Andy deGruchy joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss his Craftwork Training Center, the historic masonry contracting and supply business and his philosophy of the body, mind, and spirit working together to create art.  His 35 years of experience as a mason was highlighted as he explained his dive into the material science world and now working to help train the future craftsperson.  

Contact:

Limeworks or Craftwork Training Center: 215-536-1776 Or email Andy at [email protected]

Bio:

Andy deGruchy is a brick and stone mason and historic masonry restoration contractor for 35 years based in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.  Andy does all his work using specialty mortars and plasters that he has imported from France for the last 20 years.  In 1999 he started LimeWorks.us, a specialty supply company that ships custom formulated replacement mortars for historic masonry structures throughout the United States.  LimeWorks.us and deGruchy Masonry Restoration employs approximately 21 people.  Andy also, operates a Craftwork Training Center, based in Telford, Pennsylvania, that teaches participants how to use LimeWorks.us mortar, plaster, and stone patching material called Lithomex. Andy is married to Audrey and they have four children.

Offer: 

Veterans Discounts (call for details) and 50% off Craftwork Training Center courses for Buck’s County Community College students plus 1.5 prior learning units toward program requirements (offer extended to all other students)

 

 

 

Historical masonry buildings are very different from modern buildings.  Historical bricks were fired at lower temperatures and are much softer and more permeable than modern bricks and buildings constructed with these softer bricks were designed to absorb moisture and then release it.  A key component of this design was the lime mortar historically used in masonry applications, a mortar that was also soft and readily allowed water or vapor to pass through it.

In the late 1800’s, a new mortar debuted in the United States at the height of the Industrial Revolution.  Favored for all the qualities a mass-production revolution could ask for (fast-curing, inexpensive, and less work for masons), Portland cement quickly gained popularity with masons and by the early 1900’s most buildings had some Portland mortar in their masonry surfaces – usually as an additive to traditional lime mortar.  By the mid-1900’s  Portland was no longer used as an additive and became the predominate ingredient in mortar mixes.  Historical buildings were not immune to the new technology and masonry repairs on historical buildings in the 1900’s were predominantly made with Portland mortar.

If your historic building has been re-pointed it likely was with Portland mortar.  A common mistake, Portland mortar applied to historical buildings doesn’t just erode the historic fabric of the building, it causes physical damage that is often permanent.  Traditional mortars worked with the softer historical masonry materials to expand and contract together as temperatures and moisture levels changed, creating a wall and masonry surface that “breathed” to expel excess moisture.  Applying a Portland mortar mix to historical masonry disrupts that relationship and traps moisture in the wall and historical bricks.  Moisture trapped within the walls will not easily pass through Portland cement mortar and will be forced through the soft brick instead, the path of least resistance.  When the water evaporates, salt deposits are left behind that crystallize and destroy the protective shell of the bricks.  Once this outer surface is damaged, the softer interior of the historical bricks rapidly disintegrates.

Portland mortar can cause problems that begin to decay masonry in a few years.  The historical bricks on masonry buildings are not the only things threatened by Portland cement mortar – structural elements, interior features, and occupant health are also compromised by the moisture issues associated with Portland mortar.

Remember, historical masonry materials and mortars were designed from a construction approach that created buildings that “breathed”, allowing moisture both in and out.  Modern masonry materials and mortars are designed from a watertight construction approach that aims to keep water from passing through.

Combining a material from the system designed to let a house “breathe” with a material from a system designed to prevent water from passing through is a recipe for disaster.

The truth is…historical mortar differs significantly at a molecular level from modern mortar.  This difference makes modern mortar incompatible with historical masonry materials, permanently damaging historical masonry materials, and structural elements of masonry buildings, and traps moisture in walls lowering energy efficiency and endangering air quality inside the building.

Lauren Dillion of Master of Plaster joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss:

  • Her introduction to plaster as an art form
  • The different types of plaster (I really didn’t know there were so many) – lime (there are different types of lime!), gypsum, and clay
  • Lauren answered all of my lime wash questions
  • Plus you will hear Lauren’s insights into preservation trends and challenges

It is always enjoyable to speak with someone who is passionate about their work and is as excited about preservation education as we are – I think you will enjoy this episode.

Contact info:

Lauren Dillion, Master of Plaster 

Instagram (lots of pretty pictures)  email: [email protected]  phone: 1-800-352-5915

Offers:

Bio:

Lauren Dillon is the Executive Designer at Master of Plaster Finishing Systems. Specializing in crafting historically authentic hydrated lime plasters, their materials are used throughout the US and Canada on the restoration of Historic Structures as well as architectural finishes in Residential and Commercial projects. With an emphasis on quality materials, her work focuses on promoting the craft and trade of the plasterer as well as providing education on proper application processes for both preservation work and installations in new design/build projects.

We recently completed a historic porch restoration at the Harris-Cameron mansion in Harrisburg, PA.  Part of the project involved fabricating new wood columns to match a few existing column we were salvaging.  For that work we turned to Somerset Door & Column Company.

Historic Porch Restoration

For over 100 years, Somerset Door & Column Company has manufactured architectural wood columns, doors, and entryways. Built on tradition and authenticity, Somerset Door & Column uses trained artisan craftsmen and kiln-dried domestic and imported hardwoods to create long-lasting, high-quality custom doors and columns. While some manufacturers outsource parts of their production process, Somerset maintains complete control over the quality of their production process by fabricating everything on-site at their facilities.

We had previously worked with Somerset Door & Column on another historic porch restoration we did in Staten Island and knew their quality of work was commendable.  Chuck is picky about the vendors and contractors we work with and he gives Somerset a solid two thumbs up.

“There isn’t anything they can’t do”, he says.

 

 

 

Traditional joinery is a term we’ve all heard as a hallmark of historical millwork.  But what is it and why is it so important in preservation of historic buildings?

What is Traditional Joinery?

Joinery in general is the woodworking technique that joins together two pieces of wood.  What a joint looks like, how strong it is, how long it will last, and other characteristics are all determined by the joining materials and how they are used in the joints.   Traditional joinery techniques use only wood elements, while modern joinery techniques use fasteners, bindings, and/or adhesives.  Sometimes the two techniques are combined to marry wooden elements and joints with modern adhesives.

Traditional joinery uses the following joints:

Butt joint: The end of a piece of wood is butted against another piece of wood. This is the simplest, and weakest, joint in traditional joinery.

 

 

Miter joint: Similar to a butt joint, but both pieces have been beveled (usually at a 45 degree angle) before being joined together.

 

 

 

Lap joints: One piece of wood overlaps another.

 

 

 

Box joint (or finger joint): Several lap joints at the ends of two boards; used for the corners of boxes.

 

 

 

Dovetail joint: A form of box joint where the fingers are locked together by diagonal cuts.

 

 

 

Dado joint: A slot is cut across the grain in one piece for another piece to set into; shelves on a bookshelf having slots cut into the sides of the shelf, for example.

 

Groove joint: The slot is cut with the grain.

 

 

Tongue and groove: Each piece has a groove cut all along one edge, and a thin, deep ridge (the tongue) on the opposite edge. If the tongue is unattached, it is considered a spline joint.

 

Mortise and tenon: A stub (the tenon) will fit tightly into a hole cut for it (the mortise). This is a hallmark of Mission Style furniture, and also the traditional method of jointing frame and panel members in doors, windows, and cabinets.

 

Birdsmouth joint: A V-shaped cut in the rafter connecting roof rafters to the wall-plate.

 

 

Comb Joint: A joint used as a way of conserving timber, as a means of joining random lengths of timber to be machined to a finished piece.

 

 

 

Source for pictures and joint descriptions: Wikipedia’s Entry on Traditional Woodworking Joints 

 

Why it’s Important in Preservation

There are many advantages to using traditional joinery in the preservation or restoration of a historic building.  Using traditional joinery in repairs, restorations, and other preservation ensures the structural integrity of a historic building by matching existing joinery with a joinery technique that’s sure to be compatible with it.  Since traditional joinery is stronger, more durable, and expands and contracts in different ways than modern joinery – using modern joinery alongside traditional joinery can compromise the structure of a historic building.

Traditional joinery is a time-tested method that is much stronger than modern joinery and lasts for generations, even thousands of years.   The mortise and tenon joint is the most ancient traditional joint and has been found in the wooden planks of a vessel 43.6 meters long that dates to 2,500 BCE.  Traditional Chinese architecture as old as Chinese civilization itself used this method for a perfect fit without using fasteners and glues.  The 30 stones of Stonehenge were also fashioned with mortise and tenon joints before they were erected between 2600 and 2400 BCE.

Proving itself to be able to stand the test of thousands of years, traditional joinery is clearly a higher quality and more stable joinery method than modern techniques.  That test of thousands of years also demonstrates traditional joinery’s ability to withstand the rigorous use we often demand of our structures joints because it is a higher quality, more stable joinery method than modern techniques.

One of the reasons traditional joinery like mortise and tenon joints withstands the test of time so well is that it allows a joint to naturally expand and contract with moisture and temperature changes in the environment without devastating separation that weakens the joint and causes (often irreparable) damage to the wood pieces it’s joining together.

But most importantly, traditional joinery ensures authenticity in the preservation of our built history by more completely matching the existing materials and construction methods used by traditional trades.  Since the traditional trade methods that originally constructed a building (along with regional variances in those methods) are a large contributor to a building’s historic fabric, this is the best way to make sure that historic fabric is not lost to our preservation efforts.  Traditional joinery also better allows for selective repair or reconstruction of individual components than modern joinery methods – a major advantage that helps preservationists retain more of the woodwork original to a historic building.

 

 

 

Protect Historic Masonry Buildings from Permanent Damage Caused by Portland Mortar

Historic masonry buildings are very different from modern buildings.  Historic bricks were fired at lower temperatures and are much softer and more permeable than modern bricks.  Historic buildings constructed with these softer bricks were designed to absorb moisture and then release it.  A key component of this design was the lime mortar historically used in masonry applications, a mortar that was also soft and readily allowed moisture to pass through.

In the late 1800’s, a new mortar debuted in the U.S. at the height of the Industrial Revolution.  Favored for all the qualities a mass-production revolution could ask for (fast-curing, inexpensive, and less work for masons), Portland quickly gained popularity with masons and by the early 1900’s most buildings had some Portland mortar in their masonry surfaces – usually as an additive to traditional lime mortar.  By the mid-1900’s Portland was no longer used as an additive and became the predominant ingredient in mortar mixes. Historic buildings were not immune to the new technology and masonry repairs on historic buildings in the 1900’s were predominantly made with Portland mortar.

If your historic building has been re-pointed in the last sixty years, it very likely was re-pointed with a Portland cement mortar mix.

A common mistake, Portland mortar applied to historic buildings doesn’t just erode the historic fabric of the building, it causes physical damage that is often permanent.  Traditional mortars worked with the softer historic masonry materials to expand and contract together as temperatures and moisture levels changed, creating a wall and masonry surface that “breathed” to expel excess moisture.  Applying a Portland mortar mix to a historic masonry surface disrupts that relationship and traps moisture in the wall and historic bricks.

Moisture trapped within walls will not easily pass through Portland cement mortar and will be forced through the soft brick instead, a path of much less resistance.  When the water evaporates, salt deposits are left behind that crystallize that destroys the protective shell of the bricks.  Once this outer surface is damaged, the softer insides of historic bricks rapidly disintegrate.

Moisture issues caused by Portland mortar on a historic building can begin to destroy historic masonry within just a few years.

The historic bricks on masonry buildings are not the only things threatened by Portland cement mortar – structural elements, interior features, and occupant health are also compromised by the moisture issues associated with Portland mortar.  Remember, historic

masonry materials and mortars were designed from a construction approach that created buildings that “breathed”, allowing moisture both in and out.  Modern masonry materials and mortars are designed from a watertight construction approach that aims to keep water from passing through.

Combining a material from the system designed to let a house “breathe” with a material from the system designed to prevent water from passing through is a recipe for disaster.

Historic mortar differs significantly at a molecular level from modern mortar.  This difference makes modern mortar incompatible with historic masonry materials, permanently damages historic masonry materials and structural elements of masonry buildings, and traps moisture in walls lowering energy efficiency and endangering air quality inside the building.

Here’s a tool you can use to evaluate your historic building’s masonry for potential problems and problem indicators. For a printer-friendly version of this checklist, click on the picture.

 

Soapstone is a traditional material that’s been in use for thousands of years and is often found in early Colonial American homes.  The soft, metamorphic stone material, favored for its ability to withstand and retain heat, was used for fireplaces, hearths, cooking slabs, and water basins.

It still is today, thanks to Bucks County Soapstone.

With a beginning in the cabinetmaking trade, Bucks County Soapstone now focuses solely on crafting custom soapstone sinks for kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms, and a few other specialty products.

Soapstone can be found all over the world, including here in the United States. Bucks County Soapstone sources their material from Brazil where the families of some current soapstone harvesters have been quarrying soapstone for hundreds of years, as well as Virginia here in the U.S.

One distinct advantage Bucks County Soapstone can claim is the use of a highly accurate digital templating device called the Faro Arm.  This instrument uses a handheld imager to trace the backsplash a sink will be fit against to get a truly snug fit, even against stone, tile, and other uneven surfaces.  This digital template, along with other measurements, are then inputted into a computer system that guides the saws that cut the soapstone slabs to shape.  Once cut, the soapstone pieces are then finished by hand by Bucks County Soapstone’s artisan craftsmen.

httpvh://youtu.be/CdbGFhND1Co

Along with the truly custom pieces they can make, one of Bucks County Soapstone’s particular specialties is their ability to replace modern sinks with apron-front traditional soapstone sinks common in historic homes without any major cabinet work.  While the sink may have been a common occurrence, this particular specialty is not.

For more information about Bucks County Soapstone, the products and services they offer, and general information about soapstone sourcing and product care, visit their website at bcsoapstone.com.

 

One of our current projects, the Franklin Street Station in Reading, PA, involves restoration of dozens of windows and doors originally made in 1929.  Seriously damaged by Hurricane Agnes, the building then sat abandoned and deteriorated from neglect and vagrant activity and by 2011 when BARTA began its restoration project for the building, this is is what the building and the windows looked like when we started:

To restore windows so badly damaged, without replacing them, we started by stripping the multiple layers of varnish and paint and ordered replacement glass.  (In this project’s case, we ordered new glass instead of using salvaged historical glass because the customer wanted tempered glass in most windows and frosted glass for the restroom windows.)  After we have the replacement glass caulked and pinned in, we do the window glazing ourselves – watch the following short video to see how!

2. 10 Common Mistakes People Make While Working on their Historic Building.
        Structures are historic because the materials and craftsmanship reflected in their construction are tangible and irreplaceable evidence of our cultural heritage. Substitute materials subtract from the basic integrity, historically and architecturally, of buildings. Historic materials should be retained whenever possible. Since wood has always been present in abundance in America, there is a richness and diversity of wood sidings in America. Therefore the wood sidings become a recognizable part of the historic character of a building.
       Often, during a restoration project, the replacement of wood siding is deemed necessary because it has deteriorated beyond repair. The concern with using vinyl or other synthetic materials to replace the original materials is a loss or severe diminishing of the unique aspects of the building. Applying synthetic material to a historic building can damage or obscure historic material, and more importantly diminish the historic identity of the building.
     Though installation of artificial siding is thought to be reversible, often there is irreversible damage to the historic materials during the installation process. Furring strips are used to create a flat surface, “accessories” are needed to fit the siding around architectural features, and the existing wall fabric is damaged from the nailing necessary to apply the siding.
       In addition, aluminum and vinyl siding is often applied to buildings in need of maintenance and repair, thereby concealing problems which are an early warning sign of deterioration. Cosmetic treatment to hide difficulties such as peeling paint, stains or other indications of deterioration is not a sound preservation practice.  In addition, artificial siding makes it impossible to monitor the condition of the building because it is hidden from view.
     The questions of durability and relative costs of aluminum or vinyl siding compared to the maintenance cost of historic materials are complex. One consideration is repair cost. All siding materials are subject to damage and all can be repaired. However it is much easier to repair wood siding, and the repair, after painting , is generally imperceptible.
      Because aluminum and vinyl can be produced with an insulating backing, they are sometimes marketed as improving the thermal envelope. In reality, the thickness of any insulating backing would be too small to add to the energy efficiency of a historic building and should not be a consideration when choosing synthetic siding.
      Finally, artificial siding removes the unique details and distinctive qualities of your building and can reduce its value in the marketplace by making it look like every other house.
      Historic Building materials, when properly maintained, are generally durable and serviceable materials. Their existence of tens of thousands of historic buildings is proof that they are the good selection.