We flew back into the UK at 05:30 this morning, after a thoroughly enjoyable break in NZ. Work has been ongoing in our absence; we had hoped to come home to new steelwork and rafters on the roof, but that has been delayed so the guys have been busy repointing instead.



The first delivery of steel arrived today: the lounge truss came as two pieces to be bolted together at the top, and four purlins to join the truss to the gable ends. Getting the truss into place involved much grunting and groaning, and the obligatory comedy moment as the top of one half of the truss got dropped onto Keith. Ouch!



By the end of the day we had lounge truss and all four purlins fitted, and the first cluster of rafters were up too.



Michael, Keith and Jo got the ridge board up above the lounge today, then installed the upper rafters. These are 7" x 2" timbers spanning about 3m in each section. Bolted to the steel purlins they form a substantial roof structure, ready to support the new thatch roof.



We had a brief visit from Michael and co. this morning, finishing off the last lounge rafters. The top of the old timber truss has been trimmed a little to fit under the new steel truss, so the old timber apex was finalised today.

Meanwhile we had an important job to do for Lester... installing her new catflap. Prior to today Lester was able to clamber into the part of the barn we're living in via a hole under the stairwell. With the onslaught of winter weather however, we are closing up all draughty holes, so Lester will have to use a catflap to get from the short link to the kitchen block.



Our first mission of the day was to trim the hedge where it is overhanging, and overcrowding, the footpath alongside the field. Luckily we didn't actually have to do anything: Mike kindly brought a tractor along with a big hedge cutter attachment, so he drove along the rode and hacked the hedge back in a few minutes.

With that sorted we moved on to timber work. The huge timber truss from the dining room will be reinstalled soon, so we set out scraping and brushing it to remove the rotten layers, then oiled the remaining oak with litres of Danish oil.




Today the old timber purlins went back into the lounge roof. Noggins were put in between the rafters, then the purlins were mounted back in their original positions. Mark took the afternoon off to do more timber scraping, sanding and brushing, this time dealing with the old hip rafters from the dining room.



Mark was home all day today, helping to fit the second delivery of steelwork over the dining room. We started by hauling the two halves of the truss up onto the scaffolding. Normal people would use a crane, but we are doing everything the hard way... four blokes humping steel into place then gently coaxing the bolts in with a mallet while trying to avoid tipping the whole structure off balance and tumbling to the ground. After much sweating and swearing we had the truss and hips safely in place, so the next stage was to insert the steel purlins. They bolt on to the truss at one end and rest on concrete padstones in the wall at the other.



Meanwhile Michael and Keith were busy fitting ply sheets to the lounge roof. Once the steel was assembled Mark and Jody joined the ply party. As soon as the ply was on we covered it all up with fireproof felt, which we finished just after sunset with the aid of floodlights.



We had an early start this morning as the scaffolders were on site at 07:30. There was another heavy frost on the ground but they managed to thaw themselves sufficiently to get the scaffolding up in the courtyard and around the north end of the dining room. The builders and thatchers were here shortly after 08:00, as everyone was keen to make the most of the clear weather. The thatchers, Paul and Norm, were straight onto the scaffolding, laying bundles of reed onto the bottom edge of the lounge roof.




The thatch progressed at a terrific pace: line after line of reed bundles stacked and tied with stainless wire. The rows are 12 to 18 inches thick, held down with long steel rods and smacked into line with a wooden paddle. The net result is a beautiful smooth covering, like a duvet draped over the building.





Michael, Jody and Martin were on site at 09:00 this morning for another busy day. We started by laying out the old dining room truss on the heavily frosted ground, to measure up and trim it to fit under the steel beams. The old oak looks rotten in parts, but beneath the surface it proved to be extremely hard work to cut through as it has been drying for hundreds of years. Once trimmed we all worked together to heave the truss back on top of the dining room walls, forming a perfect fit under the steel apex.





Once the old truss and purlins were fixed in place the builders started screwing ply sheets on the outside of the dining room roof while we got to work scraping and brushing the purlins. During the afternoon we cranked up the radio to listen to the All Blacks play England. Surrounded by England supporters, we proudly flew our silver fern flag from the barn roof, prompting much reaction from passing villagers. Thankfully the men in black triumphed in a very, very close match, so we don't need to emigrate just yet.


Today the builders were back again, working through the weekend to get the dining room roof ready for the thatchers tomorrow. So it was another day of plywood sheets and fireproof felt for them, while we continued cleaning old timbers then fitted ventilation ducting inside the new roof.



Sarah was home today to oversee the erection of more scaffolding, this time along the roadside and up the south end gable. The scaffolding extends over the footpath to the edge of the road, so we have a full compliment of road-works signs and flashing warning lights.



Today Michael, Keith and Jody finished covering the west side of the lounge and dining room roof with ply and fireproof felt. Paul was chasing along behind them with bundles of reed, thatching the bottom edge of the lounge roof as soon as it was covered.



Meanwhile Norm has almost finished the east side of the thatch: today he put the last row along the top edge of the roof, then lay bundles flat along the ridge.




Michael called in this morning to drop off a set of building lights for the lounge and dining room. Now the roof is on it has become very dark inside, so we threaded a very long string of lights in and around the scaffolding to give us no less than 22 100W bulbs. Once fully illuminated, we were able to spend the afternoon sanding and brushing the old trusses and purlins.



We started today finishing the timber preparation work we were doing yesterday, then got onto the big task of oiling. After our recent experience brushing and rubbing oil we decided we needed a quicker method, so we bought a pressurised spray unit and 15 litres of Danish oil. We had a few test runs to develop our technique, then sprayed the whole lounge and dining room in a few hours.



Mid-afternoon we wandered down the road to the church to see an art exhibition, where we found a lovely little water-colour of the barn. We also met the artist, Iris, who lives locally, and arranged for another painting once the building is finished. At the exhibition we also bumped in to Mark and Jackie, so we headed home for coffee and a thatch tour.


Today Mark came home at lunchtime for a thatching lesson with Paul. First stage was to get kitted up with knee pads, a wooden paddle, a wire twizler and a battery drill with very long screwdriver attachment. The reed has to be graded before carrying it onto the roof: long bundles are used along the flat sides and short bundles are kept aside for the ends of rows and for the hip. Once the bundles were ready Paul demonstrated the technique: lay a new bundle next to the existing thatch, sliding the top beneath the horizontal steel rod to hold it down, and push a steel pin alongside to restrain the bundle. Next the bailing twine holding the bundle together is cut, and the new reed is stirred into the edge of the existing thatch. A stainless screw with a loop of wire is then inserted through the reed into the ply, and the wire is twisted around the steel rod. At this stage it is only twisted on small amount to apply a light clamping load on the reed. The bottom edge of the reed is then pushed roughly into position, then repeatedly smacked with the paddle to create a smooth surface. This is the hardest part: Sarah came home to watch, laugh and take photos as Mark whacked and smacked trying to get a large smooth surface.

Once the next bundle is on the wire holding the rod of the first bundle can be twisted down tighter, which actually requires an acrobatic effort as the rod and reed must be compressed underfoot then the wire is twisted with the twizler tool. Paul made it look incredibly simple, but he did admit that he'd been thatching since the age of 13. No wonder he makes it look so good.




Mark is in Spain this week for the first of the winter tests. Sarah had the day off work, so she spent some time photographing progress before heading out for a girl's day shopping with Kate. Meanwhile Paul continued thatching the west side of the lounge roof; it's looking very nearly done.




Green Farm Barn