Like a lot of guys I meet, I’ve spent years fighting to build cabinets and furniture, and mill custom moldings, in my garage shop—working around the 1951 Mack fire truck I restored, and the 1954 Harley I’m working on, and my newer bike—plus, I have to store all this crap for Gary and Mike’s Roadshows…well, you get the picture. I wanted a real shop, a place I could spread out and get some work done without having to move stuff every time I wanted to build something.
My first thought was to rebuild the barn at my house. We don’t keep horses anymore, and the old barn is full of stuff I’ve saved that I could just never bring myself to throw away—from ten years of doing JLC Live! shows, and remodels all over the county in north eastern Pennsylvania, where I live.
Emptying that barn would take longer than re-building it, and besides, a friend of mine that has a shop at his house said it is a pain because people—friends you never knew you had, if you catch my drift—are always stopping in looking for a favor, like: “I need six feet of this,” or “Can you help me fix this?” or “I don’t know how to make this?” My friend also said that it was hard to go out there to work sometimes, being so close to the house.
On top of that, I wasn’t sure what my shop would turn out to be. At one time, before I started making a living by the mile and was swinging a hammer full time, I thought about starting a business making dovetail drawers, or custom moldings, or fireplace mantles…you know what I mean. And I figured if I ever did start a business and wanted to sell it, I wouldn’t have much to sell if the business and shop were in my barn.
So I started looking for a small piece of land—just the right spot. Not too far from home, but not too close, either. It took a lot of years to find. A piece came up a mile down the road. A real nice and well-known spot called “Milk Can Corners.” High-visibility for being out in the middle of nowhere, and on a paved road, too, if you can imagine—that’s big for my neck of the woods. The property also had 3-phase power, which I figured might be nice in the future—I had big plans for machinery.
I figured that, at the very least, the land was a good investment. Who knows, maybe in a hundred years they’ll put a strip mall on it. But I knew I’d always be able to sell it down the road, if I ever had to. And it was just the right distance from my home: far enough to make going there like going to work, but not so far that it wouldn’t be fun on a Sunday.
(Note: Click any image to enlarge)
Milk Can Corners is a pretty spot, with a large pond to the southeast, surrounded rolling hills that are blanketed with snow in the winter, and covered with hardwood trees that turn every color in the rainbow throughout the year—especially in the fall. Since the spot is so visible, I wanted the building to look nice for the neighbors (and for me, too) every time we drove by it—I didn’t want to build another steel pole barn.
So I started looking at barns for ideas—and I looked everywhere. I’m lucky to work with the Katz Roadshow. We travel all over the country. I found this place in the Pacific Northwest, while we were driving from Seattle up through the San Juan Islands. As soon as I saw this barn, I knew it was the one (see photo, left). I liked the peaked gable roofs, with the hay-pulleys. I don’t even know what you call that style, but that was it.
On the next few road trips, we worked on a SketchUp drawing. I wanted to use that Greek Revival trim design, too, the one Gary demonstrates at the roadshows. I’ve seen that same style of window and door trim on barns and buildings all around me (see photo, right), and figured it would look great on my shop—I wanted the building to fit right into the area where I live, as if it had always been there.
Then I started to over-think the building: could I build it so someone else could turn it in to a house? Or maybe a retail store—it was right at the intersection of two main county roads. I was going to put in a foundation and stick build. But after figuring the cost, I realized I couldn’t afford it: I live way out in the country and I’m in construction—there’s not a lot of money to be made out here.
A good friend of mine, Don Hohn, owns a construction company that does a lot of pole barns. He built them for farms, and commercial use, and for retail, too—some huge buildings. He told me that for basically the price of a foundation I could have half the materials of a pole barn. And he told me that if I was careful while building the barn, I could tighten up the cost even more by paying attention to all the small details. Plus, I could tighten up the building, too—seal it up and insulate it really well—which where I live is pretty important. It gets cold here!
So I built a pole barn with the idea that it could be a house some day. Don’t get me wrong: once you take this path, it does get costly—any building does. But I think it will all pay off down the road.
Don Hohn’s crew came and set all the poles first, and attached purlins on the walls. Then they straightened everything up with the same string-and-line and bracing we use for stick-built homes.
To carry the trusses, Lvls are set on top of the poles. The gable end poles run high to support the gable trusses at each end—trusses can rack and fall in high winds, especially tall ones, like my 8/12 pitch barn.
My trusses were also too tall to transport on the truck, so they shipped them in two pieces. Notice that the peak is missing on each truss.
The first truss is set on the outside of the poles and will line up with wall purlins in the same plane for siding. Notice the crew set a 2×6 every 4 ft. on center, sandwiched between the two lvl’s, with the roof pitch cut on top, so the 2×6 blocks wouldn’t stick up past the trusses. Setting the trusses was easy. Each truss was pulled tight against the blocks then nailed off.
Once all the main trusses were set, the tops were added, then the 24-in. ladder-type bracing for the overhangs. And, finally, the flying peaks were added—where farmers always attached a pulley to load hay into their barn.
I framed the dormers and cupola on the ground, and we set all of them with a crane, which made it easy to frame—a lot easier than working on the steep roof. The dormers were set right on top of the roof purlins. I framed in the window shafts later.
Before installing any metal on the main roof, we finished the dormers and cupola. It’s much easier to work on roof purlins than on slick metal roofing. But we made one mistake…we didn’t put the wrb (housewrap) over the side wall flashing. I regret that, a lot. There are several small leaks in my roof!
We set roof jacks and planks beneath the dormers, and laid a sheet of osb with cleats on it so we’d be more comfortable and have someplace to put stuff. If you ever worked on 24-in on-center purlins you know how sore your legs and hips get.
Roof almost done. Finishing up the ridge vent and fascia.
In the photo to the left, you can see us running the copper ground wire for the lighting rods along the ridge.
The roof is almost finished, and you can see the lightening rods and the weather vane, plus the pointed peaks on every gable, which give the whole building the look of an old barn. Yes, that’s snow falling! When you’re working on a metal roof, snow or rain can be very scary.
Carl Hagstrom (standing to my right) came out to help me set the windows. You can tell that I’m pretty happy to be a barn-builder and owner, but Carl’s wondering what he’s doing outside wearing a tool belt when the temperature is in the teens!
All the windows were framed in flush to the purlins, and were now ready for housewrap and board-and-bat siding.
We wrapped WRB on the outside of the purlins to help block wind and rain. Plus, having the WRB outside the purlins allowed me to spray insulation foam behind the posts. Rough-cut green lumber tends to split a lot as it dries, so we only nailed one side of the siding and batts, then let everything dry and shrink six to eight months before nailing off the second side. You’ll also notice that we set a temporary 2×4 with a laser right at the bottom of the siding, which made it easy to install the 16-ft. tall boards.
We installed flexible flashing for each sill pan, then applied a good bead of sealant. You can also see in this picture the 2×6 framing for each window opening—on the right side, the 2×6 framing box is secured to the horizontal purlins.
The WRB was cut flush with the window opening, then lifted up high enough to clear the window flashing. We ran sealant up the sides and across the top of each window, but left the bottoms open, so they’d drain.
Carl’s an old hand at window installs—I think he’s installed a few hundred windows just at building shows alone! We checked for plumb, level, and sash function before securing each window.
Yes, it’s too cold to be installing adhesive flashing! We tried to keep it warm in the truck, but the weather wasn’t going to hold up my barn!
Here’s the finished shop! Well…almost. I was in a hurry, so I sided right over the front door and side window—I cut both of those in later.
Both the top hay door and hay dolly at the peak are in—they’re both dummies, just for looks. The siding boards are 16-ft. so we packed out the purlins with 1-in. batts, and ran the gable siding right over the top of the wall siding.
I hung a pair of sliding barn doors, so it would really look like an old barn, but I also installed a 2-in. insulated garage door behind it them. I got the rolling-door design from a building I saw in the neighborhood. I really like that raked top rail.
I really wanted the building to look like it had always been there, for a few hundred years. Once the fresh-cut lumber darkens, I think it will. The real crime is…I’m thinking about an addition.
Even before I insulated the walls, the WRB made for a great wind block—and a nice place to work while we poured the slab. Notice that the 16-ft. walls and scissor trusses leave plenty of room for a second floor or loft down the road.
On the inside, we poured a monolithic slab over 8 in. of tamped stone. I set a radiant-heat system in the slab, too, so the slab is insulated around the perimeter with 2-in. blue board 16 in. tall on the wall and 16 in. wide at the bottom of the pour.
We poured the perimeter 12-in. x 16-in. and the interior floor 6 in. thick with 3/8-in. insulation rolled under the whole slab.
We put expansion board around the poles, and hung the rebar wired to 20d, so it would stay in place while pouring.
After laying down all the tubes, I put 3/8 insulation over the tubes where we were going to cut the expansion joints. I don’t know why I did that…it just felt good.
Conduit protected the tubes where they came up out of the concrete—that way we wouldn’t slice through them while finishing the floor. We installed 8 loops, so none of the loops would be too long.
To protect the tubes during the pour, we wheeled the mud in on sheets of OSB. The heat tubes were pressurized, so if we had a leak we would know right away and could repair it right then and there. I had plenty friends to help.
I was especially lucky to have Harry Aldrich on the job that day. He’s one of the best flat-work guys in my area. He’s old school, with plenty of patience, and he does beautiful work.
My plumber and friend Keith Birchard stayed the whole day—just in case we hurt one of the tubes, he was there ready to repair it.
After the pour, I divided the slab in to 6 sections and cut the expansion joint about 1 1/2 in. deep, praying I wouldn’t hit any tubes that might have floated up in the concrete.
I dreamed for years of having a building and floor like this one.
• • •
Tom (right) letting loose at a machine gun rally in Kentucky.
Tom Brewer lives and tries to work in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but, unfortunately, he’s not home much, and has yet to set up his new shop! Tom travels about seven months out of every year as Road Manager for the Katz Roadshow.
Still, all that traveling has a few rewards. Steady work; touring historic homes and locations; and, occasionally, some real fun.