Reproducing historic architectural details
When a train station's 120-year-old roof brackets decay, a carpenter braces the roof and constructs a detailed template to guide the restoration
The train station in Winona, Minn., had been in use since it was built in 1888. Part of its charm derived from the large, ornate roof brackets that supported a post-free 7-ft.-deep overhang. Cleverly designed, the once-sturdy brackets were embellished with scroll work, a curved brace, and other decorative details. However, two brackets most exposed to the elements were coming apart. The station’s owner, the Canadian Pacific Railroad, hired me to build replacements.
After the roof was temporarily braced, the brackets were removed. I conducted a postmortem and discovered that their failure was due to both design and decay.
The braces were just let into notches and were toenailed in place (no mortise-and-tenon joinery), though the curved brace flared out at the ends for a stronger connection. The paint also had not been maintained; water, sun, and organisms had all had their way with the wood.
My first step was to produce a template by tracing one of the original brackets. I used a 4×8 sheet of 1/2-in. MDO (medium-density overlay) for the template stock. MDO is light and strong, and it provides a smooth surface for tracing, marking, and writing notes. The bracket was too large to fit in the area of a 4×8 sheet, so I traced each of the four bracket pieces individually.
Each template piece was inscribed with measurements and marks indicating connecting points, extent of chamfers, and location of rosettes. I dry-biscuited the pieces together so that I could accurately transfer the design to the new stock. The original brackets were built of white pine from Minnesota’s “endless forest,” as it was known. I wanted to use material from my local sawmill, but clear white pine was neither affordable nor available. (Ironically, this town once provided white pine for places as far away as Denver and…