Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Brief Tour of the Attic

Given its unfinished state, the attic readily reveals a great deal about the design and construction of the house. Here are some images of the attic, along with commentary.



Above Left. This curious epithet appears on one of the roof planks. I know nothing of its provenance, but would imagine that, some time around the 100th anniversary of the house’s construction, some one decided to mark the occasion by painting this message in a location where it was unlikely to get covered or destroyed. If my theory is correct, then this bit of colonial graffiti just slightly pre-dates the signing of the Declaration of Independence. My only regret is that the author didn’t include their own name and date they wrote it. If I am still around on the 350th anniversary of the house – 2025 (the same year that those super-high full moons return, by the way) – I will likewise inscribe a similar commemoration right next to this one.

Above Right. This photo attempts to capture as much of the roof system as possible. The Hawkins house has nine rafter pairs, comprised of 6 x 6 timbers, which is in sharp contrast to the relatively smaller dimensional lumber used in the roofing systems of modern, stud-framed homes. Although not obvious from this photo, there is no ridge beam connecting the rafter peaks. Furthermore, each rafter pair is tied with a 4 x 6 collar tie, positioned exactly half-way along the length of each rafter. The only exception to this is the fifth rafter pair, which butts-up against the chimney and therefore lacks a collar tie. The roof line is quite high, being 12’ over the attic floor, and the roof exhibits a classic 12-in-12 pitch; that is, a 12’ rise and a 12’ run, resulting in a 45 degree slope.

The roof and walls are sheathed with large oak planks, varying from 12” to 15" in width, and consistently 1 ½” thick. At the far end of the photo (which shows the North end of the house), you can see that the wall planks are hung vertically, just as you might find in an old barn. They are fastened directly to the exterior sides of the major framing members, a style of sheathing referred to as vertical plank-on-timber. I’ve been told that these planks, which were pit-sawn by hand back in those days, had also been soaked in lime as a preservative. In any event, the over-built construction of the Hawkins house, combined with the fact that it was owned by only two families, both of whom were committed to its long-term preservation, explains how the house has survived for so long.


Above Left. This is another view of the roof and vertical wall planking in the vicinity of the North end. The two planks nearest the window display a very odd discoloration just above the first collar tie, but the wood otherwise appears to be in good shape.

Above Right. This is a close-up of two abutting vertical planks. Through the gap between the planks, you can see the original clapboards forming the exterior wall. Nowadays, the clapboards are covered with a layer of cedar shakes, so they are no longer visible from outside the house.

Above Left. This photo shows the peak of the first rafter pair. The rafters are joined via an open through-mortise-and-tenon (the rafter on the left is the tenoned one), and the wooden peg drawing them together is plainly visible.

Above Right. This photo shows the collar tie of the third rafter pair, joined to the tenoned rafter. A lapped half-dovetail joint is used. Note that both collar tie and rafter are scribed with a “III”, designating them as belonging to the third rafter pair. Each of the rafters is also marked with a "III" near the peak. You can also see in the photo that the next collar tie is likewise marked as "IIII". The reason for marking them in this manner (with so called marrying numbers) is that all of these members were initially layed-out, cut, and fitted, while on the ground. After the bents were raised, the rafter pairs and collar ties were subsequently joined after being brought aloft. The builders needed to keep track of how the members were to be re-fitted, hence the scribed numerals.

Above Left. This photo shows a close-up of the tenoned rafter and collar tie of rafter pair IIII. Note the scoring marks on the side of the rafter, which had been smoothed somewhat with an adze.

Above Right. This is the back of collar tie VII. There is a waney edge at the top, with some remaining bark. It also looks like some ancient bugs decided at various times that this was a good place to stop for lunch (just like me dropping-in at Mattie’s on Route 34). Recently, I found a very small pile of saw dust on the attic floor, directly under one of these holes, so apparently the wood still tastes pretty good after all these years. I’ll have to take care of this soon… ;-)
Next stop on the virtual tour: Second floor (Home)

1 comment:

Doug said...

I hope you'll have the historical courtesy to sign the graffiti you plan to add in 2025. The super-high moon will be watching.