When we decided to build a barn on our land, our daughter/architect quickly sketched up a shape that would maximize future solar panels and provide the most possible headspace for a loft area where we could camp. We took her plan to Mike Yaker, a local timber framer, who crafted its solid wood bones and helped us side it with inch-thick slabs of white oak in 2007.
Why did that stack of rough-hewn batten boards sit on the barn floor for almost three years?
But the main reason was that I was hesitant to cover the brilliant strips of light that poured through the spaces that formed as the fresh oak slabs dried and contracted – sometimes a full inch.
That airy feeling seemed pleasant – kind of like a tobacco drying barn, except that driving rain or snow, especially from the north or east, came on through to soak anything stored near those “walls”. But the barn’s interior had a non-confining property that I loved immediately.
Finally the task could be postponed no more, and we set up shop to carve out the back sides of each board if necessary to accommodate the warpage and uneven joint between siding boards. Battens are traditionally nailed on, be we have opted to use screws, and that works very well with the uneven surfaces. It’s satisfying to watch the boards snug up as the battery screwdriver twists each screw in tight.
Board and batten is a time-honored siding technique. The battens are not attached to the siding, but to the structure beneath them, so that each panel can expand and contract at its own rate without stressing its neighbors. And it’s a visually pleasing look of vertical lines marching along the surface, changing throughout the day as the battens catch light and cast shade from the shifting sun.
And speaking of sunlight, I am amazed at my reaction to the changing light in the barn’s interior. As we have closed off the gaps to light, the whole quality of illumination is changing in a way that I am loving. Suddenly I can see tone and texture in boards that were lost in the distracting glare from the gaps between boards.
It seems somehow right that the light should pour in only through window panes.
If you want to learn more about board at batten, here are a couple of how-to sites, Board and Batten and How to Make Board and Batten — although I will note that we have not followed their advice. Our barn is not insulated, which makes a much simpler plan possible. Nail the boards to the horizontal girts and screw the battens to the girts through the gaps between them.
Call it done.
Call it well done.