Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Old Nails

I took a week off from work to put a little addition on my house this week. My Dad took the week too and a couple old friends have stopped by to help. It's been the most fun I've had in ages. I used to build houses with my Dad, for seventeen years before he retired. It's been five since we've swung a hammer together and it's like all we did was take the weekend off. All the jokes and sayings are even still the same.

But that's not why I wanted to write tonight. The thing that got me sitting at the keyboard is the three old nails sitting on my work bench in the shop. I'll get to them in a minute.

As we tore into the project we've been going over it with a carpenter's eye. It's an automatic thing, you go over the work, get into the guys heads that did it. We pulled off some of the vinyl siding that went on in the early Nineties when I was in junior high. Worked around the replacement windows that went in after the fire in '77 when I was but a wee lad of one. Next came the clapboard siding underneath that we placed earlier than the kitchen addition that went on in the early Fifties but not original to the house. We're away from the section that went on in the Teens or Twenties but we think that's the vintage.

The real treat to a couple of carpenters was seeing the bones of the oldest part of the house. The sheathing predates even the tongue and groove that they used before plywood came along. The original house was post and beam construction and the rough hewn sheathing was sixteen inches wide! (shiver)

I was at the top of a ladder at one point, pulling off a piece of trim right at the peak and as I pulled out the nails I noticed that they were cut nails, square. They were likely made in a stamping machine and not by a blacksmith, they're too skinny. I pulled three of them and stuck them in my pocket. And that's what I've been thinking of all day.

There's a map of my town that dates to the 1860's and my house is on it. That makes the old section at least 150 years old and likely a decade or so more than that. These three nails were driven into that rake board two lifetimes ago. The Civil War hadn't been fought yet. The tree that lumber was milled from was a sapling when the ink was still wet on the Constitution and buccaneers still sailed the seas.

All this and more speaks to me from a humble piece of trim that has perched on the peak of my house, out of sight and out of mind. Cool.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's the best. I often think when I find something old: "what was going on in the world when this was built" etc. Good stuff bro. Jut

Irish Gumbo said...

Man, what a story they could tell! Very cool to find those cut nails, and that wide plank sheathing is something you never see anymore. Not that we should be laying low old growth trees for the sake of getting sheathing.

My house was built in 1920, and I look forward to some interesting discoveries once I'm able to start making alterations.

Any pics of the sheathing? Good post, my man!

Anonymous said...

three nails and two timbers saved mankind