move that tree even just 30 feet from the felling site to the building site.
They were supported by a diagonal brace and allowed for large open roof spans and made the loft area of a barn completely open and useable. Timbers are cut and planed according to your specific size requirements prior to delivery so everything is installation-ready when it arrives at your job site.
This made it so the mortises where each corner post joined a beam could be cut to the same size. It demands careful attention to detail to identify, protect and preserve the best hand-hewn beams. Reputable suppliers of reclaimed wood have network of trusted tradesmen across the country with whom they work.



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