What goes into the painstaking restoration of a 115 year old Victorian porch? How do you manage to simultaneously preserve the artistic touches of the past while repairing the structural decay of a century of weather and neglect? Where do you draw the line when deciding whether to preserve and repair ancient, partially rotten fretwork or simply hire a millworker to make a facsimile? We answer all of these questions and more with our three part blog series, Judge Fenton House: A Look Back, a review of the three month restoration of the Judge Fenton House front porch, one of Buckman’s historic Queen Anne residences in, undertaken in the fall of 2013.
The above photos were taken at the beginning and towards the end of the project. What follows is taken from a journal kept during the restoration process by James Sarsgard, one of our talented carpenters. Here are some shots of the porch before we commenced with demolition:
DEMOLITION AND STRUCTURAL REPAIR
After spending the first day carefully extracting the columns, railings, the arcade, we erected a temporary shelter in the south yard to transfer all of the pieces, labeled with reference numbers for later reassembly, so that we were in full compliance with local and national codes regarding the removal of lead paint. We also draped a rainfly over the whole porch to shelter us from the rain. With the porch in pieces and a big yellow tent consuming the yard, our jobsite bore more than a passing resemblance to a Civil War era medic tent! With the roof held up with temporary jacks, we began framing the porch floor. Using old growth Doug Fir 2×12 purchased from a local rebuilding center, we tripled the rim joists to support the roof load and sistered any structurally compromised framing. Once the porch was leveled, posts were set from the rim joists to the foundation directly under the column locations for continuous load path from the roof once the columns were ready to go back. Holes were then cut into the decking so that we could post up to the roof from the ground below and begin the arduous process of jacking and leveling the roof. At some point in the last few decades, someone had reframed the existing porch roof. In an effort to remedy a serious deflection in the main span, the framers used plywood gussets to tie their new 2×4 rafters into the original ceiling joists. This “fix” did little to reduce the sag, unfortunately, and only made our task more challenging – we would have to tear the roof off completely to access and cut the gussets so that we could attempt to even out the deflection in the span. As Isaac and I started to think about the roof, Ric and Joe were set up in the tent, getting the woodwork prepped and restored. We had an abatement crew come out and handle the majority of the lead paint stripping, but there was still plenty of work for us to bring the corbels, columns and moldings back to life with in-kind wood dutchman patches, epoxy rot fix and filler.
FRAMING THE ROOF
Notice the “shiplap” portion of the radius is built from kerfed rips of ¾ redwood, staircased up the rafter tails to make the curve. In remodeling, the old adage is “level and square are luxuries”, and this has certainly held true for this project. We left the original box beam intact, and we quickly realized that the old fir would only give so much as we began jacking it up. It would be impossible to raise the beam to level without cracking it. So, relying upon a string line and our carpenter’s eye, we negotiated the run to where it looked straight enough to please us, which involved careful placement of jacks, lots of creaking and groaning, and no small amount of prayer that our efforts would not leave us with a cracked box beam! Compounding the problem was the fact that the north and south corners each terminated in a six foot radius that was more or less without direct support from the columns, and with no way to install a header in the radius beam, we relied upon the structural tie-in of our rafter tails to the existing framing, some long gussets and the fascia to pull the whole structure together. Again, without a complete rebuild of the roof, getting the whole thing completely perfect would prove impossible. In the end, we did install a laminated header of fir 2×6 inside the box beam to keep it straight. After the framing was done, it was just a simple matter of sheeting the roof with ½ inch plywood.