What is Preservation Carpentry? Kenny Herold of Minnesota Explains

Preservation carpentry is a craft that employs traditional and time-honored techniques in carpentry to faithfully reproduce and repair woodwork in historical homes, explains Kenny Herold of Minnesota. Often used to help restore pre-20th-century homes with historical registry compliance looking over their shoulder, restoration carpenters must be masters of a variety of techniques and methods.

“You may be working for days, just methodically removing layers and layers of paint from the original wood trim,” says Kenny Herold. “Or you might be milling every piece of floorboard by hand to ensure that it’s completely historically accurate. It really depends on the project.” The carpenter says that’s one of the things he loves about specializing in preservation carpentry. It’s always a new challenge.

Kenny Herold of Minnesota Discusses Specializing in Preservation Carpentry

All carpenters are craftsmen, but restoration carpenters aren’t merely builders–they’re problem solvers, master rebuilders, and artists. You have to be able to read the “ghost marks” of a home to be a good restoration carpenter. Ghost marks are the traces of original structures that linger even after decades of remodeling and adulteration. You have to become an expert in traditional and historical building preferences and styles.

There are specific degrees and training courses you can take to become a certified preservation carpenter, although formal training isn’t always necessary. “You do have to at least apprentice with someone to really learn what you’re doing though,” says Kenny Herold of Minnesota. “Otherwise you could really cause more damage to the home than good.”

The tools that Kenny uses vary depending on the project. Sometimes he does have to resort to old-school tech like chisels and planes, but–more often–he uses modern tools to get the job done. It’s much faster, and makes a cleaner line, he says. But when a project is particularly ornate or delicate, modern tools can be overpowered.

The types of projects that Kenny Herold of Minnesota takes on vary wildly from job to job. And each one represents its own puzzle or challenge. But some of the more common services offered by Kenny and other preservation carpenters include:

  • Restoring historic windows to make them more energy-efficient without damaging the detailing
  • Restoring, repairing, or replacing ornate molding and millwork
  • Shoring up a historic home’s structural integrity discreetly and attractively
  • Replicating wood finishes
  • Modernizing historic buildings to bring them up to code for habitability, energy efficiency, and accessibility
  • Dismantling and reassembling historic barns, homes, and other buildings

Historic Homes versus Vintage Homes

Sometimes you have to number every brick in a shed and then identically reconstruct it twelve feet over to meet new zoning laws, and sometimes you can be a little more creative, says Kenny Herold. It all depends on whether or not a home is part of a true historical registry.

While some homes may be very old indeed, they aren’t always considered “historical”. This means that owners can make as many changes as they like and don’t necessarily have to stick to completely historically accurate methods.

Homes that have been registered or belong to a historical society of some kind are a whole other ball game, though. Some of these homes require museum-quality materials and methods like cut nails and hand-glazed windows.

“But that’s what I love about it,” says Kenny Herold of Minnesota. “No matter who you’re working with you’re breathing new life back into these beautiful old homes. Being responsible for that is why I’m a carpenter.”

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