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Alexander Knight House
Methods & Tools

Building the Alexander Knight House

The team building the Alexander Knight House will use traditional materials, tools, and techniques of First Period builders during construction. While modest, early homes like the Knight House rarely survived, the methods of creating them has.

Materials and Preparation
White Oak was the choice for New England builders as it was very strong, rot resistant, and familiar to them as a cousin of the English Brown Oak. White Oak retains its integrity today as it is unaffected by the fact it is not old growth—and it is historically correct. The best trees for hewing grew in the forest, without lower branches, eliminating knots. After the tree was felled it would be cut to length and hewn where it lay. With the aid of a string the carpenter would "hew to the line", slicing off the round part of the log, creating the timbers; sills, posts, girts, plates, and rafters. The white oak scantlings (floor joists and studs) along with white pine, used for flooring and siding, would be sash sawn at the local, water powered mill with a sash or up and down saw.

tying joint

Knowledge and skill was required to cut the mortise and tenon English style joinery; chiseled and sawn into the timber, scribed, fitted and numbered. Mortises and tenons were typically 1½″in houses and 2″in larger houses and barns. The traditional housewright fully envisioned a frame before raising it. Having the pieces meet in the correct order was critical as the joinery locked the completed frame. Jowled posts, girts, and braces were fitted to form an end wall. Plates, studs, joists, principal rafters, and purlins could then be pegged in place to complete the frame. Hand shaved pegs (trunnels) held the mortise and tenon joints in place.

tyoing Joint IV

Thatch Roof Detail Plank Door

Antique strap hindge

Antique Suffolk Latch

Dry laid stone foundation

White Oak provided the timbers. Sills, posts, girts, braces, rafters and purlins, were hewn from freshly felled logs. The white oak scantlings (floor joists and studs) were sash sawn at the mill. Cut and fitted, the mortise and tenon, English style joinery was pinned together and held the frame erect. The raising required ingenuity, man power and rigging.

Roofing: Thatch materials were harvested from the local marshes. Cut with sickles, tied with twine into bundles to move; loosened for drying then tightened again to move up to the roof. Steep pitches provided more loft space, becoming stylistic as they were also necessary for thatched roofs. Hand split shingles, quartered from the log with a froe, also became common, with White Oak again the preferred species.

Siding: Heartwood Eastern White Pine; the decay prone sapwood removed. Horizontal boards, nailed to the frame, kept out the harsh New England weather. A steep bevel, cut for lapping purposes (to keep out rainwater), was scribed along the edges allowing the boards to fit tightly together.

Doors and Windows: Early houses had plank doors of clinch nailed, shiplapped, pine boards. An oilcloth or shutter might later be replaced by a window sash. Glass, a luxury, was imported and expensive.

Hardware: Suffolk thumb latches, hinges, and nails were imported from England as well as forged locally. The hardware used on the Knight House will be antique wrought iron "strap" hinges, thumb latches and forged nails.

Foundation: The hole was a shallow excavation with a deeper portion used as a root cellar. The walls were built of dry-laid local stone.

Chimneys: Either made of brick or “wattle and daub”; that is, woven sticks and clay which hardens with use. Fires were constantly burning providing heat for cooking, washing. The warmth from the fire did little to supply winter comfort.



Jim at work

Stones and files to sharpen and hone.

Alexander Knight House Team

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Updated 6 September 2012