In The Pines

Because Leadbelly wasn’t singing about white oak, no sir…


MPDYER, from The New Bedford Whaling Museum (–a museum on my bucket list) made the keen observation from a picture in a Blue Oak post the other day that the differential rate of decay between two newly uncovered tenons in our Sagamore project had less to do with God’s Will and more to do with one being white oak and the other being a pine. We’re still not sure exactly which type of pine, but if I had to guess, I’d say pitch pine. The local flora is teeming with pitch pines, which are used fairly commonly in old timber frames in the area. So thanks, MPDYER! From this time forward, we are calling you CSI-MPDYER!

And speaking of CSI-ing, look what we found out today:


A simple piece of riven pine lathe from an early 18th-century saltbox addition, you say? Well, you may say that and you’d be right, I reckon. But look more closely: The grain is more weathered than it should be for an internal application and it’s been worked down to a taper. Why? Any guesses? Anyone?  Bueller?? It’s a re-used clapboard! It’s been split along its width to form narrower lath. Groovy, yes? The taper is a skyved end–a short bevel to overlap with the next clapboard–also skyved–continuing along the course.

Michael has seen the same practice done before in other early frames in the area, notably the Berrybrook School in Duxbury, on whose grounds an early joiner’s shop was recently discovered:

It makes a boat-load of sense, using clapboards which have good, splittable grain and some life left. And you thought recycling was a contemporary phenomenon! I can see it now–you roll your squeaky wheelbarrow into the local transfer station, pitch your spent shingles and clapboards into the single stream/townbrooke bin, leave your goose grease in the special materials section, and dump your puritanical hand-wringing in the yard waste area; actually, you take that home with you–you can’t leave that at the Pilgrim Transfer Station.

Speaking of recycling and other “green” methods of building a house, we found this in the cavity behind the oak post we are replacing:


I don’t know much about corn cobs being used as a form of insulation, but I understand it’s a practice in some places and that it has some value. The scarce amount we found didn’t seem to point to anything more than the frenetic comings and goings of rodentia, however. Readers, do you have any experience with corn cobs in walls? (Is that a euphemism?)

One year ago this week:



We were knee deep in a marsh gathering thatch for pilgrim houses. Funny how much things can change in a year, isn’t it? Seems like a really loooong time ago…


Anyhoo, on another note: The last performance of this year’s Worcester Shakespeare Company’s, The Merchant of Venice, is Sunday, August 25th. If you’re in lovely New England within the next fortnight, get thee to ye Whitin Mill and seest both our pretty stage and a great performance! Blue Oak will squeeze out another post on the stage’s 2013 finishing this week.

blue acornblue acornblue acorn

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5 thoughts on “In The Pines

  1. John Montague says:

    Another great post. The clapboard that was split and recycled to make plaster lath was pretty cool. How often do you find that?

  2. Rick says:

    John, I haven’t seen enough early houses to put it into a larger context, but Michael Burrey has. I’ll ask him tomorrow and get back to you. I know he’d seen it done at the joiner’s shop in Duxbury at the least. Good to hear from you!

  3. John Montague says:

    Rick, I appreciate you checking on it. I’ll be interested to know what Mr. Burrey says.

    • Rick says:

      So Michael and I had a nice conversation on the topic, John, on our way to strike the Shakespeare stage in Worcester yesterday. Here’s a few thoughts:

      There’s an 18th-c house in Middleboro, MA which might have re-purposed clapboards used as lath. Michael and the gang have worked on this building extensively. The original build was a single story full cape from c.1730’s. It looks like it went up to a 2nd story around 1785. The lath in the addition was weathered like the lath we saw in the Sagamore house.

      There’s another house in Halifax, MA (HALI!) which was a 1795-ish build. It’s one of the few Michael has seen with weatherboards (beaded, no less!) in the area. This house also had evidence of weathered lath. Weathered Lath: Excellent band name. The thought is that the original clapboards might have been re-used as lath when they were replaced by the weatherboards.

      These two examples, plus the Berrybrook School in Duxbury and the house in Sagamore we’re working on are all possible evidence of this practice.

      Michael has a theory–he thinks about these things a lot–that a family’s first build on a new lot might have been some manner of impermanent architecture (earthfast posts, etc) for a temporary shelter while the more permanent house was being built. Perhaps there’s a history of re-purposing clapboards for lath from the get-go? There are 17th c. colonial records of clapboard-making and using the short run-offs from riving for shingles. The concept of taking advantage of excellent grain–be it oak or pine–seems to be ingrained in the world view of ye colonists. It also makes such practical sense when you consider the labor involved in finding, felling and dressing a straight-grained tree. Such stock, even from the beginning, is a premium commodity.

      This is worthy of a separate post altogether. I’d like to interview Mr. Burrey at some point and share his thoughts with the world. There’s a lot of great stuff there.

      Thanks for prompting the topic, John!


      • John Montague says:

        Thanks so much for your response. WOW, you really did some homework on this one!
        Michael’s theory about reusing the riven clapboards from impermanent structures makes perfect sense to me, and I think this is something to look for with a greater purpose in future restoration/renovation projects. Really, you almost are forced to ask why they WOULDN’T have done that type of recycling.
        Great topic and thanks again for checking on it. I’d be interested to know if anyone has found similar re-use in areas outside of New England. I may be able to contact someone who may know. Let’s see if I can round up some opinions.

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