A trip to the mill: custom beams for the bakery’s front porch

 Restoring the Fort Ward bakery building’s classic façade has been a key goal of the restoration now underway. One of the more prominent design elements is the porch above the front entranceway, a structure that after 108 years is fortunately still intact – for the most part. 

The overhang was originally supported by two pairs of robust, 6×8 fir beams. As you can see from the drawings, the upper beam was cleverly notched to support an angled, lower brace, which in turn rested on a plinth of bricks protruding from the building face. A nifty piece of engineering and design, simple yet elegant. 

Sadly, all three structural components on the north side of the doorway (left as you face it) – both beams, and the plinth — were destroyed when the porch was enclosed by a homeowner sometime in the 1960s or ‘70s. Fortunately, we still have the other set in place to measure and copy, plus the original blueprints from the National Archives to work from as well. No problem! 

While we’ll get around to rebuilding the masonry plinth soon, this week it was all about the beams. 

On Tuesday we headed up to David Kotz Woodworking, a busy working mill on a knoll off Day Road west of the highway. The mill recently turned out all the sturdy fir and cedar planks for the amazing new boardwalk at Hawley Cove Park. On this day, David and his team would be custom-milling two beams for the bakery’s restored front porch. 

David poked around in the raw log pile for a bit before selecting a suitably massive chunk of Douglas fir, estimated to be 95 years old when it was harvested somewhere on Bainbridge. An island tree for a historic island restoration! 

David trimmed the log to approximate length with a chainsaw. Then it was up to Brent Herrick to run the log through the milling machine. Cut by precision cut over the next hour, two 8-foot beams were hewn from the very heart of the log — stout, straight and true. Outstanding work! 

We still have a little more work in the coming days to notch the upper brace and add the corbel cut (beam-end detailing) for aesthetics. That will be the subject of a future post. 

For now, we’re so grateful to David Kotz Woodworking for the care that went into custom-milling these beautiful beams for us to work with. (And glad to keep our donors’ money on-island with these fine craftsmen.) These aren’t some anonymous hunks of wood that will be plugged in somewhere and forgotten; they are prominent architectural elements, essential to the classic look of the building that we’re bringing back. 

Whenever you come and go from the Fort Ward Community Hall, you will pass by these beams. We hope you’ll pause to admire them.