Big Red Barn: Episode Two

In Episode One I wrote about the use of the Big Red Barn,  but this time we will discuss how it was built.

As said before, the barn is a Pennsylvania Dutch style, meaning it has a bank on one side for wagon access to the top floor. Hence the term,  The Bank Barn


On the opposite side, the top floor sticks out over the bottom floor (i.e. “cantilevered”) by six feet.  This makes it 38 feet wide on the top floor.  It’s 64 feet long.

Except for the end where the cows were milked by hand,

the bottom is a dirt floor, 32 feet wide by 64 feet long.


As the 1800’s came to a close, many things began to change, including barn construction.

Changes to the way barns were built had to do with nails,


–yes nails!

Nails and steam-generated power for saw mills were key to new building innovation.  The bank barn was completed in 1906.  It’s construction shows a trend towards  light-weight wood frames, made with MANY small pieces of lumber and fastened together with nails.

Lumber fastened together

This is as opposed to a FEW heavy timber frames connected with wood pegs and minimal use of nails.

The oldest building on the property was built with pegs.

Nails were expensive in the 1800’s.  Reportedly, early settlers would often burn down structures they erected, prior to moving, just so they could comb through the ashes and recover the nails.


By the late 1800’s new forms of power and automation lowered the price of nails.

There were two main types of nails at the time,

IMG_6547 2

 cut nails


 wire nails.

Our barn has a mixture of both types. Cut nails were used for the approximately two miles of siding and the big wire nails were used for the framing.

Cut Nails

Cut nails were “cut” from a solid plate of metal.  Prior to 1795, these cut nails were made one at a time by a blacksmith with hammer and anvil.  With steam power and automation advances, nails became more affordable. While invented in 1795, cut nails were still expensive as the machining process was not well-automated until after the Civil War which ended in 1865.

Wire Nails

Wire nails (the same type we use today) also came on the market after the war.  They were made from long spools of uniform diameter wire.  Initially, builders shied away from them.  While cheaper than the wedge-shaped cut nails, wire nails did not hold in the wood as well.  (This is completely true!  The cut nails in our barn do not pull out!  They have to be cut off with a metal saw.)  But the new nail technology was S-L-O-W, “slow” to catch on, like 40 years!


It was not until the 1920’s that the nail market converted to mostly wire nails.  So while holding ability was not as good in the wood, wire nails were much cheaper than the wedge-shaped cut nails.  Builders slowly began to change.  From virtually 100% use in 1880, cut nail use declined to only 10% by 1920. Construction using wood pegs connecting heavy posts and beams was no longer necessary.


Any length of beam could now be fabricated economically.  Nail-laminated beams from small dimensional lumber was easy to produce, and huge trees were not required.


So, the Big Red Barn stands as a high tech innovation of the early 1900’s.  Instead of the heavy posts and beams connected with wood pegs for wall frames, the barn is built with nail laminated beams and lightweight thinner platform framing.  This is much like todays wood frame construction.  Stay tuned for Big Red Barn: Episode Three.  We will share more innovative construction features of The Big Red Barn.

♦ Mark Hawthorne (Clean-Cut Tree Services)

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