Repairing Roof Rafters and Built-ins in a Craftsman Home

Rob Sabo

Editor's Note: Please also see our article on a St. Paul, Minnesota home restored back to it's Craftsman roots.

The Arts and Crafts Movement was a design movement that was popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the United States, the Arts and Crafts Movement was exhibited in the Craftsman Style home. The Craftsman Style home was developed to appeal to an emerging middle-class. It blended the ideals of craftsmanship with a growing amount of leisure time at home. Living in a Craftsman Home is a pleasure, by design!

Replacing rafters or re-staining built-in furniture, requires a great deal of work. Fixing the rafters on the exterior of older craftsman-style homes is a difficult task for even an experienced handyman. Repairing built-in furniture can be a much easier task, since it isn't structural like rafters, but the sanding and staining can be grueling--and dreary work as well.

Fixing the Rafters of Your Craftsman Style Home

On many Craftsman Style homes, rafters tails were left exposed with no fascia to protect the end grain, and simple gutters were nailed to the rafter ends. Over time--many craftsman style homes were built in the 1910s--water severely damaged exposed rafter surfaces. These degraded wood membranes need to be replaced. You can tear off your entire roof and strip sheathing to fix the problem, but first try some simpler solutions:

  • Cut the old rafter tail a foot or two past the wall line, and "sister" a new tail to the existing rafter. This repair requires you to access the rafter from inside the attic, and to cut all roofing and sheathing nailing on top of the rafter--a difficult job to be sure. The new rafter tail should extend three or more feet up the existing rafter, and stitch nail (one up, one down) every six inches with 16 penny framing nails.
  • Use a wood hardener to seal exposed ends. This fills the membrane with plastic resin and prevents further degradation.
  • Cut back a smaller section of the rafter, and install a new one using 3-inch wood screws and glue. Drilling a 1/2-inch hole in the new and old rafter sections and gluing in a dowel adds additional stability.

Refinishing Built in Arts and Crafts Features

Bringing new life to exquisite built-in shelving and cabinetry can freshen the interior of your craftsman style home or bungalow. Sanding and stripping old finishes from built-in cabinetry or other furniture requires time and a detailed eye; you'll notice any mistakes when you re-finish your built-ins. Using a small, thin flat bar, remove all mouldings and trim pieces before stripping built-in furniture. Prior to re-staining, apply a thin coat of linseed oil over the wood to fill in pores and ensure even staining. Allow the linseed oil to dry a day before staining.

If you need to replace any pieces due to damage, this will add considerable effort to your refinishing job, especially if this is an interior feature. To start, unless you are an experienced woodworker, you should verify the type of wood you need with a woodworking shop, by bringing in a sample. For example, there are many types of oak (white oak, red oak, live oak) which could be used in your oak cabinetry. Often this depended upon local availability - when your house was built. Matching the subspecies will make a difference from the standpoint of color, wood grain and even hardness. For most homeowners, you will need to then have the original piece milled at a woodworking shop.

Be sure to test your new stain on a sample of your new wood before you spend the time and money to mill it. You may have to choose a different stain to match the aging and patina of the original wood. To match older natural finishes, you may consider fuming your wood with ammonia instead of staining for an authentic Arts and Crafts wood finish that will last.

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