Saturday, March 17, 2012

Well, How 'Bout That

In the last post, I said I'd replace the broken shingle on the west middle dormer if I could find my spare shingles. I didn't want to waste a lot of time that could be better spent actually working on the house.

Well, I soon thought better about it, and realized that even though it's up high, it is the front of the house, and it really needs to be done. So I resolved to dig through the garage until I found the stupid shingles. As I suspected, they were buried in the farthest extent of the garage, with the spare restoration glass and the complete window that used to be where the kitchen pass-through is now. It only took half a day to disinter them, and I'm nearly through putting everything back; it should only take another hour or so.

At first I considered just splicing in the missing part, as I did with the apron on the east window casing on the south side, because I was afraid of splitting the shingle above the damaged one if I replaced the shingle entirely. After thinking the situation out, I realized that even if I did, the job would still go much faster and would also look better when it was done. So with an X-Acto knife I freed up the head of the nail going through both shingles, and then I coaxed it out as gently as I could.

Yep, I cracked the upper shingle; the nail was simply too firmly attached to the wood from oxidation. After all, they had been together for 117 years or so. And speaking of that, I must tell you I can't help but get a bit solemn it such situations, because I realize that I'm looking upon something that hasn't been seen by human eyes for well over a century. Just slightly batty? Sure, but that's what it took to have bought the Farm House in the first place.

Oh, and take a look at the nail I removed. Note its rectangular cross-section. This is a cut nail, so called because it was cut from a strip of steel (which is why it only tapers along the wide dimension). They weren't originally blunt like this; the tip has rusted off. It's hard to tell in this picture because of the debris sticking to the nail, but the head was formed, basically, by squashing the end of the strip together during its manufacturing. Cut nails, although still available today, were in common use roughly from the early 19th century to soon after the Farm House's founding, so when I find them I can be reasonably certain that I'm working with the original construction.

While we're on this sleuthing tack, take a look at what became clearly visible when I began to sand the wood exposed by the removing of the broken shingle! Yes, it's a pencil mark, parallel with the roof line, clearly drawn by the carpenter who laid out the shingles. Awesome. 

In order to measure the new shingle for cutting, I made a paper pattern. I have a big roll of thick kraft paper I got from Uline along with an inexpensive dispenser; it has proven its handiness on at least a weekly basis since I got it, and I highly recommend it if you have the room. Anyway, first I made a kraft-paper replica of an uncut shingle:

Then, I cut it down to the length necessary to accommodate the pattern, slid it in place behind the upper shingle, slid a bone folder (a popsicle stick will do nicely) along the diagonal where the shingle meets the eave, then took it out, folded it along that crease, put it back in to check fit, then adjusted it until it fit well:

The black tape is there to keep the split shingle together until I can fix it.

The rest of the job was blessedly simple: cut the shingle and slip it into place.

Perfect! It hardly needs nailing, but of course I'll do that.

Note something interesting about the shingle pattern in this gable: the size of the shingles, and the pitch of the dormer roof, cause each course to be a whole number of shingles, increasing by one shingle for each course. Perhaps this is a coincidence, but it suggests a purposeful relation between the shingle size and the roof pitch; otherwise, one would expect that partial shingles would be necessary to complete the pattern in places. I know that the foreman on the construction project mentioned that there was a complicated calculation necessary to plot the proper placement of the shingles. I'll have to look into this further.

Climbing back into the house after this triumph, I happened to look up into the eave. Here is what I saw:

Funny I'd never noticed that particular pattern in the wood before; I guess usually when I'm out there I'm either looking down at the veranda roof or up at the house roof. In any event, this was a significant discovery, for it was evidence that, as I have long suspected, the front gables originally had bargeboards.

Now, I understand that these architectural terms I tend to throw around can be confusing, so here is what a bargeboard is:

It's the large, gracefully-curved green trim piece running along the gable in this picture. The pattern I saw in the eave of the dormer gable was exactly like the pattern I saw in the south gable before the missing bargeboard was replaced, but it was inconclusive, so I looked for the conclusive evidence. I found it higher up:

This shows the unmistakable pattern of a mounting block for the bargeboard. I can't believe I didn't notice this before, because as I said I suspected there were bargeboards in the front dormer gables, but better late than never.

This is quite a thrilling discovery, because the restoration of these bargeboards is going to make the Farm House even more beautiful than it is now. I'm not going to do anything about it until I'm completely finished with the exterior painting, but I'm going to take complete pictorial and video documentation of the evidence now, and I'm not going to sand out any of these marks, because when the time comes I'll have to bring this matter to the Cultural Heritage Commission for approval.

* * *

"I bring you this offering of fresh-killed prey in token of my appreciation for your fealty."


  1. WOW, what a neat discovery! Today I feel a stronger connection to the farmhouse than ever.

  2. Prey was delicious. The pup pack!

    1. Hey, how did you know the puppies subsequently eviscerated that poor little pachyderm?

      Hey, when did I get a Reply function?

    2. just one look at that pack tells the whole story. Let me at him!

  3. Fascinating stuff! Look forward to future discoveries.

    1. Thanks, Rob! You can be sure that after this I'll be even more obsessively attentive to detail.

  4. When I originally commented I clicked the "Notify me when new comments are added" checkbox and now each time
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    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?
    Bless you!

    1. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, and am baffled as to why it is happening, but I'm afraid I can't remove you from the service. Since you have posted anonymously, I don't even know who you are or what your e-mail address is.

      I will ask around Blogger to find out why you are getting triplicate notifications, but as far as removing you from the service, there should be instructions on the e-mails sent to you regarding how to do this.

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