Barn Beams: an old world appeal with a new world sustainability
Four Sided Hewn
Hewn barn beams are beams that have been cut with an ax and date to the 1800’s or earlier. Hand hewn timbers are typically cut or shaped with hard blows of a heavy cutting instrument like an ax or chisel. The result is a rougher and more rustic look. Hand hewn beams will normally have mortise pockets in them, as they were most often part of the upper framing of a mortise and tenon structure. The pockets can be “plugged” with wood, but many people leave them as-is.
Sizes most typically range from a 5″ by 5″ to 10″ by 12″.
A “summer beam” is the main beam in the floor system of a barn or log home. It runs the length of the structure and the floor joists rest upon, or tie into it. It is the largest hand hewn beam available and can be as large as a 12″ by 12″ by 30-40 ft long. However, there is only one per building so they are the most expensive and least available beam. In addition to the size, what makes them very desirable is that they have very few, if any, mortise pockets.
Sawn beams have a smoother finish. There are several saw marks ranging from vertical, mill, or circular saw. Sawn beams can be dimensional, such as a 2″ by 6″ through 2″ by 12″ floor joist, or can be any size from a 4″ by 4″ to a 12″ by 12″ if they are part of the upper framing. Like hewn beams from the upper frame, sawn beams will likely have mortise pockets. Dimensional, sawn joists will not have mortise pockets, but will most typically be only 2-3″ thick.
Joists are rough sawn material originally used as supports below floorboards. They’re rectangular in size and available in both hard and soft woods. Joist are commonly 2″-3″ thick, 6″-12″ wide, and 10’+ in length. Joists can be installed structurally or decoratively across ceilings adding interest to any room. Additionally, they’re great for re-purposing in creative ways. Their depth makes for excellent shelving and mantle pieces.
Sleepers are the beams most typically used for the floor joist in a barn. They are most often hewn on the top and bottom and have natural edges on the sides. One advantage to using a sleeper vs. the upper framing is that there are no mortise holes in sleepers. Log cabins also have the same types of logs. The faces (hewn part) range in size from 6-14″ wide and they are typically 6-8″ thick. Lengths can be up to 30 ft.