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February 1, 2018

Carpenter gives barns new life

Carpenter gives barns new life

Courtesy of Dane Stillson

A barn built in the early 1800s and was recently dismantled in Tunbridge. It yielded some of the best and most valuable materials to date, according to Dane Stillson, owner of First Class Custom Carpentry. All the beams were hand hewn and the roof, walls and floors were all hemlock, which is very desirable, Stillson said.

By Evan Johnson

QUECHEE— The stately barns of Vermont’s largely agrarian past are finding new use in dining room tables, walls and other parts of homes.

Dane Stillson has been working around wood since he could stand and began working with his father, also a carpenter, at a young age. In 2009, he started his own company, First Class Custom Carpentry. Today, the 34-year-old Quechee resident has expanded his work to working with some of the antique barns that have either fallen into disrepair or are no longer in use.

Stillson and his team salvage and recycle the entire structures and their contents. Windows and antiques can go to consignment stores, while the barns’ wide boards can be used for myriad uses, including furniture and flooring. It’s also possible to use an entire barn’s frame in new construction.

“If the barn is in good enough shape, we’ll keep the posts and beams together,” he said. “We’ll de-peg everything and keep it as a set and try and sell that as a complete package.”

When it comes to salvaging barns, Stillson says the older, the better. In the 19th and 20th centuries, barns were constructed with whatever materials were available, often with locally sourced wood that was either felled or sawn nearby.

Older barns feature dimensions of wood that are hard to find today. Stillson’s first two salvage projects in Tunbridge featured boards 20-24 inches wide.

“A lot of the forests have been cut down and are all new-growth trees so they never have a chance get that big,” he said.

The siding and ceilings of the barns can be used for flooring. Stillson has also made dining room tables and countertops with some of the thicker pieces.

In salvaging the barn, Stillson and his team research the history of the barn and its former use, relying on a census of the state’s barns completed by students at Vermont Technical College.

“It makes it easy for us when trying to find new barns we have this reference we can go by and it will tell us the condition of the barn, its history, if it’s decrepit or needs to be taken down,” he said.

This history is then passed on to the customer in the form of a piece of furniture with a tag that describes the wood’s origins.

“It was as structurally sound as the day it was built, it was amazing,” he said. “When you think about it they only had hand tools back then. The craftsmanship was incredible.”

Plus, it’s another Vermont product that is in high demand.

“A lot of people love that antique rustic look and you can’t really find it anywhere unless it’s an old structure that’s been taken down,” he said.

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