HHI Board Whisperer: Sawn Sleeper Beams

Making reclaimed flooring is difficult and not for amateurs. The skills required are, in part, curator, board whisperer, historian, vintner, and of course, experienced master woodworkers.

The customization of our vintage boards starts with your vision. Heppner Hardwoods woodworkers will repurpose them into flooring, paneling, table tops or architectural millwork from salvaged:

  • Barn Siding
  • Circle/Band Sawn or Hand Hewn Sleeper Beams
  • Circle Sawn or Hand Hewn Ceiling Beams
  • Old Boards
  • Trusses
  • Cooperages and Brewing Warehouses

Sleeper Beams: Flooring is the heir apparent for reclaimed sleeper beams. After all, these beams originally were part of the flooring and foundation in barns, outbuildings or log homes. They are highly prized for their girth and length. Sleepers form the horizontal members for the frame, the cornerstone, if you will, to the walls and floor joists. Its limited use and availability makes it rare and highly sought. And, unlike the ceiling rafters and beams, there are very few, if any mortise pockets. Some aesthetic will embrace the authenticity of the mortise voids, while others will find it a distraction.

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Barn design came with the early settlers and can be seen in 18th and 19th century foundations, one such supporting beam is a summer or girder. The word summer derived from French sommier, meaning “bearing great burden or weight“. This large beam, which runs the length of the structure, provides the clues to the age of the building through the distinctive saw marks. Whatever the sawing method, pit sawn or hewn with axes or hatchets, each stroke is unique to the sawyer. The irregular, hand-made splinter marks that travel the direction of the grain, as well as deep cross cuts establishes the beams age. The strokes may have later been smoothed by a secondary craftsman hand wielding an early tool called an adze, evidenced by scallop shaped marks along the length of the beam. The adze was used to reduce any large juggle marks or voids left by the axe. This was not done purely for appearance sake, as the accumulation of ice and snow in the divots would lead to early decay.

Sleeper Beams

Machine sawn beams will have unique marks too; pit saw, gash saw and circular saw each leave a very different type of mark. The gash/band saw, which was powered by a water wheel will leave large and irregular “up and down” kerf marks. With the advent of the first industrial revolution and steam, the first circular spinning saw was employed. This invention was an improvement, but its kerf chewed up at least ¼” of fiber and left its path of circle sawn kerf marks. Even today there are variations within each type of saw, which prior to the popularity of reclaimed, we would remove with our modern 6 head moulders. These character traits will contribute authenticity to your project, whether rustic or contemporary.

We make it our mission to preserve these lovely attributes by filleting planks from the sound portions of the beams and doing all possible to preserve the marks of antiquity; splits, bug tracks, nail holes and remaining mortise pockets. Occasionally, with older than 18th century planks, we can harvest an original face still boasting the scallop shaped marks that were created by the adze.

Please allow the boards and the Heppner “Board Whisperers” to lovingly preserve the various widths of the flooring planks for a truly random and authentic look.

Plug vs. Filled
UV – 101 From Sleepers with mortise pockets plugged UV -101 From Sleepers without mortise pockets

Look for the next board whisperer segment: Ceiling Beams

Ceiling Beams

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