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Finding and using star plates

Q: I’ve been asked to do some work on an old three-story row house here in Philadelphia. The building has 8-in. thick brick walls with star-shaped metal plates on the front. Some of these plates need to be replaced. I’m not really sure what the plates do, but they appear to be tied back into the joists via long threaded rods. How are these plates used, do they add structural support to the facade, and where can they be purchased? I’ve tried masonry yards and industrial hardware supply houses, but I couldn’t find the plates, and nobody’s been able to give me a clue as to where to start looking.

Greg Schopp, Philadelphia, PA

A: Jim Boorstein, a period-restorations specialist in New York City, replies: The plates you’re looking for, called building stars or star plates, are not purely decorative. They counteract outward forces on masonry walls that would otherwise not be tied together. (Joists in old masonry buildings were not connected to the walls; instead they were placed in pockets.) Although in some cases star plates may have been tied into the joists, usually they were connected to star plates on the opposite wall with long metal rods running parallel to the joists. The rods, threaded at each end, pass through the wall, through a hole in the center of the star and are terminated with a nut.

Because star plates were widely used but are no longer in great demand, you might find old ones at salvage yards. Reproduction star plates are also available. A distributor near you is Antique Hardware Store, 9730 Easton Road, Rt. 6111 Kintnersville, Pa. 18930; (800) 422-9982.

From Fine Homebuilding 91, pp. 23 November 1, 2004