This Old House | E19 | First Period Gambrel | Below Grade Plumbing | Season 44 | Episode 19


Kevin: Today on “This Old House”… Charlie: We want to demo this fireplace.

But first, we have to hold up this 2,000-pound chimney.

Tom: We need a big steel beam to carry the roof in the family room, but it still needs a lot of wood.

Kevin: And these 300-year-old posts and beams have come to the timber-frame doctor.

Arron: This has quite a bit of rot.

♪♪ ♪♪ Man: Ahh.

That’s it.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Kevin: Hey, there.

I’m Kevin O’Connor.

And welcome back to “This Old House,” where today I am driving around the neighborhoods of historic Ipswich, Massachusetts.

Our project house was one of the early homes built in this town.

Our house was built in 1720.

It’s a timber frame with a gambrel-style roof, so it’s a unique house in a town full of unique homes.

Now, the house has five bays or sections and you can count them.

The house also had a big, central fireplace and that was taken down over the years, we think, to make room for a staircase when they got tired of using a ladder to get up to the second floor.

Over the years, another chimney was built and today, Mark and Charlie are trying to figure out what to do with a sad-looking fireplace in the front room.

Mark: Alright, Charlie.

We got lucky here, which is great.

We have enough room for our floor.

We discovered that.

Also we’re gonna use a Rumford-style fireplace.

You know the difference between a Rumford and a Ben Franklin?

Ben Franklin — we use to cook more, but the Rumford is a heater, which is gonna work out perfectly and also gonna save us some room.

So once we get this chimney supported, we’ll be able to get this fireplace and push it back.

Charlie: And speaking of supporting the chimney, this all has to come out.

That’s the easy part, right?

Mark: Yeah.

Charlie Now we have to hold about, what, 18 feet of chimney up?

How much does that weigh?

Mark: Probably a couple thousand pounds.

Charlie: Right.

So we looked at a couple different ways, maybe putting a notch across the front one, the back, put a couple of beams through.

But I really think the best is gonna be taking the center out on each side and then we can access the metal flue, grind it out of the way, put the beam right through it, a couple of posts on each side with some jacks, take the weight off, work out perfect.


Like you said, there’s a couple of different ways to do it, but I like that one the best.

Charlie: Let’s go.

♪♪ ♪♪ Mark: Perfect.

Now… ♪♪ I feel tension, which is great.

♪♪ Let’s go for it all.


♪♪ Alright, Charlie.

There’s your pipe in place.

Charlie: Not going anywhere.

Mark: That’s not going anywhere.

We get the meat of the brick.

So let’s get the rest of the fireplace out.

Kevin: Last week, our timber frame expert Arron Sturgis helped us salvage the frame of our house, the “L” that went off the back.

And he brought those 300-year-old timbers here to a shop in New Hampshire.

Hey, Arron.

How are you?

Arron: It’s good to see you.

Kevin: Same here.

Arron: Doing well, doing well.

Kevin: So it made it back, huh?

Arron: Yeah.


I’ve laid out the top plates with the tie beams.

This is the ceiling of the “L,” if you will.

So the posts are below this level.

Kevin: Gotcha.

It doesn’t look that big.

Arron: No, it looked smaller in the shop.

It always does.

It always does.

Kevin: So just remind me — the original house, the gambrel was here, and this is what went off the back?

Arron: Exactly.

This is the joint that we talked about when we were at the house, when we took it down.

That’s the tenon that actually engaged the post of the gambrel.

Remember that wedge that was driven into that?

Kevin: I do remember that.

So in terms of condition, now that you’ve had a chance to lay it out, what do you think?

Arron: I think it’s an excellent shape, but we do have some repairs to make.

I’ll show you this plate over here where Brian’s laying out a repair.

Kevin: And remind me — plates on the outside and cross… Arron: Yep.

Plates on the outside, tie beams, ’cause they tie the plates together.

That’s how I remember it.

Kevin: Okay.

Arron: So, Brian, if you just move the level for a second… Kevin: Oh, yeah.

Arron: You can see the level of rot here.

This is how we found it.

We want to reengage this plate into the gambrel again.

We’ll do a simple scarf joint here that will keep this beautiful patina interior still in the room.

And the outside will allow us to extend and fix this end of that plate.

Kevin: Yep.

Arron: It will also get a little bit longer because they’re shifting the entire frame away from the gambrel a little bit to fit the modern form.

Kevin: Very nice.

So we will see some of that original… Arron: Yes.

You will still see all of this, and that’s just beautiful and extends all the way down the piece.

So we just want to fix only what we have to fix.

Kevin: That’s remarkable.


Arron: Moving down to this tie beam.

It has quite a sag in it.

You can see it.

If I put a string on, we’d be, you know, we should be up about here.

So my solution here is gonna be a little bit of old and new technology.

We’ll put this on the bench, clamp both ends, we’ll take the sag out of it by putting a jack underneath it.

Kevin: Just lift it right up.

Arron: Just straightening it.

Kevin: Wow.

Arron: Once it’s straight, we’ll do a saw curve on the top and it can’t be seen at all.

We’ll drop in a little T-shaped piece of steel.

Kevin: Just something like this.

Arron: Yep.

And what that does — we fasten that all along its length and that provides tension in this beam.

It won’t sag after that.

Kevin: Okay.

It’s amazing what you can sort of do.

Like this corner here, because you’re putting the steel in the top, we’ll never see it because we’re gonna be looking up to the underside of this.

Arron: Right.


Kevin: Very nice.


Arron: The other tie beams have some issues as well.

This next one is, first of all, a recycled element.

It came from somewhere else.

So it has a lot of joinery in it.

We have quite a compromise right here.

You can see a hole here, hole here and a hole on the top.

That makes this sag and quite weak.

So our solution here is to fill and glue a Dutchman repair into these openings.

Once we fill these gaps and the joint is really tight, it will also shoulder onto itself and not sag.

-So that’ll stiffen it up.

-It’ll stiffen it.


Kevin: It’s just amazing how versatile this whole operation is.

Arron: Yeah, basically you’re just following the rot and you’re fixing what you have to fix and you keep as much as you can.

Kevin: Right.

Arron: Alright.

On this tie beam here, we have a fracture right here all the way through the beam, and we added this dimensional lumber to kind of hold it together, but it doesn’t take the sag out or anything.

So in this case, what we’re gonna do, we don’t have rot here.

This is from loading.

This is too much weight on it.

So what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna cut a one-inch-and-a-half wide trough, 3 inches deep in this beam and put in what is called a free tenon or a spline.

And we’ll pin that with this three-quarter peg.

And that will cross over this fracture and make the tie beam strong enough.

Kevin: So hardwood through here, as you said, inch or so thick, but then deep — Basically sort of putting the heart of this beam back together.

-It’s essentially doing what that little T stock did, but we’re doing it in wood because we can and the element is big enough.

Kevin: Right.

So several repairs throughout, but we also have to make this whole thing taller, too, right?

Arron: Yeah, we do, and I have the posts here.

I’ll show you.

Kevin: Okay.

Arron: So we’ve done a couple of things here.

We knew that the posts were too short for the new space, so we also had a little bit of rot at the bottom of them.

So this is called a foot fix.

And in particular, this is a center tenon fix.

So the idea here is to have really solid shoulders because this post is in compression, and we’re using a center tenon because we only have a post this big.

Kevin: Shoulder, shoulder, shoulder, tenon.

Arron: Tenon.

Kevin: Okay.

Arron: We pin that tenon together.

Kevin: Oh, yeah.

Arron: And that creates shear so it can’t come apart.

Kevin: Okay.

And am I seeing different species here?

Arron: You are.

So this is a white-oak post, it’s original.

And we’ve extended its length with a new piece of white oak.

We want to use the same size timber and the same species of timber when we do in-kind repairs.

Kevin: Oak to oak.

Pine to pine.

Arron: Right.

This is Eastern White Pine.

Kevin: That gives us our extra length here.

So are all of our posts being extended with this type of a joint?

Arron: No, they’re not.

There’s a couple of different ways we’re doing it.

One here is a brand-new post because it was so rotten, we had to replace it in kind.

Kevin: And this is pine?

Arron: This is Eastern White Pine.

Kevin: White Pine.

Arron: And you’ll notice that it has a flare at the top because it’s going to have two tenons at the top to tie the top plates together.

Kevin: So right here, we need that extra width right there.

Arron: Right.

Kevin: Okay.

Arron: I have one more post to show you over here.

So this is another post that we need to do repairs on, and it has a lot of rot.

Kevin: Sure does.

Arron: And I’ve chosen to do a different repair here because of where the rot is.

Remember we talked about following the rot?

Kevin: Yeah.

Arron: So what we’ve decided to do here is what’s called an undersquinted scarf joint.

Kevin: Undersquinted scarf joint?

Arron: I’ll show you what that actually is.

Kevin: That’s a mouthful.

Arron: Yep.

You can see the line here.

This is gonna be the new table of the scarf.

And then it comes up and it takes this angle here.

That’s the undersquint.

Kevin: Angle there, straight there, angle here.

Arron: Yep.

So we’re taking this material away and saving this material.

Kevin: Can we see this made?

Arron: Yes.

I’ll have Eric come in and we’ll make the cuts.

Kevin: Very cool.

Eric: So I get close to my end.

Pop it off.

Kevin: So now there’s all the rot that has gone away and all we’re left with now is the good, solid wood.

That’s terrific.

Arron: Yep.

Kevin: So I presume this has to be cleaned up?

Arron: It does.

Eric will clean up these surfaces with hand tools because we always finish this joint with hand tools.

And then this sort of illustrates the next piece that’s going to happen.

In new wood, we’re gonna re-create this undersquint in this, and this will also extend to make our length of post.

-But the squint, as you’re telling me, this is the part that actually locks it together.

Arron: That’s right.

You see it here and here.

Kevin: When this post is standing up and this is under compression, it pulls it tighter.

You can’t go anywhere.

Arron: It forces it to itself.

And then, of course, it’s pinned as well.

Kevin: Right.

Arron: But once this is in compression, it really can’t come apart.

Kevin: Terrific.

Nice work, Eric.

Thank you.

♪♪ Richard: This basement is a far cry from when we first got here.

It used to be a dank basement.

The floor grade was right here.

Homeowner saw it and said, “I want to have it usable space.”

So now they dug it out.

And look at this.

Plenty of headroom.

They’re gonna have a workbench here.

They’ll have a utility sink here, potting bench right here.

But they wanted to add a bathroom and the bathroom wants to go right here.

But there’s some challenges when you decide to put one right here.


Brian: It does.

Let me show you, Richard.

Richard: Alright.

Brian: So the sewer main is gonna come into our building at this elevation here.

Richard: Right over there.


Brian: Yep.

Everywhere else in the house will drain gravity into the sewer and out to the street.

But our bathroom is at this height down here.

Richard: Water does not go uphill.

Brian: We have to get the toilet from here to here.

So what are we gonna do?

We’re gonna add an ejector.

Richard: Okay.

Sewage ejector.

We’ve seen them before.

Brian: Let me show you a few nice features with this tank.

Removable cover.

Richard: Nice.

Brian: An access point here that you can get to the floats.

Richard: That’s the float.


Brian: Yep.

And an access point here where if you have to get to the pump, removable clamp inside where you can pull the pump without disconnecting the vent or the discharge.

Richard: Right.

So all the drain is gonna come in here.

Waste and water gonna go here.

The float will activate the pump.

It’ll discharge out here out to the sewer up here.

Brian: Yep.

Richard: Okay, So let’s get started.

You’ve dug a hole.

They’ve dug a hole for us.

We’re gonna bring this up by 3 inches.

That’ll be good.


Right about there?

Brian: Yep.

Just want to make sure the tank is level.

Richard: Perfect.

Brian: So, Richard, before we backfill the ejector, let’s dry-fit this… Richard: Perfect.

Brian: And just make sure it all lays out right.

Richard: Because we have the toilet, it’s got to be 3-inch right here going here.

What’s this branch?

Brian: So this is a branch that’s gonna pick up our utility sink for the potting room.

And then this is our branch that’s gonna head for the toilet in our half bath.

Richard: Okay.

And this one goes… …there.


Brian: Yeah.

Richard: So we’re looking for…

This is the — This is the back — This represents the back wall of the finished bathroom.

This is the Sheetrock level, right?

We want that to be at about 12 inches.

And that’ll actually end up at 12 once we glue that all together.

How about this way?

We good this way, Brian?

Brian: We are.

So we have a 2×4 wall right there, concrete.

And then we’ll be 16 to center off of that.

Richard: And that is perfect.



So let’s backfill this and then glue it up.

Tom: Hey.

How’s it going?

Charlie: Going good.

The steel showed up for the structural ridge.

Tom: It looks good.

Charlie: 35 feet long.

14 by 60.

60 pounds a foot times 35.

Tom: Yeah.

So it’s a heavy beam.

So we’re gonna have about 2,100 pounds plus the padding or the infilling that we have to do.

So we’re gonna pad the inside here with three pieces of 2×12, three of them on this side, three of them on the other.

That will make the marriage of the rafter when it comes up easier to make the connection.

We’re gonna through-bolt it with the carriage bolt.

It’ll go right through the holes that are pre-drilled in the steel.

Lock it together and we have our connection.

Now, this beam is doing a lot.

It’s actually carrying the entire roof load all the way across the building.

Now, we could have done it in wood, which meant the piece would have had have been much bigger.

That would have made a challenge on how we’re gonna do the finished ceiling after we install the old rafters.

And also it probably would have cost more.

Charlie: Right.

And like you said, it really actually is cheaper this way because it eliminates a lot of other work.

Tom: Exactly.

Charlie: Let’s stack the other ones.

Tom: Okay.

Charlie: I’m gonna put these spacers in ahead of time so the two by infill will sit on them.

Tom: Alright.

Charlie: Just down to me a bit.


♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ We made this mockup for Bill and Helen to really see the interior trim it’ll be.

So we have the rafters, a 5/8 ply, and our old roof sheathing that we saved.

Tom: Right.

So the roof boards are actually gonna become the ceiling.

And before the ceiling goes on, we want to put felt paper on the underside of the sheathing.

Because the boards have so many defects in them, you don’t want to see through the defects the color of the sheathing.

It will actually look like the underside of the roof.

Charlie: That’s right.

Tom: Let’s put it up.

Yeah, line it up.

Charlie: Fits right in there.

Tom: You can see how the rafter comes up, and this is gonna terminate the rafter and we’ll hide the steel beam with this right there.

So, again, this gives us the connection to mount the rafters to the steel beam.


Steel beams all padded, and it’s ready to go up.

♪♪ Kevin: This is the great marsh that runs through Ipswich, Massachusetts, just a short distance from our project house.

And it is 25,000 acres of grass, wildlife and mud that runs from Gloucester, Massachusetts, up to the New Hampshire border.

And for centuries, the food that sustained the residents of Ipswich, well, it was harvested right here.

Today that food is known across the country as the Ipswich Clam, and it is big business.

Got a dozen trucks and trailers here drop their boats.

This is Eagle Hill on the Eagle River, where about a dozen or two clammers go out.

And today, Vinny and Paul… Hey, guys.

…are gonna be taking us out.

Paul, good to see you.

Paul: Good to see you.

Kevin: So how long have you guys been doing this?

Vinny: Since the ’70s.

Paul: Yeah, I did it right out of high school.

Graduated in ’78 and been at it ever since.

Kevin: Since the ’70s.

That’s — that’s 50 years.

That’s a lot of clamming.

Paul: If you love what you do, you haven’t worked a day in your life.

Kevin: I get that.

You guys don’t mind me tagging along and showing me how to do it?

Paul: Come on along.

Kevin: Let’s do it.

Vinny: Alright.

Paul: Okay.

Sounds good.

Kevin: What is this life like?

Paul: I love it.

Kevin: You do love it?

Paul: Love it.

Kevin: What do you love about it?

Paul: The freedom.

the fresh air.

We don’t make a lot of money.

But we’re rich in other ways.

You know, it’s just… Look at this.

I’m not in an office, but you can always make a living out here.

12 months out of the year.

Kevin: Yeah.

Paul: A lot of people always say, “So what do you do in the winter?”

Same thing I do in the summer.

[ Kevin laughing ] Alright, this is our spot.

Paul: This is our office right here.

Kevin: Where are we going?

Paul: Right over to the nut field.

Kevin: The nut field.

Vinny: Yes.

That’s the name of the flat.

Kevin: You know why it’s called that?

Paul: Probably because there’s a bunch of nuts who dig it.

Vinny: Yeah.


Paul: We got about 950 acres of tidal flat in this — around this area.

Kevin: Oh, you see a spot?

Paul: So — Yeah.

Kevin: So you’re seeing little holes.

That tells you you got clams down below?

Vinny: Correct.

Kevin: And you’re only going down about 8 inches?

Paul: Yeah.

8 inches, a foot.

Vinny: Here you go.

Kevin: So what size limits are you guys looking for?

Paul: You want 2 inches and up.

Kevin: 2 inches across, neck to backside there.

Paul: This is smudging.

Kevin: And what does that do?

Paul: It just pushes the water out of the way so you can dig.

Kevin: Yeah?

Paul: Otherwise, there’s too much suction involved.

Kevin: Look at that.

So that’s a good one, right?

Paul: That’s a mud clam.

There’s nothing in that.

Kevin: Oh, nothing in that.

That’s just full of mud.

Same thing, huh?

Paul: Yep.

Kevin: Mud clam.


A lot of mud clams.

Paul: See, now, that clam’s illegal.

That’s a small clam.

That’s under 2 inches.

Kevin: So that guy’s too small right there.

Paul: That clam is probably two years old.

Next year, he’d be ready.

Let’s get you in here.

Kevin: Yeah.

Paul: You just want to hold that fork.

However’s comfortable for you.

You can hold it like this or like so.

Kevin: Yeah.

Paul: And you’re just gonna push down and sort of roll back.

And as you roll back, then you want to throw that mud behind you.

It’s a little bit of a learning process, but…

In a nice small swipe so you don’t break the fork.

Kevin: Pull it back like that?

Paul: Yeah, sort of roll it back and always look in between those clumps that you throw.

You might have a clam in there.

Kevin: You would have pulled about a dozen out of this already.

There you go.

There’s a couple.

Paul: There’s one.

Kevin: That’s one.

That’s a mud.

Paul: That’s a mud.

Kevin: How about this guy?

Paul: That’s a beauty.

Kevin: Like that?

Paul: Yeah, that’s a cutter.

Kevin: So why do you call that a cutter?

Paul: So that’s a cutter because it’s a good-sized clam.

And they’ll shuck these open with their clamming knife, and they go into the gallons and sold to the restaurants as fried clams.

So we call them cutters because they’re cut open with the shuckers versus this.

This is a steamer, which you’d much rather have on your plate if you’re gonna eat steamed clams when you… Kevin: Yeah.

Paul: …dunk ’em in butter.

Kevin: Dip this guy in broth and butter.

Paul: Yeah.

Kevin: Bread this guy.

Paul: Bread that guy and fry him up with a little tartar sauce and you are in heaven.

Kevin: I’ve only been at it for an hour, and I’m ready for lunch.

Paul: Ready to eat?

Kevin: Well, always ready to eat.


♪♪ Before the 20th century, clams were baked, steamed or added to chowder.

Then in 1916, a potato chip entrepreneur named Chubby Woodman threw some clams in a vat of oil and invented the fried clam.

Add summer tourists, and you have a business that still thrives in Ipswich and the surrounding towns to this day.

This clam shack is just down the street from the original Woodman’s.

Hey, fellas.

Tom: Hey, where have you been, anyway?

Kevin: What do you mean where I been?

I’ve been clamming.

Tom: Well, we’ve been waiting.

Richard: You got tartar?



Kevin: Chowder.

And look at these big bellies.

These are called cutters.

Look at that, huh?

Fresh from the marsh.

Charlie: Nice.

Richard: How was it?

Kevin: You know what?

It was a lot of fun.

I mean, on a beautiful day — It’s hard work.

But on a beautiful day like today, it was terrific.

Yeah, I learned a lot.

Nice guys.

Really nice guys.

Tom: Yep.

Did you get a lot?

Kevin: Uh, well, I left them, but they were still pulling them.


Look at all this right here.

Hey, hey, hey, before you eat, we need to know what’s going on next week.

What do we got?

Tom: Well, next week, we’re gonna put that beam up that we just finished padding up for the ridge.

Kevin: Got it.

Love it.

Charlie: We’re also gonna be reinstalling the post and beams.

Kevin: Alright.

Well, we got all that coming up next week.

So until then, I’m Kevin O’Connor.

Tom: I’m Tom Silva.

Richard: I’m Richard Trethewey.

Charlie: I’m Charlie Silva.

Kevin: For “This Old House” here on the clam flats in Essex.

Tom: Dig in?

Kevin: Belly up, boys.

Tom: Nice.

Kevin: They call this a cutter.

♪♪ Kevin: Next time on “This Old House”… Tom: The old post and beams have been refurbished, and today, we’re going to put them back in place.

Kevin: And we’ve got a 35-foot, one-ton steel beam coming in that’s going to carry our new roof.

♪♪ Man: Perfect.

Kevin: It’s actually time to start thinking about the interior finishes, and that means some of the kitchen.

Woman: I just love it.