J. Scott Campbell is the owner of Maine Mountain Post & Beam in Fryeburg, Maine. The company specializes in the dismantling, restoration and re-assembly of antique timber frames. They also cut new timber frames using historically correct design and joinery.
We asked Scott how he became involved in timber framing, and he told us “I have always lived in old houses. My parents renovated two farmhouses while I was growing up so I had first hand exposure to the “bones” of an older home. I was particularly enamored by the structure of the timber frame barn I played in for years as a child. The layout and simple beauty of that barn sparked the passion for building and timber framing that I hold today.
I’ve been a carpenter for 30 years, focusing on timber framing for more than 20. I learned how to timber frame by dismantling old frames. Each frame can be a lesson on what works and what does not. I find elegance in the simplicity of a 200 year old barn and base most of my designs and joinery decisions for new frames on what I have seen in those older buildings. “
Scott went on to explain how he got started in the dismantling, restoration and reassembly of antique timber frames. As he said” My parents’ second farmhouse restoration was quite substantial. The building had not been lived in for more than 20 years. The roof had holes in it, there was no running water or heat (other than the 3 fireplaces) and a family of raccoons had moved in. Most people would have torn it down. My parents saw the soul of the building and its potential and saved it. That house gave me great respect for the builders that came before me and made me want to save old buildings.
I would say that 20-30% of the antique frames I work on have been moved at least once or are cut from the parts of other frames. So, dismantling a frame, repairing it and moving it to a new location is something that our Yankee forefathers have been doing for centuries.
While dismantling a 250 year old cape in Conway, NH years ago, I came across some graffiti written on a closet wall. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!” In other words waste not, want not. I build with that same mantra in mind.
We are losing thousands of historic buildings every year. It gives me great satisfaction to save at least one a year.”
We asked Scott how he determines if an old timber frame is salvageable. He told us “If 70% of the frame is there, it is a good candidate for dismantle and re-assembly. Less than that I would consider the frame for parts. (One “parts barn” can be used to restore several barns.)”
Scott compares reassembling an antique frame with building a new one: “With an antique frame, the parameters are pretty much set. Meaning you need to fit your floor plan and desires around an existing frame. With a new frame, I can design the frame around the customer’s floor plan and desires.
That said, while my ego enjoys designing and cutting a new frame, my heart and soul enjoys saving an old building.”
Scott is passionate about the work he does to salvage old timber frames. One in particular stands out to him, and he told us about it: “All of the frames I dismantle are in such a state of disrepair that they would otherwise collapse or be torn down. I like to think that I am preserving the legacy of the carpenters before me.
One frame stands out. A customer came to me years ago about fixing her barn. I gave her several options from shoring up the frame to a complete dismantle. Nothing came of it. Ten years later, after a big snow year, the barn collapsed…right in front of her eyes.
She called me right away in tears. That spring, after the snow had melted, I saw a pile of sticks. With the help of my eleven year old son, I pulled out all of the salvageable timber. One eave wall was mostly intact having been blown out as the barn came down. The layout of that wall was the starting point. The original barn was 34x36. Using the salvageable parts of her barn, I was able to cut a new 24x34 frame. While it is now a new frame, I like to believe that the soul of the old structure remains.”
Some of Scott’s projects are very challenging. As he says, “Properly dismantling a building is hard work. Many times the building is in a state of disrepair….meaning that it is falling down. So it is important to understand how it was constructed so that it can be properly stabilized.
I just started dismantling a barn this week. It was -5 this morning and made me think of a barn in Harrison, Maine. The hillside barn was slated for dismantle. It had been slowly moving down the hill for years and one corner of the barn was gone. Winter was setting in and I did not think the barn would survive another big snow.
I had hoped to get to the barn in November, but being busy that fall we did not get to the barn until December. While I would rather not take a barn down in the middle of summer and 90 degree heat, that particular December was cold. Add to that it was on a hill and windy too. Then it began to snow. I stayed warm during that project by shoveling that snow. Fortunately we had the roof off before the first two foot storm of the season.
While it was a challenge, it was also extremely rewarding. We dismantled that barn the old fashioned way. The location of the barn would not be conducive to using a crane so we did it by hand using a gin pole and block and tackle. I was also shorthanded. The dismantling was done by me and one other carpenter….just two of us and a 40x50, three story barn.”
In Scott’s opinion, one of the biggest difficulties for people building a timber frame home is deciding on the enclosure system. As he says, “often the enclosure system is what can make a timber frame more expensive than a conventionally built house. In a sense, we end up building a building around a building.
I like to give customers several options for an enclosure system. SIPs are quick and efficient but costly. I often suggest a site built curtain wall. It tends to be easier on the other trades (most notably the electrician), a customer can then choose what type of insulating material to use and it tends to be less expensive than panels.”
In summing up his business, Scott says “I learned how to timber frame by working on old buildings. Every frame I dismantle is unique and a lesson in what works, and what does not. It gives me a sense of hindsight into how the building was used and how it weathered the test of time. I find elegance in the simplicity of the design of antique timber frames. My new frames are of historically correct design and joinery.”
Do you want to find out more about Maine Mountain Post and Beam? Here's how:
417 Portland Street
Fryeburg, Maine 04010