Tag Archives: Salvagewrights Ltd




A few weeks ago, I participated in Menokin’s Ghost Structure Workshop. Though I could only stay for the first two days, as I had to return to school for my last final, it was an absolutely fantastic experience. Not only did I get to spend time at Menokin, a site fascinating to me for its unique approach to preservation and presentation, but I also got to use a number of the skills and concepts I have learned over the past two years in UVA’s Master’s of Architectural History program. I came away from my time at Menokin with a much better understanding of eighteenth-century construction techniques, slave cabin typologies, and museum interpretation strategies. This knowledge will be very valuable to me as I begin my career in the heritage field.

The first day, my co-participants and I received an introduction to the project, crew, and tools. Because the goal of the workshop was to erect the cabin in just five days, we utilized a combination of historic and modern techniques and devices. The project was based in historic processes, with a wooden frame fastened by pegged mortise and tenon joints, but the bulk of the wood was cut using power tools so that we could finish on time. This decision demonstrated the importance of balancing exciting ideals and necessary practicality in preservation work and at historic sites. The Ghost Structure Workshop was well-balanced in my opinion. We learned about historic tools and used them for most of the tasks, but modern tools were used for the major pieces that would have taken too much time.

By the end of the day, we had the frame of the floor in place. We also spent a great deal of time making pegs for the joints using drawknives on sawhorses. Peg-making looked so easy when our excellent crew demonstrated, but it was so much harder than it looked. A theme of the experience was that everything looked so easy for the professional crew, but it was not so easy for my co-participants and myself!

On day two, we got to lay the floor of the cabin. We laid floorboards perpendicular to the joists below and hammered two nails into the surface of each board, tacking it firmly into these joists. We had to be careful that each floorboard was tight against its neighbor to prevent any gaps in the floor, using chisels to hold the boards together while nailing. This was very satisfying work. Over the course of a few hours, we saw the collection of timbers and pegs we had produced on day one turn into a real floor and it became possible to imagine what the final product would look like by the end of the week.

I really enjoyed my experience at Menokin. I learned a great deal about the construction process in the eighteenth century, which has been helpful to me so far in my summer internship at Colonial Williamsburg, but I also learned a great deal about the social history of eighteenth-century construction work at Menokin. The structure we were erecting is a reconstruction of enslaved worker housing, which would have been built by the enslaved laborers themselves. Building the Ghost Structure was really hard work, even with the aid of modern tools, which were of course not available in the eighteenth century. Working on the Ghost Structure this week made me think hard about the people who built the original cabin on this site and so many others across the country. The Ghost Structure is a powerful building that conveys some of the important and sobering history of American slavery, and I hope it will be a really useful interpretation and education tool for the Menokin Foundation going forward. Thank you to everyone at Menokin and to the amazing Salvagewrights building crew for making this experience possible!


Ghost Structure Workshop Synopsis: Julia Judd

Highlight of Day One

On the first day over a cool cast of clouds the project for the Ghost Structure of Menokin began to create the first replica of a slave dwelling that once was built on this land. The group was split up between two groups to start cutting the wood. Both groups would contribute in building the base of the structure. In order for the base of the structure to connect the joists must be cut into the wood. The joists are made up of horizontal timber and in our case, oak is being used as the base because this type of wood particularly is harder and will hold up the best support. In creating the joists each end of the timber must measure 4” x 4.5” in the shape of an ‘L’. A japan saw is used to cut off the unwanted piece in 4 sections. Next, a chisel and mallet are used to break off the sections to create the final joist.  Pictures below show the process of creating the joist.

Highlight of Day Two

Once a 15’ x 25’ base is placed we began preparing the next steps in creating the floor of the Ghost Structure. The floorboards would be made of yellow pine and in order to align each row of the floorboards a hammer and chisel would be used to avoid any gaps in the floor. However, in the 18th century they would also use an auger that would create a small hole into the wood and another tool would be placed into the hole to wedge the pieces of wood together. An auger is a tool with a large helical bit for creating holes into wood. We know there is evidence in using an auger to wedge the floorboards together because of the circle marks left over by this tool. In our case, only a hammer and chisel were used to connect each floorboard together. Nails were hammered into the yellow pine to connect the floorboards to the base of the structure. Once a floor was established the frame of the Ghost Structure will become the next goal. Picture below shows finished floor.

Highlight of Day Three

On the first day the other group was creating joints in the base for base to properly support the frame. The joints are known as mortise and tenon and are adjoining pieces that connect at a 90-degree angle. On day 1, the mortise was first cut into the base to eventually fit the tenon to connect the frame to the base. Creating the main, vertical frame is what was being accomplished on day 3. This becomes the most structural support of the Ghost Structure. How would the mortises be created back in the 18th century? An auger would have also been used to create a hole for the tenon to be connected to. However, the auger would not penetrate entirely through the timber but a little over halfway through so when the tenon is created is has a stopping point. Picture below shows the joists creating the base and the main frame connecting to the base of the structure. Third picture shows how the tenon is being cut by using a japan saw that will fit into the mortise.

Highlight of Day Four

Hand-carved pegs were needed to be made to act as the studs of the structure for better stabilization and support. By taking a long piece of yellow pine that measures roughly 1” x 1” and carving out the shape of the peg by using a tool known as a draw blade. The tool does exactly what it is named for. When using a draw blade, you hold onto the handles on each side of the blade and pull the tool towards yourself to smoothly shave off pieces of wood. In our case, sat on a sawhorse that allowed us to clamp the piece of wood tightly so that the draw blade could easily be used. About 90 pegs were carved over the course of the week to be hammered into the Ghost Structure.

Highlight of Day 5

After the pegs were finished, they needed to be hammered all around the base of the structure. An auger would have been used to initially created the hole for the peg to fit into. For the purpose of finishing the structure within the 5-day mark, a power drill was used. The pegs had to fit in tightly and once hammered in the piece sticking out of the base had to be sawed off using a japan saw to fit smoothly along the oak base. Once the pegs were placed the cripples had to be attached to the vertical frame. Cripples are a type of wall bracing that rests on top of the foundation of a structure. They support the overall weight of a building and must be braced so the frame does not collapse. Both ends of the timber cripple are cut at a 45-degree angle and hammered into the frame.  Pictures below show the drilling of the hole for the peg and then using a mallet to hammer in the peg to the base. The last photo shows how the  cripples were hammered in with nails to the frame of the structure.