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By 5 Acres and A Dream
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Wednesday, November 30, 2016 22:27
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Show of hands, who knows what a trunnel is?

If you’ve read Eric Sloane’s A Reverence for Wood or Once Upon a Time: The way America was, then you likely know that a trunnel (or treenail) is a hand-cut wooden peg once used by barn and bridge builders instead of nails. Some folks think this was because of the scarcity of iron nails back in the day, but according to Eric Sloane trunnels were preferred in large timber construction, because they allowed flexibility in joints as the weather and atmospheric conditions changed.

Trunnels: the origins of “a square peg in a round hole.”
Drawing from page 36 of A Reverence for Wood.

But enough of the history lesson. With the goats set for winter and our summer-milled lumber curing nicely, Dan once again turned his attention to the upcoming project of building the Big Barn. One preliminary on his list was to experiment making and using trunnels.

The best way to learn a new skill is by doing. In this case, the doing was a small project – a barn bench. A bench is useful and would allow hands-on learning plus a starting point for analyzing problems and mistakes, and for honing the skill. The bench itself would be made from waste slabs cut from our pine logs in the milling of our barn posts and beams.


For trunnels he decided to use oak.

Oak trunnel and pine slab
It needs to be just the right size, not so big as to split the
 the slab, but not too small and be too loose in the hole.

Using a grinder to shave off the trunnel.

Rubber mallet for pounding in

Not bad, with only minor splitting of the pine slab.

This, however, is what needs to be avoided.
(Making the bench a good learning project.)

A useful bench nonetheless!

Lessons learned about trunnels:

  • be more exact in size (diameter)
  • taper them more

Since the slabs aren’t treated, the bench needed a protective finish. I used leftover stain and finish.

Stained, finished, and ready to use.

Hay storage on the left, feed room on the right.

And there you have it.

Trunnels © December 2016 by Leigh 


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