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What is a swing barn? (Swing Beam?)

People keep saying a swing barn is very rare,when I ask them what is a swing barn they change the subject.

Answer:

Thank you for your question. I have not heard of a swing barn but I have heard of a swing beam. They aren't all that common, but I wouldn't say they are rare.

They are a tapered beam that tapers down from the center to the outsides.

For example, I have one that tapers from 14" in the center down to 10" on the outsides and it is 50' long.

I was told that it's purpose was for a clear span in the barn so that wagons could turn around on the inside without a post being in the way.

I have a hunch that there is more to it than that, but as of yet I have not discovered what that might be.

If anyone else has some insights on that, please share in the comments below.

Comments for What is a swing barn? (Swing Beam?)

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Jun 16, 2014
Swing Beam NEW
by: Brett at Bored Barn

Hello Aaron,

In our 10 years of dismantling barns (120 plus)we have come across only 5 swing beams. Our most dramatic has been a 30' beam that tapers from 27" in the middle to 14" at each end. That particular beam was supported in the middle. I have spoken to timber framers about the "swing beam" and none of them believe that it would have improved the integrity/support of the barn. It would appear that it was strictly cosmetic, or perhaps even less work than using an adze or broad axe to shape the whole thing. Particularly in some cases where the span is not wide enough to turn a tractor, and or there are supports for the swing beam.
I would certainly call the swing beam rare and a treasure, however in saying that, we have been unable to garner a price increase for such a gem in comparison to regular, straight beams.
Hope that sheds a bit more light.

Brett

May 12, 2015
Swing Beams Barns in NY NEW
by: KGB up state NY

In the North East and specifically around Albany NY Swing beam barns are relatively common. This type of barn has no European origin. They appear to be a uniquely American innovation. They are much younger built ~1850’s. We see them in the same region as Dutch Barns. It is thought they were and innovation after Dutch barns which would allow for a wide turning radius within the barn as well as possibly allowing wheat thrashing.
In our region there is always a smaller parallel timber ~3’ above the lower beam which is attached by 2 or 3 peged studs. This would create a truss enabling the 2 beams to not sag and be self-supporting across 30-40’. I have recently found what I believe to be a Scribed ruled Swing Beam frame dating from ~1790.
The Timber Framing Guild (tgguild.org) is always studying these structures.

Oct 31, 2016
Swing Beam NEW
by: Keystone Vintage Lumber

I have a couple pine swing beams that are 45' 19" x 11". Around PA they are somewhat unusual. I was told that it is called a swing beam because the double tapered shape roughly resembles a "swingle" knife or pocket knife in profile. The old timer who told me wasn't quite certain, however.

Jan 23, 2018
Swing beam for threshing NEW
by: hhoctor

from a Wikipedia article on "Threshinf Floor"

threshed crop.

A unique barn feature in some barns in parts of the northeast United States, called a swing beam, was designed for animals to walk in circles around a pole inside the barn pulling a device to thresh the grain instead of using a flail.[8] The farm family could use the barn to their advantage in winnowing by standing in a doorway where a slight breeze is magnified by the wind passing around the building. Some barns had smaller winnowing doors[9] to the rear of the threshing floor to concentrate the breeze even more than the big barn doors.

Use

Nov 19, 2019
Swing beam correctly NEW
by: Mad Trapper

Swing beam consisted of two ties over each other to make a large un-interupted span. There were vertical posts along the lengths connecting the two beams. The lower beam was larger, they were not tapered.

It was to make a long span so that wagons and such could be turned inside a barn, without a post in the way.

For illustrations see:

See R. Babcock

Old Barns in the New World

The Barns at Wolftrap

Richard was a master timberframer whose work timberframing lasted 60 years.

He taught Jack Sobon

Dec 29, 2019
Swing Beams
by: Glen Kelley

We have an older bank barn on our property and the structure has a 35 foot swing beam . At the centre it is 20 inches and tapers to 14 inches at each end.
Our stone house was built in 1865 and we believe the barn was built before that.

Dec 28, 2020
My timber house has a swing beam in NY
by: David Waterman

My house in upstate NY is a gable and wing design.

The wing had a swing beam, not tapered but consisting of a smaller beam above with angle braces going from the center to near the ends of the main beam, with a steel tension rod connecting the two beams in the center to make a truss. I am wondering if the house was a redo around 1866 of a small threshing barn from earlier. The radius would have only been about seven feet. The swing beam is offset from the center of the gable such that three walls measure seven feet.

The settlers of the land were Germans from New Jersey, after 1801 but before 1814.

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