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A Search for the Perfect Barn Frame:what to look for in a timber frame

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A Search for the Perfect Barn Frame:What to look for in a timber frame

VELD architect is embarking on a major bank barn reuse project! So in light of this journey we are going to shares its joys, challenges, and stories along the way. Hopefully providing you with information and confidence for you to consider your own bank barn projects! Keep an eye on the blog under the “Bank Barn Adaptive Reuse” category on the left for updates!

Our first story is a search. A search for the prefect barn. It began with a google search for companies already in existence who take down and put back up barns, followed by many phone trails until we found a ’guy’ for the right price! None-the-less I now have accumulated a list of 40+ ‘guys’ who take down barns for reuse. So if you need a ‘guy’ I got one in your area!

One day I got my first lead on a barn that was going to come down. A neighbour of my parents. So I brought my guy out to look at it.  Much to my disappointment he taught me through all the reasons this was not a good barn what to look for in the next one. So here they are; what to look for if you are wanting to take down and reuse a barn frame:IMG_3269

  • ROT: rot is your worst enemy and most common sense thing to look for. Rot hugely reduces the structural capacity as well as increase costs for ruse sue to fixing and patching. Rot often occurs at add-ons and additions and often can’t be seen until the barn board exterior comes off.
  • BUGS: another easy one to spot. Often found in basswood and oak barns, the powderpost beetle with live with you if you invite it into your house.  There are some methods to get rid of it, but costly and difficult.


  • PEG HOLES: When you take down a barn frame for reuse you reverse build it, thus you take the pegs out that hold two pieces of wood together at the joint. When the barn was built, the holes for the pegs were either part drilled from one side, or drilled all the way through. All the way through is preferred unless you have some time on your hands and many cordless drills! See our take down storey! There can be over 200 holes in a barn frame!


  • WOOD SPECIES: This is more a preference item, but it also can tell you a bit about challenges you might face. Hardwoods are going to be difficult to drill into, nail into, etc., but they are very sturdy and have good structural capacity. Soft woods tend to have more rot and bugs, but can be easier to work with. It take practice, but if you bring a jack knife, chisel, or crow bar with you, and bang it into the wood you can get a sense of the wood type as well as if there is dry rot or bug damage that could compromise its strength. Obviously if it is hard to the knife it’s a hard wood, and visa versa for soft.


  • CRACKS, KNOTS, NOTCHES: all these defects to the wood man or nature made, can compromise its strength. It is best to avoid these in critical structural locations (roof eave beam, columns, or shoulder beams).


  • OVERALL SIZE: you need to have an idea of what square footage you want to end up with so you can pick a barn that is close and does not require much modification. The square footage of the barn can quickly drive a budget overboard.
  • TIMBER SIZES: the larger the dimensions of columns and beams the more structural capacity you’ll get and the less modifications you will need to make. typically I found 9×9″ to 10×10″ timber members, But there was one barn with 12×12″! In working through the structural design they would have been better and saved us a bit of structural gymnastics and costs.
  • FEATURES: does the barn have a ladder, thrashing wheel, old equipment. These are bonus, but can really add history and character to your new use.



After a search through 5 or 6 barns over two years we finally found one in great shape! However, it did not have the holes drilled through, but I’ll leave that story for later! So I guess it wasn’t the perfect barn. But I will warn you, the perfect barn may be an impossible search, but determine what compromises you can make and you will find the barn perfectly suited for your adaptive reuse project. Our perfect barn…


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One response to “A Search for the Perfect Barn Frame:what to look for in a timber frame”

  1. Deb Pearl says:

    Thank you for all the things to look for in a barn frame. I know that my dad really wants to get a new farm building. I’m glad you mentioned that the larger the dimensions of columns and beams the more structural capacity you’ll get and the less modifications you will need to make. I will have to let my dad know that.

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