Progress on the Barn Addition


I have decided to go ahead with work on the barn addition by myself. None of the boys I know are both interested and available, and it will be a challenge to see how much I can accomplish working alone.

Moreover, I have found that sometimes working alone suits me.

I have realized in recent years that I don’t visualize spatial relationships well. It is hard for me to picture how things fit together without seeing the physical objects or a diagram. Then, too, math is not second nature to me, the way language is. If I recast a sentence to add a dependent clause, I know automatically to change the punctuation. This doesn’t happen with my carpentry arithmetic. For example, when the lumberyard subbed (in a kind effort to save me money) different pier footers for the ones I’d ordered,  it didn’t occur to me that the height of the piers would change, until the Sonotubes were buried — and wrong.

If I am working with Luke or my friend Gary, we figure these things out together. Almost always, these guys see the problems before I do, but we take our time. We measure and re-measure. Gary’s motto is, “What’s a sixteenth of an inch between friends?” Luke is even more fanatically exact. However, too often, when I’m working with other people, I adjust my pace to suit their boredom and impatience. I hurry. The consequences are usually disastrous.

Now when I looked down the length of my addition wall, there was a perceptible bulge at the middle post. I measured. The post was 1.5 inches too far out. I realized that the “dumb end” of the measuring tape must have been held to a 2×6 ledger board instead of the face of the girt on the main barn. What to do?

“Forget about it,” D advised when I consulted him, and quoted his father’s favorite line: “You ain’t buildin’ a church.”

I laughed wryly. “I can just imagine someday selling this farm and trying to explain a bunch of racked and bowed buildings. We weren’t buildin’ a church!

I pulled the nails on the post anchor and looked underneath at the bolt to see if I could move the post back. The post already was fixed in place with eight heavy 2x10s, cut to measure and thoroughly nailed. The only direction the post would be able to move would be straight back toward the barn. Unfortunately, this was not possible. The kidney-shaped opening in the plate would require the post to move north an inch and would only gain an inch east toward the barn.


“Cut the bolt off,” said D. “The post can just sit on the pier. It ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

“I’ll ask Len,” I decided.

“That the Einstein in New Hampshire?” (D tends to be very suspicious of people with book learning. He calls them all Einstein.) “Well, you can forget it, then. He’ll tell you to pour a new fuckin’ pier.”

However, Len wrote back to say that he agreed with cutting off the bolt. He added, D sounds very smart. I reported this to D, who just grunted, but I could tell he was secretly gratified.

That evening he and his father were looking at a job across the street, and stopped by my farm on their way home. They used a lever to lift the post (with attendant boards and post anchor) off the pier. D wedged a small stone in place to hold it up.


I was a little confused. “Why do we have to lift the whole post off the pier?” I asked. “Why can’t I just cut off the bolt inside the anchor?”

Allen smiled. He knows me well. D said in exasperation, “Now, c’mon, think about what’cha just said, for chrissake! The plate will catch unless you cut the bolt off underneath!

“Oh. Right,” I said humbly. As I said, most people see these things before I do.

Here is the exposed anchor bolt, with the stone holding the post lifted the crucial half inch.


Yesterday morning I borrowed a Sawz-all and bought a nine-inch metal blade.


The blade cut the bolt with a swipe. It took me quite a bit of time to knock out the support stone and the scrap of bolt with a pry bar and a sledgehammer, but at last it was done.

Then I went through the same process for the post next to it, which was one inch out (it had clearly been measured from the barn siding). Pry out the nails. Open the post anchor. Remove the washer and nut. Jack up the post. Cut off the bolt. Knock out the support.

(Len is sending me braces to re-attach the two posts to the piers. I will drill them into the concrete and feel reassured. Still, I remind myself that it is only two posts and entire buildings sat on foundations for centuries without post anchors.)

Even with the bolts gone, and the crushed stone along the base dug out, the two posts resisted moving toward the barn. I measured and drew a line on the pier to mark where the posts needed to go, but when I smacked them with a sledgehammer, they merely bounced (and the wood dented). I was stymied for some time until I remembered Dean, back in 2008, driving a chisel into wood alongside bowed siding and using pressure to lever the board into place. I took my six-foot iron pry bar and drove it at an angle into the ground under the bottom girt and then lifted the bar as a lever. Hooray! The first post jumped to the line. I immediately braced it to the barn to hold it in place. I did the same with the second post.

My wall was now straight and tied to the barn to keep it that way.


Next I began cutting and nailing up the ledger boards. These boards help support the heavy triple beam above and increase the weight-bearing capacity of the wall — very important considering that this will be an almost flat roof in snow country. Incidentally the boards make it much easier for one person to hold the heavy, 16-foot treated cross-beam in place for nailing.

I used my new clamp to hold each ledger board at the proper height while I wielded the nail gun.


It was fun to go at my own pace and get more comfortable with the big gun. I am afraid of nail guns and almost as afraid of looking stupid in front of others when using one. The result is again that I tend to rush, and again the results are not good.

The nailer weighs about ten pounds. It fires when you pull the trigger while touching the nose to the wood. All the guys hold a nailer in one hand like a hammer and swing it effortlessly into place. Bang! If I try to do this, almost invariably my arm drags and my aim is slightly off, or the nose skitters on the surface of a board, double-firing. Bang-ety-bang! The latter is time-consuming to address, wasteful of nails, and embarrassing.

So it was pleasant to toil away slowly in the afternoon sun and realize I could use a nailer perfectly well — if I use both hands to carry the weight.

Once I had the ledger boards up, the next task was to put up the next to last piece of the cross-beam. A treated 16-foot 2×10 weighs a little over sixty pounds. My challenge was to lift this long, heavy, wobbly board over my head and set it on the “shelf” of the ledger boards without dropping it on my neck.


I proceeded very slowly, step by step, using my clamp, and managed to get the board nailed up by quitting time.


I felt great about the day. It really wasn’t that much progress, but the essential correct dimensions were now in place, order had been created, and I had proved to myself that I could manage on my own. This was very satisfying.

Today after a couple of hours to set up the sheep and cows on pasture, I hope to cut and put up the remaining dozen ledger boards, nail up the last 16-footer on the triple beam, and carefully remove the roof edging on the main barn.

When all this is done, I will be ready to start rafters. Yay!


3 Responses to Progress on the Barn Addition

  1. Len says:

    Book learning? Did you say book learning? Me? I’ll admit I’ve read more than a few, but that’s not where most of my learning originated. And school? My goal was to get out as soon (and as often) as possible. Perception, observation, memory, reasoning, goals, principles. And genius. “Talent is that which is in a man’s power. Genius is that in whose power a man is.” Lowell. Not super intelligence, not book learning. Genius. “Follow the path of your genius…however crooked”. Thoreau
    Knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know.
    “Knowledge is rooted in suffering. Ignorance is bliss.”

  2. Len says:

    Oh, and practice, practice, practice, and work, work, work.

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Oh, Len! I laughed. Don’t be affronted by D calling you “Einstein.” He calls me Einstein, he calls my husband Einstein… it’s his all-purpose expression of skepticism for people with a college education. Nothing personal.

      If I have any genius, it is, as you know, for jumping in over my head. I remember you asking me, back in 2006 when I was trying to figure out building the barn, Have you ever built anything bigger than a bread box? The answer, of course, was: not yet. 🙂

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