round here we say FRAP, not shake


We took a side job this past Saturday, returning to ye old stomping grounds for a day–



The earth-fast (without foundation) house was suffering from the onset of chimney lean.

This is to be expected as the oak posts and studs decay at differing rates in the ground.


 We’d done a similar fix before. 


 This time, the chimney was out of plumb about 2 feet.


 Some 400 year old friends came to wish us well-


You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Jacobean religious dissenter say “aluminum”.


We punched holes in clapboards and daub (a clay mortar) and ran a strap from the outside of the chimney down to the opposing tie beam.


Then we opened up the thatch and poles between the house’s two rooms to allow half of the roof system to move.


By design, there isn’t a lot of lateral support in the roof frame. These cottages were meant to represent the quick and dirty build of the colony’s first settlers who needed shelter, not manor houses.

Rafters leaned in concert with the chimney–


We used a pipe shore beneath the chimney lintel to carry the load while digging out beneath the posts.


Matteo and Dan did yeoman’s work with us all day. It was a pleasure to work alongside them.

 To bring the chimney back to plumb, we needed to cut 7.5 inches off of their bottoms.


Once the posts were footed with flat stones, we eased off the strain above and below and slowly cranked the roof system towards plumb.


There is a pleasant FRAP sound as all the elements of the frame move together.


After a morning’s prep, it only took a few minutes to bring the chimney and roof frame back to plumb.



As a bonus, nary a chink of clay mortar fell out during the process.



And the loft floor above, which had been been affected by the chimney lean, also came back to level.


As the day wound down, Justin and Michael gathered up spars and sways (wooden fastenings) to put back the thatch.






Mister Burrey truly enjoys going back to his roots. The work–like the houses–is elemental and, dare I say, good for the soul.


And the view–not to mention the indefatigable spirits of the good people on the front lines of this institution–is one thing which refuses to be dampened by listing chimneys or otherwise.



For a pilgrim’s take on the process, check out this blog post:

Rock on with your bad selves–



photo (and thatch repair) by Michael Burrey





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23 thoughts on “round here we say FRAP, not shake

  1. francedozois says:

    great post and will you be going back to readjust other leaning houses or is your work done–

    • Rick says:

      We might be going back to help with Hopkins, Marie. That’s a whole other kettle o fish…lots of dynamics going on in that frame.

  2. Nicely done, kids! Almost makes one nostalgic for a vanished way of life (and I don’t mean the 17th century).

  3. Jon Bayes Furniture says:


  4. John Wolf says:

    Hi Rick, that must have been a satisfying job. Do the chimney support posts come down into the ground floor room, or is there a basement? I couldn’t puzzle out where the hearth was. I had a British geology proff, he did interesting things to the word “aluminum” too.

    • Rick says:

      Those two chimney posts we dug out are on the ground floor, at the front of the hearth John. They were buried a little more than 3′. No basement. The build is a one story, hall and parlor arrangement with a loft above. The lintel and chimney posts were all around 5″ square. The girts tie the front posts back onto the tie beam. There used to be a baffle wall made up of clay mortar on the door side of the hearth. That will likely be replaced.

  5. skemmett says:

    bastards! The one week I take a vacation you guys decide to come in! I’m sorry I missed you guys, the work looks awesome. Hopefully I catch up with you all when I get back from VA.

  6. It’s all a bit baffling a good story nonetheless and a great scene. Can you tell me Rick, what is the content of that super-flex daub mix?


    • Rick says:

      I hear you, Ernest. I would have liked to have documented more of the process to have illustrated it all better- As for the super-flex daub (ha!) it’s a clay earth and binder mix (the binder is traditionally straw, hair, or dung) mixed with water. The ratio of clay to earth depends on the type of clay. The clay we used when we mortared this particular house was fresh out of Boston Harbor–the potters call it “blue clay”. Contractors had brought us some while they were excavating Boston’s infamous “Big Dig” project. If I remember correctly, it was about 1 part clay to 3 parts earth.

    • Rick says:

      I find daub goes well with a chardonnay, Ernest…

  7. Thanks for keeping an eye on my house. Place looked like it was going to wrack and ruin since I left pp. Guess my name do well brother john could not take care of things. Best from the city on the hill.
    Chris anderson

    • Rick says:

      Chris! We found your brother John hiding out in the parlor loft. He had been surviving on discarded muffin bottoms and Kickstarter donations…

  8. John Montague says:

    Awesome post as always. It’s great to see how things are at Plimoth and to see the guys who know it so well taking care of things.
    Haven’t been able to see yet the last house you helped build there. Hoping to travel up from North Carolina this year to see it.

  9. John Wolf says:

    I see it now Rick. It’s a bit different than the wood chimneys I have seen and was trying to make fit your house.

  10. pfollansbee says:

    Rick – well, this post raises lots of issues that I will let slide…but I have 2 things to say. 1.) great to see Atwood! 2. I hear red wing blackbirds outside today.

    • Rick says:

      Roger that PF. I don’t know if it gets harder or easier to self edit as the world turns…and Scott and the redwings –its good some things remain constant.

  11. Hey! Do I spot a Lugall winch? I have one – it’s great when felling for pulling down the trees that are hung up among their neighbors. Have you broken the safety handle yet?
    Apparently we call sways broches over here (sounds rather French what?). Mind you thatchers also use liggers and sways too. All Greek to me I’m afraid, we use gert lumps of stone flag round here – stops the birds flying off with them.

    Nice job Bob!

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