Friday, January 11, 2013

What Is It? Where Is It? (January): Marriage Marks

Last week we started a new monthly photo project called "What Is It? Where Is It?" As you might expect, we're asking readers to guess what we've featured in the photograph and where it is located around Graeme Park. January's "contest" (there are no prizes or anything, it's just for fun and bragging rights) featured the image above. Apparently it was a stumper as we had no responses, so let's get on with the answer, shall we?

The photograph features what are called "marriage marks" or sometimes "carpenter's marks" and they're located around the closet door in the state's Historic Preservation field office here in the Visitors' Center (sorry, it was hard to get them to all show up in the same photograph). Here's a better view of the top and left side of the frame:

And the right side of the frame, partly covered by the hinge:

Each piece is marked "VIIII" (more or less a Roman numeral system but there are regional and cultural differences in the implementation) and the marks are to help the builder match up the pieces which are specifically cut to fit with one another and not with other similar pieces. These marks are commonly found in old timber frame buildings and barns because the pieces are cut and fit on the ground and then erected (just think of putting together IKEA furniture - piece A fits with piece A, B with B, etc.). Often the marks on the main structural elements are cut on the outside of the timbers so they're covered by the barn cladding, but you will also find them upstairs on the threshing floor of our barn cut into some of the posts and beams that support the barn.

In this older method of framing, called "scribe rule," each of the joints are custom fit to one another taking into account the irregularities of the timbers. Later came the "square rule" method which involved squaring off the timbers where they joined together and using more precise measurements which therefore made the pieces interchangeable with other pieces that performed the same function.

For more discussion on scribe rule vs. square rule, see Connecticut Barns and for more on marriage marks, see Holder Bros. Timber Frames.

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