A Life in the Trades: April 2011

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010. October 2010. November 2010. December 2010. February 2011.

This is Nicholas’ final blog post in the Building Preservation & Restoration Program at Belmont Tech in St. Clairsville, OH. Nicholas will be continuing on the preservation trades path and, hopefully, will keep readers updated on his journey. In the meantime, I’m sure readers share my sentiments in saying thank you to Nicholas. It’s been a great opportunity to read along with your lessons and adventures while in school, and to learn along the way.

By Nicholas Bogosian

This month I wanted to share with you all the recent arrival of PiP to the BPR program.  PiP stayed for a day and we were happy to give a tour.

 

a life in the trades april 2011_1

PiP on the bridge. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP in the fridge. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP and Renata. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP playing in the hydrostone. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP getting off the elevator. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP starts to miss home. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP meets with Cathie for prospective student info. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

PiP meets with Cathie for prospective student info. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

A Life in the Trades: February 2011

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010. October 2010. November 2010. December 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

A New Beginning

Coolidge Architects in Topeka, Kansas started giving hints that there could be layoffs.  The year was 1988.  Dave Mertz, then twenty-eight-years-old and married with two young kids, was perusing job listings in the back of the PRESERVATION newspaper put out by the National Trust.  He applied to three.  The position as Architectural Division Director for the statewide West Virginia Main Street Program looked promising, all except for a recent indictment of Gov. Arch A. Moore, Jr. and the threat of more job cuts.  Steve Meridian, past President of Belmont Technical College in St. Clairsville, OH called.  Mertz had applied for Director of a new historic preservation program there, but hadn’t heard any word until now.

“It is evident that other countries concerned with historic preservation are far ahead of the United States in providing for the conservation of craft skills.  Czechoslovakia, for example, has a national system of craft centers supported by the government for this purpose.  Japan, by law officially recognizes certain skilled craftsmen or groups of practitioners of early skills as “intangible cultural monuments” important to the life of the whole nation.” Whitehill Report of 1967

Bob Ney, Ohio State Senator, appropriated $300,000 to Belmont Tech for a new program.  It was Meridian’s idea for creating a two-year historic preservation program.  In an early interview, Mertz pointed out to Meridian that the program should be trades-related; otherwise two-year graduates of a purely academic preservation program wouldn’t stand a chance against students with Master’s Degrees of a similar study.

While Mertz was in grad school at Kansas State receiving his M.Arch in Architecture with an emphasis in Historic Preservation, he had the opportunity to teach undergraduate drafting classes as well as architectural studios.  “That’s where I fell in love with the teaching aspect.”

Meridian saw that Mertz had a true vision for the program.  He was offered the position, and he accepted.  For the next four months he worked on developing the curriculum, ordering tools and equipment, ordering books, restructuring space to accommodate lab classes, and promoting the program to local news stations and high schools.  Belmont Tech initially saw the Building Preservation & Restoration [BPR] program’s demographic as older students that were recently laid off from their job, but Mertz questioned, “Why aren’t we recruiting high school kids?”  Both saw the program as an opportunity to provide the local valley with skilled labor, but neither could have conceived at this time of the national thirst for preservation craftsmen.  By the summer of 1989, twenty local students had signed up for the first quarter.  Classes began.

Some would have argued that the BPR program was ahead of its time in fulfilling a specific need in trades education, but John Fugelso had conceived of a two year hands-on preservation program at Durham Technical Institute in North Carolina over a decade prior to Belmont Tech’s.  The stars hadn’t quite aligned, though, for the public’s grasping of the whole idea of building preservation training at a trades level.  The Durham program lasted only a couple of years.

A Rare Breed

While at Coolidge Architects, Mertz realized that it didn’t matter what a designer wanted on paper.  The skilled craftspeople available dictated whether a design was feasible.  “BPR is a technical program…it exposes you to all sorts of things – it allows you to find yourself.  To become a craftsman takes decades.  This is the first step in a long journey,” says Mertz.  “…as late as the nineteenth-century, the construction trades were considered highly desirable fields which required manual dexterity, critical thinking skills and advanced technical knowledge.  This array of skills attracted highly qualified apprentices who were academically proficient and career driven.”

BPR students re-glaze window sashes. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Then things started going downhill.  In the second half of the nineteenth-century, higher education in America became an instrument of upward mobility for many.  Though this may have been a beacon of opportunity for those wishing to make such a transition, it set in motion a trend which has become a national epidemic.

“Our testaments to physical work are so often focused on the values such work exhibits rather than on the thought it requires. It is a subtle but pervasive omission…. It is as though in our cultural iconography we are given the muscled arm, sleeve rolled tight against biceps, but no thought bright behind the eye, no image that links hand and brain.” Mike Rose, The Mind at Work

A recent documentary Race to Nowhere brings the epidemic into bright light.  Many students today are pressured on all sides to become successful.  White-collar success is the rule.  Parents don’t want their kids to have to “toil” with their hands.  Students feel a sense of ruination if they don’t get into the college that is going to set them for life.

“Today, students who struggle academically or who are socially maladjusted are often pushed into high school vocational programs.  This influx of under-prepared and often unmotivated class of students, along with the shift to assembly-like construction practices during the post-war building boom, has led to the “dumbing” of the trades,” (Mertz[i])

BPR student, Hilarie Manion, conducts paint research. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

It is precisely the preservation activity in the past thirty years that has been the force which is bringing about a revision and reawakening of the tradesman’s place in American society.  Present-day craftspeople which harbor the jewels of historic building trade skills are a rare breed.  They are a breed which various organizations and leaders within the preservation movement have begun to reproduce in various education experiments.  To attract academically and manually proficient students that the preservation trades require, a work has begun to legitimize the trades once again.

The Experiment

The first International Trades Education Symposium [ITES] took place at Belmont Technical College in 2005.  More than seventy-five preservation trades people and educators from around the world came together under the common understanding that the future of our built environment is under imminent threat.  Projected shortages of trades people is alarming.  America is not the only victim; it is an international problem.

“PTN [Preservation Trades Network] formed the concept of the International Trades Education Initiative in 2004 when it became clear that an important part of PTN’s educational mandate was to provide an opportunity for networking the people involved in the process of creating and sustaining programs that provide education in the trades worldwide.” Rudy Christian, Executive Director of PTN[ii]

If the apprenticeship model carried on a legitimate craft force in the past, today the trades are being legitimized and propelled at the collegiate level.  “The more programs, the better.  The more there are, the more legitimate the whole idea of it becomes,” says Mertz.

The BPR Program, similar to the hands-on preservation programs at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, CA and The American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, SC, bridges preservation theory and preservation practice.  By gaining an understanding of preservation history, law, and economics, the student can have a better framework by which to base their implementation decisions.  By gaining an understanding of building pathology and material sciences, the student can diagnose the root cause of building problems rather than make narrow-minded and wasteful repairs.  The student is also prepared to gauge meaning and significance in the material world by studying architectural history and research/documentation methodologies.

BPR student, Renata Bruza, in the BPR library. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Eventually, though, the student must step away from the textbooks and put on their Practitioner helmet.  They must evaluate the problem before them, consider all the variables, and eventually make an informed decision of what to do about it.  Jon Smith, superintendent of Allegheny Restoration in Morgantown, WV, teaches the field lab class every Friday for the BPR Program.  Students work on actual historic sites doing everything from structural repairs to Dutchmans to lime slaking and soldering.  In the field labs it is all about developing your technique; whether it’s gauging the consistency of mortar as it hangs from the trowel or hand chiseling mortises and tenons for heavy timber joinery.

Jon Smith & BPR Students at the Swaney House in Morristown, OH. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

An Era of Change

The National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE) was instituted as an organizing body of academic programs around the country.  In order to be included in this body of programs, certain standards must be met.  Through NCPE, prospective students can identify preservation programs around the country which have specialties that interest them.  Michael Tomlan, president of NCPE in the early nineties and current Director of Cornell’s Graduate Program in Historic Preservation Planning, was instrumental in creating PreserveNet – an extension of NCPEs database.  PreserveNet keeps a regularly updated listing of preservation resources, internships, jobs, field schools, and scholarships.

“…NCPE acknowledged the need to foster historic preservation education in public primary, secondary, and technical schools (K-12).  However, their organizational infrastructure comprised exclusively of post secondary educators limited their practical contribution to the development of curricula at these “primary” levels…There are only a handful of educational institutions that confer degrees with an emphasis in historic preservation building arts, craft, and construction related skills…less than fourteen percent of our educational institution capacity is oriented toward these practitioner skill sets.” Robert W. Ogle, Dir. of Colorado Mountain College Preservation Program[iii]

Originally, NCPEs academic institution database included only Graduate and Four Year programs.  In the mid-nineties, two year programs like Belmont Tech’s were not yet considered a legitimate training mode.  But Michael Tomlan had a different perspective.  “He understood the value of a community college education in how it related to finding you work,” says Mertz.  Tomlan changed the format to allow for a two-year program and quickly encouraged Mertz to run for Chair of NCPE.  Mertz was elected Chair in 1998 and completed a four year term.  Suddenly new doors opened for the BPR Program and trades education initiatives.  Mertz became the new voice of trades education development and found himself sitting in Dick Moe’s office at the National Trust and consulting new programs developing around the country.

Dave Mertz & student Cori McMillan installing a dead-man in a structural stabilization effort. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Over the years, the BPR Program gained momentum.  Eventually students started arriving from out of state.  What may have been a degree for the out-of-work or the high school graduate started becoming secondary training for students already having undergraduate and graduate degrees.  A local venture suddenly turned into a national commodity.  “What I didn’t realize early on was how badly these people were needed on a national level.”

Beauty and Dignity

“From the very beginning, at Tuskegee, I was determined to have the students do not only the agricultural and domestic work, but to have them erect their own buildings.  My plan was to have them, while performing this service, taught the latest and best methods of labour, so that the school would not only get the benefit of their efforts, but the students themselves would be taught to see not only utility in labour, but beauty and dignity, would be taught, in fact, how to lift labour up from mere drudgery and toil, and would learn to love work for its own sake.” Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery

He [Mertz] pauses.  “Nothing has changed in twenty-one years.  I have a paternal responsibility to every student.”  There is a litany of names; names of students past.  His pride for their achievements is palpable.  He casually mentions them in class, in lab, in late night conversations.  I have learned them myself.

“Nobody wants to work for a living anymore.  There’s a sense of entitlement.  Our parents are largely responsible for that – they want the kid to be a “professional” so they can earn the “big bucks,” and people complain that you can’t get into the dentist, doctor, or get your car fixed anymore.”

Students don’t always come to BPR to begin their journey as preservation craftspeople.  Many graduate to become economic developers, preservation consultants, architectural historians, or administrative personnel at state preservation offices.  Mertz wishes there were a through-line in all the stories of students that have decided to enter the field, but everyone’s story is unique.  If there were a particular type of person with a particular set of interests, marketing for trades education might hit more directly.

BPR instructor, Cathie Senter. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

As a student of the BPR program, I can see now that the diversity of skills gained here can open doors to so many avenues of the complex and interdisciplinary field we call Historic Preservation.  In a world where hard work has been equated to “mere drudgery,” I am proud to be entering a profession which challenges that belief on every front and is restoring not only our built environment but also the beauty and dignity of our work.


[i] Mertz, David.  “Shifting Sands:  Why We Are Where We Are and Where We Are Going.  Papers from the International Trades Education Symposium.  2009: Preservation Trades Network, Inc.

[ii] www.iptw.org.  Feb. 3, 2011.

[iii] Ogle, Robert W.  “Historic Preservation Craft Education Leads the Way: The Colorado Story.” http://www.iptw.org/rogle-ites07.htm.  Feb. 3, 2011.

Rose, Mike.  “The Mind at Work.”  Viking: 2004.

Washington, Booker T.  Three Negro Classics.  “Up From Slavery.”  Avon Books:  1965.

The Whitehill Report:  http://www.iptw.org/whitehill-home.htm.

A Life in the Trades: December 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010. October 2010. November 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

A Photo Diary of the Fall Quarter at Belmont Tech’s BPR program.

Metals class introduced us to the art of blacksmithing as well as the deterioration and preservation of various metals. Jeff Forster, guest instructor, owns a decorative ironworks and metal restoration business in Wheeling, WV.

The author at work.

Our Field Lab class in Morristown, OH gave us the opportunity to carry out sandstone foundation repairs. Improper face-bedding of the stone as well as the use of a Portland cement had caused some noticeable deterioration of the stone. The joints were repointed with an appropriate Virginia Lime Works mortar and one significantly damaged stone was given a plastic repair with a Jahn restoration product so that its cavernous face could be made sound again.

Jahn repair.

After Jahn repair.

In Windows & Doors class, damaged sashes and sills were removed from an 1880s one-room schoolhouse in Pleasant Hill, OH for repairs back at our lab space. Repairs included documentation of conditions, wood consolidation, paint removal, and re-glazing. Our final project was the creation of a paneled door with traditional mortise and tenon joinery and raised panels.

Graining & Marbling Class introduced us to the art of faux painting. Projects included sample boards of various stones and wood species. Final projects involved the creation of a “Pietra Dura” panel or stone marquetry as well as a panel with a graining and marbling combination.

And finally, my advanced material science class, which I elaborated on in my last blog, involved the conservation of structural timbers. Various techniques were carried out, including: splices/ dutchmans, WER (wood epoxy reinforcement), as well as mechanical repairs.

 

Carving out interior wood rot.

Splice/dutchman of knee brace.

 

 

BETA system repair to end rot using fiberglass rods and epoxy.

All photographs courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

A Life in the Trades: November 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010. October 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

In the Advanced Materials Science class of Belmont Tech’s BPR program, students plan a focused study in a particular building material (plaster, wood, masonry, ceramics, metals, etc.). Students are mentored by a faculty member, but ultimately organize their own learning program.

My interest in wood conservation began my first quarter with a paper I wrote on wood preservatives. Subsequently getting to witness great timbered structures like the nationally registered barn of the Kinney Farmstead or seeing evidence of powder post beetle damage to hand-hewn joists of the 1820s Lundy house further cemented my interest. After taking the Theory of Structures class, I fine-tuned my interest in wood to its structural functions and began to wonder how engineers, preservationists, and timber framers deal with the conservation of our historic wood-framed buildings.

Split beam of historic carriage house. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

So, for the Advanced Materials Science class this quarter, I have set out to study timber conservation and how to implement the various options of repair. Though I want to have a basic understanding of wood science and the chemistry involved with resins or the physics of different joints, the ultimate goal is to develop technique in implementing the various options of repair and to understand the appropriateness of each to different situations.

At this point, all of my research has been compiled and I’m 20% through the implementation procedures.

Books which have proven very useful are Brian Ridout’s Timber Decay in Buildings, David C. Fischetti’s Structural Investigation of Historic Buildings, Weaver’s Conserving Buildings as well as Wheeler & Hutchinson’s article “Resin Repairs to Timber Structures.” Ridout’s book is interesting primarily in its intent. The book is meant to educate on the science of wood as well as offer thorough explanation on the various agents of decay. His goal is not to educate on the various repair techniques, but to give preservationists or concerned building-owners a foundation by which to understand what repairs, if any, are necessary. He laments the reactionary use of preservatives or irreversible repairs when all that may be necessary is reducing moisture levels in the building environment.

Preservation engineer Fischetti’s book addresses the conundrum of historic buildings, bridges, towers, and mills which have stood the test of time, but cannot pass current testing for structural soundness despite actually being quite sound. He argues that there must be something wrong with our testing procedures. But Fischetti is not blinded by nostalgia – he’s a schooled engineer and understands the complexity of dealing with structural issues in historic buildings. His book is laden with case-study examples of various investigations and repairs to historic buildings all over the country. Martin Weaver’s book has been helpful in its chapter on resins and polymers as well as his succinct pictorial descriptions of various timber repair techniques.

In designing my project, I ideally would have worked at an actual site, but that wasn’t feasible. It would have been very unlikely that I would have found such a structure that provided all the necessary situations to carry out the various repair techniques. So I decided to create mock set-ups. The actual wood I am dealing with is old-growth timbers retrieved from various historic buildings and which display some level of rot or insect damage.

Old growth oak. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

So far, I have retrieved a knee brace from a barn that fell down in Cadiz, Ohio which displays wood rot and likely powder post beetle damage. I was recently offered rotten sills from a historic spring house a mile from my house which are being replaced. The sills will act as my other two mock-pieces.

Repair Techniques which I will be exploring:

– wood splices

– replication of historic joinery (tenons)

– mechanical fasteners

– Wood Epoxy Reinforcement (WER method)

– BETA system

BETA system, as depicted in Martin Weaver's Conserving Buildings. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Currently, work has begun on a splice repair to the knee brace in which a complicated scarf joint has been carved out. This test piece will incorporate the replication of a missing tenon into the splice and the use of mechanical fasteners (in this case, bolts) to join old and new. The “new” wood has been salvaged from a knee brace from the same barn and will have a high degree of grain matching.

Splice repair in progress. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

In the end, I would like to have concrete, hands-on examples of various repair techniques as well as a supplementary manual for a conservation-focused repair methodology. This manual would have basics on the agents of decay, investigative techniques, environmental controls, appropriateness of various repair options, and positives and negatives of the various repair options.

Ultimately, my goal is to make sense of “minimum intervention” when it comes to the conservation of timbers. It seems that much of the conservation world is not only defined by its sensitivity in intervention, but also its sensitivity in the diagnosis. Once all other variables have been dealt with, if wooden members have, through thorough testing and deliberation, been found to require physical repair then the skills outlined in my project should prove useful.

A Life in the Trades: October 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

I have now reached the fifth quarter of my training at the Building Preservation & Restoration Program of Belmont Technical College.  That’s five out of seven.  I started this series at the beginning of my training with the intent of highlighting the trades function in the preservation of our built environment and as an open scrapbook of my experiences through the duration of the training.  I am happy to say that the zeal I came into the process with hasn’t wavered a bit.  Now the time has come to begin seeking out internships and think more forwardly about my place in the field.

Sistering rafters in historic outshed until necessary structural repairs can be made. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

It’s a true challenge to define preservation, let alone decide where you fit into its expansive net.  Preservation is not something most of us hear about growing up, or see on career placement tests.  While attending a plaster demonstration at Sarel Venter’s plaster lab in Grafton, WV last Spring, he asked us what we wanted to do when we graduated.  A few of us only had vague ideas:  “I’m not really sure” to which he replied, “That’s probably a good thing.”

Renata Bruza working iron over an anvil in Metals class. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

I know, like most of my peers, that I find satisfaction in making an unhealthy structure healthy again.  I enjoy even more knowing why it is healthier and why it was unhealthy in the first place.  This maintenance ethic may seem concrete in our minds, but I bet most of the world doesn’t view maintenance as a technical skill, a science, or an art (or even a priority).  The beauty of the craftsman is not only their ability to work with their hands – truthfully, their handiwork would have no value without the intellectual understanding of the materials they are working with.

Windows & Doors class repairing windows at an 1880s one-room schoolhouse in Pleasant Hill, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

It is not enough, however, to be proficient in the historic building trades (i.e. plastering, blacksmithing, masonry, timber framing, faux painting, etc.)  A modern preservationist (or conservator, or preservation technician) must take their knowledge of these highly specialized professions and view the building holistically and understand the process of deterioration.  What good is a plasterer’s handiwork in repairing cracks in a wall when significant differential settlement is taking place in the building?  A preservation-sensitive structural engineer would do more good.

Sandstone erosion due to face-bedding & improper Portland cement mortaring. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

At this point, if I had to describe my dream job in preservation it would be something like working for an Architectural Conservation firm that not only carries out laboratory testing of materials, but also completes the process of sensitive repairs.
I love the resolute and grounded quality of stone and the inspiring durability of wood and the careful chemistry of arranging a sophisticated three part plaster.  I love the investigation, the clues:  the face of a sandstone block exfoliating like pages of a book, the cambium layers of a hand-hewn joist letting go and falling to the ground, the way the paint bubbles on the clapboards during a heavy rainstorm.

Removing a corroded cast iron grate for repairs in metal lab. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

So I suppose the conservationist shares in the same delight of the chemist, in knowing something at its atomic and molecular level – to know something through and through.

Death of a Barn

By Nicholas Bogosian (author of the series,  A Life in the Trades)

Tim owns an old barn near Fairpoint, Ohio. We tried reaching each other by phone for two weeks. I was needing some old rotten timbers for a wood conservation project in my advanced materials science class. Tim said he had some lying in a stack.

Dirt road after dirt road brought me closer. My cell phone rang. “Hey, this is Tim – wondering if we could plan a different time. I need to talk to some guy about my bulls. Have you already left?” I had. “Yeah – I’m almost there.” “Well, I can show you where the barn is real quick and come back.”

It’s amazing I found his house: “…a gray farmhouse on the left.” I swerved quick to the left when he waved to me from his silver SUV. Two dogs approached my car – a big yellow lab and a tiny black chihuahua with a pink cast for a leg. I quickly grabbed my gloves, my camera, my moisture meter, and my tape recorder. I got into his car. “The barn’s probably a hundred years old. I really wanted to preserve it.” “So what’s wrong with the timbers? Insects? Rot?” “I’m not sure. They’re laying in a stack. You can dig out what you need.”

We pulled up a steep hill. He paused and pointed off to the right to a wall of thick trees: “It’s right through there. I’ll be back in a half hour.” I got out of the car. I was expecting some expansive hill with an aged barn sitting neatly at its top. Nevertheless, I began walking through the high grass. Slowly, pieces of sun-damaged timbers started showing up, strewn on the ground around me. I finally got past the trees and saw the barn.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

I was not expecting for the stack of timbers to be so large or for the barn to be non-existent. Initially, despite his helping me, I was a little aggravated that Tim hadn’t once mentioned that the barn had fallen down and that this was the “stack” that I was to find my experimental pieces. Green vining plants had overgrown the stack, trees were sprouting through summer beams, spiders had webbed homes in knee braces, hand-wrought nails were breaking off beams like chalk as I stepped over them.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

I looked to my left and saw a tall wall of stacked limestone creating a shoring wall to a plateau of trees. A massive joist had fallen from its ledge within the wall. It was hard to make sense of anything. The debris was so confusing, I would never be able to salvage anything quickly. I continued walking across beams like a high-wire walker looking down to the crawl space beneath me. The slate roof had fallen. It had all fallen. The pieces were scattered like the bottom of a creek bed. They snapped beneath my careful steps.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

I kept waiting for Tim’s arrival – suddenly appearing behind a camouflage of trees. Everything became still. It all felt very quiet except for the bird that occasionally greeted me with an enthusiastic, “Hey!”

I realized I had never seen anything like this before. I remembered Dave’s lectures in our Theory of Structures class and the simple truth that all acts of building are in opposition to nature. We store its members with potential energy when we hew down the logs, when we hoist the timbers, when we hammer the treenail into the joint. But nature works from day one to bring it down.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

And so there I was in the middle of nowhere standing on top of the last remnants of what used to be something. Nature had not depleted the barn of its energy. It still held the memory of before. It was as if the whole thing would have picked itself back up again if it could. But that was not going to happen, and I was not particularly hopeful of it either. Despite the confusion of letting an old barn (more like 160-years-old) get to a state where it could topple over, I was happy that I got to witness its burying grounds, to stand on its beams and feel the rush of memory – that distant memory of peeking inside old abandoned homes as a kid, that respectful hush that falls over us, and the uneasiness of our intrusion.

A Life in the Trades: September 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

While earning my B.A. at the University of Houston, the ritual of buying new textbooks for each new semester was a chore. Perhaps I was just unfocused or insincere with the major I had chosen. I looked forward to the possible returns when I would be able to sell them back at the end of the semester. Of course, I kept a few.

Now that I have found my way into the Building Preservation & Restoration program at Belmont Technical College, the acquisition of new books each quarter feels like a true investment. I wouldn’t give up a single one. For a program that has a reputation for an intensive hands-on curriculum, our book load seems equal to my B.A. studies, if not more. Perhaps this should come as no surprise.

I recall a past PiP post in which Kaitlin offered photo of her school books with pride [see here and here]. This month I wanted to do the same and let readers in on the great books to which the BPR program has introduced me.

Keeping Time by William J. Murtagh. A concise study of the history and theory of preservation in America.

The Decoration of Houses by Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman Jr. “…it might be argued that it is among the most influential books about decoration and architecture ever published in the United States.” (Richard Guy Wilson)

Downtown by Robert M. Fogelson. An in-depth history of the rise and fall of “downtown.”

Structures or Why Things Don’t Fall Down by J.E. Gordon. A richly colored exploration into the world of Building physics.

The Blacksmith by Aldren A. Watson. Beautifully illustrated and nostalgic manual on the life and work of the early blacksmith.

Science for Conservators Volumes One & Two by The Conservation Unit of the Museums & Galleries Commission. The definitive textbooks for anybody entering the field of conservation. An introduction to the chemistry of materials and the chemistry of cleaning.

Construction Contracting by Richard H. Clough, Glenn A. Sears, & S. Keoki Sears. A very thick book with ant-sized type exploring the entire world of Construction: estimating, bidding, management, labor laws, insurance, etc.

Conserving Buildings by Martin E. Weaver. The preservation classic that explores the various techniques for conserving various materials in various types of deterioration.

Everyday Life in Early America by David Freeman Hawke. A brief social history of early America. Topics include: floor plans, “what they ate,” recreation, language, etc.

The Reshaping of Everyday Life (1790-1840) by Jack Larkin. A Distinguished Finalist for the P.E.N./Martha Albrand Award for Nonfiction in 1989. The second part in the social history series.

Fundamentals of Building Construction by Edward Allen & Joseph Iano. A mammoth book on the complexities of building construction.

Understanding Wood Finishing by Bob Flexner. A truly comprehensive and easy-to-understand manual on all the various wood finishes. Considered the “bible of wood finishing.”

Basic Plumbing with Illustrations by Howard C. Massey. Uncluttered visuals pack this very handy manual.

Recording Historic Structures, edited by John A. Burns. Documentation from the perspective of the National Park Service. Rich with illustrations and photographs of case studies.

Structural Investigation of Historic Buildings by David C. Fischetti, PE. Fischetti is in the rare breed of “Preservation Structural Engineer.” Not only does the book explore many case studies of structural stabilization, but gives impassioned advice to structural engineers who tend to discredit our historic built environment.

Historic Preservation Technology by Robert A. Young, PE. An introduction into the world of Building Pathology & Preservation methodology.

The Very Efficient Carpenter by Larry Haun. Larry Haun invented the phrase “no nonsense.” All the “tricks of the trade” in one concise manual for basic building carpentry.

Architectural Graphics by Francis D.K. Ching. Introduction into the world of the architect: essential drawing tools, principles, and techniques designers use to communicate architectural ideas.

The Complete Manual of Woodworking by Albert Jackson, David Day, & Simon Jennings. Wonderfully detailed and clearly illustrated manual on all aspects of wood working: wood science, joinery, machine tools, chair making, marquetry, etc.

Plastering Skills by Van Den Branden/Hartsell. An in-depth manual on the science of various plasters, their various uses in buildings, plaster tools, and even work ethics.

Dictionary of Building Preservation, edited by Ward Bucher. With more than 10,000 terms, I can always count on this dictionary to have what I’m looking for. Everything from “King of Prussia Marble” to “out of plumb” to “State Historic Preservation Office.”

Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture, edited by Cyril M. Harris. Over 5,000 important terms complemented by over 2,000 line drawings. Everything from ancient ruins to 20th-century Modernism.

House Histories by Sally Light. Light’s house curiosities become infectious. She is able to communicate the entire process of historic research for our historic structures for preservationists and non-preservationists alike.

The Lost Art of Steam Heating by Dan Holohan. Holohan is vividly in love with steam heating and I couldn’t help but become engrossed myself.

A Life in the Trades: June 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

The Spring quarter is coming to a close and many of us are busy putting the final touches on a slew of school projects. This month I figured I’d just share some photos and let you in on some really exciting work students and I have been a part of in the last few weeks.

Field Lab: Wall Plastering

Field lab: wall plastering. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Abbe Popescu applies the browncoat on the chimney wall of the Morristown House. Jon Smith, our field lab instructor, has done plaster work on major projects including Edith Wharton’s ‘The Mount.’ It was thrilling to watch him mix his ingredients and apply the plaster with such ease and fluid technique. Abbe quickly became the plaster queen and has also plastered another wall in the house.

Field Lab: Plaster Stabilization

Photo courtesy of Abbe Popescu.

Photo courtesy of Abbe Popescu.

Photo courtesy of Abbe Popescu.

Abbe and I endeavored on a plaster stabilization project under the stairs in the Morristown house as well. One section of the ceiling was missing a significant section of plaster. We were wanting to stabilize the remaining historic plaster and apply new plaster to the exposed hand-hewn lath. We chose the washer method where a metal washer is counter-sunk into the loose plaster with a screw to help hold the plaster firmly against the lath again. A more conservation-oriented method involves drilling holes in the existant plaster and injecting acrylic fills to bind the loose plaster to the lath again.

Paints & Clear Finishes

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

In my paints and clear finishes class I’ve been experimenting with creating different paints, stains, and “clear” finishes from “scratch.” A large part of this is just understanding the major characteristics of each and the varieties of components one can use in the final recipe list. All final experiments are displayed on wood sample pieces.

Of the many historic paint finishes I experimented with, egg tempera was one:

Egg tempera. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Plaster: Medallion

Molding tooth. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

In Plaster class, the creation of my medallion continues. Most all of the aplique has been cast. Now that I’ve made my tin tooth, I can now begin the process of running my medallion base. Once all aplique has been set, I can prime and paint.

Field Lab: Timber Framing.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Photo by Abbe Popescu.

Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

The basement at the Morristown House has been supported for a while now with shoring devices until we were able to re-build the timber brace supports. This morning we worked on creating mortise and tenons and fitting the final pieces together. All final pieces are fastened with treenails.

In other news, I’ve begun the planning stages for my project in Advanced Material Sciences class. We can choose any material we want and design an intensive preservation project based around it. I’m interested in wood conservation, specifically the conservation of early framing styles. Jon Smith, our field lab instructor is a timber framing and covered bridge aficionado and he told me about a local Farmstead with some really amazing (no, TRULY amazing) old timber construction.We went and looked at it, and it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had since I’ve been here in Ohio. Floyd, the current owner of the farmstead talked to me for at least an hour and seemed to have such a deep connection with the place and with what it represented of early rural vernacular life. It’s still an operating farm and a popular site on the Drover’s Trail. It’s called the Kinney Farm and dates to the 1860s.

I’m still in the process of learning more about it, but there are currently five structures on the property all on the National Register. With Jon’s guidance, I’m going to document the Carriage house on the property (which is falling into quick disrepair) and repair the rotted sills and any other timber conservation needed. I am excited because this will involve some structural shoring techniques which I have yet to have any experience with. It will also be great because we will be dealing with early American building techniques/joinery/tools – all for a Nationally Registered structure! Can’t wait to share the experience with you PiP readers.

A Life in the Trades: May 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

Everything is green in Ohio. The hydrangea and the dandelions have sprung. The buds of Sugar Maples have turned to drooping tassels of flowers and finally to green leaves. The seeds have been sown and little chard leaves have peaked from the soil. The onion is taking root. The birds are happy.

I have to admit that I’ve been a little distracted from school lately. There’s been a severe case of burn out in the program at Belmont Tech among many of the students. Winter’s “state of emergency” snow load and intensive winter projects took their toll. It seems many of us are still trying to recuperate.

My classes this quarter include: Construction Management, Mechanical Systems, Field Documentation, Paints & Clear Finishes, Plaster, and Field Lab. In Mechanical Systems we’re doing hands-on exploration of electrical systems, plumbing systems, and HVAC systems – historic and present-day.

Mechanical Systems Class. Soldering of a copper supply line. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Field Documentation has us at an 1870 one room school-house where another classmate and I are documenting the landscape. Our work will culminate in a sort of Cultural Landscape Report within a broader HSR.

Documentation Class. Rear view of the Great Western School House and surrounding property. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

In Plaster I’ve been doing an augmented reproduction of the Drayton Hall ceiling medallion. The process includes modeling from clay, molding the clay pieces, casting with plaster, and creating tin profile jigs for the running. The wall plaster and scagliola components to the class are to follow.

Plaster Class. Design of medallion applique. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Perhaps my favorite class this quarter has been the Field Lab. We’re required to take four quarters of Field Lab where we work at an actual site applying our lab work experience under the guidance of either Dave Mertz (director of the program) or John Smith (superintendent to Allegheny Restoration).

The Spring quarter has us at the 1840s Swaney House in Morristown every Friday. We’ve begun with several projects: stone lintel crack repair, hanging of exterior window shutters, wall plaster, gutter hanging/soldering, and finish carpentry for the porch. John knows quite a bit about the preservation trades. His first trade is carpentry, but he seems to know just about everything. Working beside him feels much like working as an apprentice at times. You feel he’s giving you invaluable information, trade secrets, time-tested techniques. For example, using a coping saw to cut your inside mitre joint to allow for imperfect corner flexibility. Or that the “scratch coat” for wall plaster need not have any scratches. Or that the joint on metal downspouts should always create a 90 degree angle to a brick wall to avoid the brick being damaged when the metal expands in changing temperature.

Soldering gutter joints. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Soldering gutter joints. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Lime putty. Historically left to hydrate for many years. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

We’ve been able to see quite a bit of historic “apprentice work” throughout the house – brick walls laid in a bond one can only define as “apprentice bond.” This past Friday it felt like I was only adding to the collection of apprentice work with imprecise wood measurements while cutting some wood molding. My friend Abby, who was helping me, mentioned the old “measure twice, cut once” adage to which John replied that we actually just need to measure once. Correctly. He also informed us that the old “practice makes perfect” adage is a fallacy as well. Practicing the wrong way doesn’t make anything perfect, after all.

John perpetually keeps us laughing throughout the day. Always an anecdote for every step in the process. Always a story from preservation-assignments-past. This is the one day of the week we get to relax a little. Though we have to keep a log of what we’re doing and document the process, there’s usually no strict time frame for what we‘re doing. No note-taking. No textbook. No tests.

And believe me: I’m fine with that.

Abby and I taking pictures while the others are working. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

A Life in the Trades: March 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

In the Materials Science of Wood class at BPR this quarter, we’ve been assigned six projects: Bracket reconstruction, wood epoxy repair, dutchman repair, lathe turning, wood carving, and parquetry design. The focus of the course is to get us fully acquainted with the character of wood, the tools by which we manipulate it, its common deterioration mechanisms, and basic methods by which to conserve, preserve, and restore it. The nature of the more significant projects (bracket & parquetry) lead us into aspects of fine wood working, whereas the separate Building Carpentry class focuses on wood as a framing material in a historic context. The Building Pathology component of the program, in turn, reinforces the study of deterioration and stabilization of materials such as wood.

This month I documented the process of my bracket reconstruction. “Case by case basis” is a phrase we hear all the time in our classes. The goal of the program is to equip us with an index of options. Much like a doctor upon hearing her patient’s symptoms, she must catalogue in her brain potential causes and possible remedies. If she is a good doctor, the cause of the symptoms will be considered the first priority to solve. In the field of preservation we also have other variables dictating our actions: time, the vision of the owner of the object/property (are we restoring to mid-18th century or are we leaving “as is” and conserving what we have only?), and the budget of the owner.

In the context of my bracket reconstruction I pretty much assumed the vision of the project as a restoration of sorts. I also assumed that if any problem exists that was a direct contributor to the bracket’s complete failure/disappearance, that it has been investigated and fixed. Whereas dutchman and wood epoxy repairs are repairing a wooden object and retaining as much original fabric as possible, a reconstruction effort is dealing with recreating an object based on documentation of what used to be. Perhaps only a couple of the brackets remain. Perhaps none exist at all. If it fits the parameters of the project’s vision, the reconstruction process may begin once all proper documentation and research has been accomplished.

All documentation and research aside, I began at the drafting table rendering the bracket in detail. Generally, all profiles need to be explored. I learned very quickly in the construction process, that this time spent at the drafting table is the most difficult and most important part of the entire process. Every dentil, every depth, every component of the design must be understood in your mind and explained on the paper. If you can see its multiple layers coming together accurately, then the construction process will run much more smoothly.

A bracket’s width is determined by the height of the individual boards that compose it. A process of glue lamination will give us our bulk. Once the height of these individual boards is determined, they are planed down to the correct size. In our case we’re dealing with rough-cut Poplar. Rough-cut boards are not necessarily the dimension we need and may show signs of crooking, cupping, and bowing.

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A note on dimensional lumber…

The most cost-effective and resourceful method of dimensioning lumber in a lumber mill is the plain sawing method.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The downside to plain sawn planks is the nature of the growth rings in relation to moisture evaporation processes. They are more prone to warping. The quarter sawn method produces a more durable cut of wood that is less prone to this warping.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

In our case, the boards are roughly plain sawn. Each face grain is planed down to the correct level in the planer which also provides a finer finish. The purpose of the planer is to give plumb dimensions on these face grains as well.

Board planer. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

After the face grains have been planed, one edge grain per board must be joined in the joiner to remove any imperfections such as crooking. Once a single edge grain side has been joined, the other side must be trimmed off on a table saw setting the recently joined side against the fence. End grain sides may be simply trimmed on a chop saw. Now the board should be square on all sides.

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After all individual boards have their proper height, the edges are glued together with a Poly Vinyl Acetate adhesive (i.e. white glue and wood(yellow) glue). These adhesives are water based and work best on porous materials. F-clamps keep the boards in place in the drying process.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

It is best to arrange the boards in alternating end grain patterns. Should further warping occur, ideally the warpings will oppose each other and cancel themselves out.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

After the boards have dried, the process of tracing the side profile of the bracket onto these begins. I used a simple carbon paper. I needed to trace seven profiles, as seven profiles would create the width of my bracket once placed side by side.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Once the individual profiles have been cut using a scroll saw, they are aligned together and once again glued in the final lamination process.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Left to dry. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

There might be irregular edges along this profile after the lamination process. Using a bobbin sander, the bulk of the bracket may be sanded down to a smooth and regular shape.

One component of my bracket was a turned rosette. After a block is attached to the end of the lathe, using various turning speeds and different turning chisels, my contoured shape was created. These discs were then glued to both sides of the bracket.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

In creating the decorative scrolls which flank the bracket, a 3-D carved depth illusion is given by joining two pieces: one creating the elevated portion and the other providing the backing.

Prior to cutting. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Using a scroll saw once again, the piece is “carved out.” Once the two pieces are glued together, a simple dremel tool helped to establish even more depths in the scrolls. These too were glued to each side of the bracket.

The last decorative element of the bracket was creating the partial architrave on the top and base consisting of a simple cornice and dentil run. It is worth noting that options for replicating historic and even rare molding profiles must be indexed as well for future “case by case” assignments. Options can run the gamut from locating rare router bits, creating custom router bits, or even doing a combination of routing with existing bits in one’s collection and hand planing/shaping. All decorative trim and molding must be carefully tagged, photographed, and organized if detached from a structure in a preservation endeavor.

Once a matching router bit was found, the cornice was shaped using the router. Various miter joints must be cut with miter saws to create the corners of the cornice.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Dentil blocks can be created with a few different methods. The most time-efficient method is using a dado blade on a common table saw. The dado blade is intended to carve out the wood. The width of this uniform shape is determined by placing spacers in between two saw blades and based on the height of the saw blade. A jig is created for the assignment if not already in your jig collection. By simply passing the dentil plank inside a jig over the dado blade, the spacing in between the dentils is created accurately.

And…..I’m finished.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.