Board and Batten on Our Barn

...Raising our barn in 2007.

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.

The plan was that Doug and I would attach the battens ourselves.  We attached the first ones yesterday.

Why did that stack of rough-hewn batten boards sit on the barn floor for almost three years?

Well, we have been devoting our time and energy to habitat restoration.

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.

More than that, the interior is taking on a feeling of security that I’ve never felt in there.  A sense of true shelter that one would expect from a structure made of 10×10 posts and beams.

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.

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5 replies

  1. A barn built with TLC. So-o-o-o, what are you going to do with the barn? And are you going to install a basketball hoop for one-on-one games in January?

    • Hi Wayne!
      We call it a barn, but in reality it is more of a tool shed. The original plan was that it would A. house our tractor, and B. provide temporary accomodations while we build the house. We have since realized that we can’t get a tractor till we have a lot better idea just what farming and other uses we have for it, and those ideas are still forming as we learn more and more. But it does house our smaller implements and hand tools.
      The loft in the back third is still in process. We found the first three windows by lucky chance, and they each have 12 panes in them. That set the tone, and we have been hunting for more windows like that. Finding real wooden windows with indvidual panes of glass takes some looking, but we found a gorgeous one for the north wall of the loft space. We are still looking for the east wall windows.
      We have another stack of wood on the barn floor waiting to be made into floor planks, and that project is waiting for right after the batten boards.
      When the floor is done, we will be spending many nights out there while the weather is reasonable. That will really up the number of hours on the land we can get out of one round trip of gas.
      I don’t see a basketball hoop in the crystal ball. Winter is when we can really work on clearing invasive undergrowth out of the savanna areas between woods and prairie. We’ve been making slow stead strides in expanding the areas where grasses and prairie forbs are getting a toe hold again among trees that have breathing space.
      I don’t mean to sound like our time on the land is all work and no play. In fact, getting to know and taking care of this land is some of the most fun we have ever had.

    • Hi Lori,
      We were out there again today. Again raced out early to see how much we could get done before the predicted rain began, and again, the rain passed us by and left us working long and hard and getting more done than we had hoped. It was hot today, and being covered in sweat and saw dust is not my favorite sensation, but I love the results.

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