On all the buildings I’ve done with old barn timbers, I would catalog the pieces that I’d been able to procure, using a legal pad or clipboard. I’d record the sectional dimensions of each piece, its useful length, and its condition. Then I would match the cataloged pieces to my plan, to see how I could make the available pieces mesh with what I needed. Sometimes I’d have a few timbers left over — I’d save them for the next project or make them available to another owner-builder — and sometimes I’d have to seek out certain timbers to make up a shortfall. We scored timbers from a variety of sources: eight-by-eights and the like from barns within a 25-mile radius, and lots of good three-by-ten floor joists from the old Masonic hall in West Chazy, New York, as well as from an old Adirondack Inn being tom down for salvage.
I mention these finds to illustrate that it is not just old barns that yield good heavy timbers, but also old commercial buildings and even homes. The best way to increase your chances of finding material like this is to “cultivate your luck.” The more tentacles you send out into the world, the better the chances of latching on to something. Some call this networking. I think of it in mathematical terms: There are no coincidences. There is simply a probability of something happening, and the more you do to increase the number of events, the more “coincidences” come through for you. I know all this sounds very “airy-fairy,” so here are some practical tips to help you along the way. Believe me, they work.
amazing how many farmers and other country folk have timbers — or
other valuable building materials — available. In urban areas, Bob advises:
“Read the want ads religiously. The Chicago papers are good for this, but other big-city papers will be, too.” Also, you can put a “wanted” ad in yourself. This is a tentacle!
2. Go to auctions. But don’t just limit yourself to what’s being offered. Talk to other people interested in the same stuff. They may know of something they don’t need, but which would suit you to a tee. You might lose something at an auction that goes past your price, but score a better deal from someone you meet there.
3. Talk it up. Let everyone you meet know that you are looking for old timbers (or cordwood, or straw bales, or windows and doors.) More tentacles.
4. Keep your eyes peeled while traveling country roads. Don’t be afraid to knock on doors. I do this all the time to procure large stones for megalithic work, and sometimes, when I stop to ask about stones, I discover something else that the people have available. Country people don’t usually take good stuff to the dump. They keep it, thinking that they will eventually use it themselves, but, after a couple of years go by, realize that they’ll never get around to the project they had in mind and would just as soon let the timbers — or cordwood, or bricks — go to someone who will make good use of the material. Often, someone will say, “I don’t have what you’re looking for, but old Fred down at the end of the road might be able to help you.”
Send out tentacles, and the world will connect with you. Local people would say to us, “I don’t see how you get all these good deals. I’ve been here for twenty years and I never hear of deals like you get.” Our secret? We extend ourselves. Go thee and do likewise.