Barn Loom A, a rocking reed loom

While there is no set designation for what is a “barn loom” it’s generally agreed that it is a loom that is built like a barn (large beams, pegged or tusk tenoned) and due to their bulk generally get shifted out to the barn when they stopped being used. The variety and ingenuity expressed in these (usually) one of a kind constructions is a testament to human creativity that should not be lost to history. So I am making 3D CAD drawings of any and all that I can get pictures of, and am very grateful when the owners will accommodate me when I ask for measurements.

One of the great things about these looms is the ease of construction… the large sized parts make it easy to see “how to” make them, the biggest problem is getting timbers that are big enough. you will most probably need to contact a small sawmill and have it cut to thickness special for you.

Once the timbers are let dry for a year or so, and are sized, it’s all hand work. cutting mortices and tenons with chisel and saw, boring pin holes with an auger… etc, The parts/joints should all be cut so that you “can drive them together with your hat”… (Blue Oak Co) Seriously, they should just slide together, then the pins or tusk tenons hold them together…

Also as you work, keep in mind that much of this type of work is/was “cut to fit”, and “about yea big”… so if I drew it so that the loom will accommodate 36″, and you want 40″ or 45″ just make it bigger, don’t worry about 1/16” increments, cut things to fit and to match the other parts… the drawings and the measurements here are just a guide, if you can’t get thick enough material, use what you can get, or glue it up if that’s an option for you/your shop.

projects like this generally have a frame that holds all of the working parts. Then the working parts which can sometimes be broken down into subsets that work together:

lets start with the frame:

the frame as 2 sides that are nearly identical. As you can see there are very few parts, all of them timbers.

back leg
running board and side

The running board (labeled D here) is thinner than the rest of the parts only 2″ thick or less, and note the hole for the point on the bottom of the rocker. It has a slight taper to it front to back (left to right in the drawing).


As you can see it’s all simple mortice and tenon, with drawbore pins, NOTE!!: I have the pins drawn at 1″Ø, but I actually think that 1/2″ diameter pins might be better. For anyone who does not know how to make a drawbore, see my blog entry…

When it comes to putting it all together you need to pop the cloth beam into place before securing the cross pieces…

cloth beam placement

The cross pieces for the frame are all the same length between tenons,

cross parts and cloth beam

breast beam

Because of wear, strain, and the abrasive effect of the cloth dragging over it, the Breast beam needs to be a hardwood, everything else can be SPF (spruce, pine, fir). Maple, Birch, Beech or another dense hardwood will work well.

the warp beam and the cloth beam are traditionally hewn out of a log. while you may wish to try your hand at this there are ways of making up hollow beams from stock 2bys that might be easier for many crafters. If you happen to know a timber framer that hews their own beams you might get them to help you out, or pick an option on making a hollow beam out of whatever 2 x 4 (6 or 8) stock you can get… OR: If you have been working with a sawyer they might be amenable to sawing these out of solid, then you just have to plane them smooth…

Drawing an octagon is simple as can be… make a square as big as you want your octagon to be across the faces. Find the center by drawing the diagonals. the distance from a corner to the center is the distance from the corners of the square to the corners of the octagon. (first square)

Having found the corners and drawn your octagon you can decide how to build it. 3rd picture shows an octagon built of 2×4’s barrel stave method, 4th and 5th pictures show one made with a locking bird’s mouth method. I prefer the second method as it all snugs in exactly right. nine 2 x 4 s and one 2 x 6 should make the larger warp beam,

for the 6″ cloth beam it can all be made from 2 x 4’s.

While making the beams you will see the voids left from the cross in the middle. And when you get to cutting into the beams to make the bearing surfaces you can see that the voids will be exposed. Not to worry, just glue some triangles in there when you get to it, round up the bearing surfaces and it’ll work just fine.

The rocking reed is the only “working part” that I’m going to address. And I’m not going to address the reed itself.

there are 3 pairs of parts, all fairly simple. the 2 bars that hold the reed. the 2 legs, and the 2 rockers. The bars that hold the reed are very plain and rectangular sticks in the photos of the original. And they are more slender than I have seen in other barn looms. So something like a 2 x 2 x length needed. Mortices for the legs and a grove to hold the reed in place. You can make the groove square if you are using a modern metal reed or half round if your ambition has you making a bamboo reed.

the legs taper in their thickness from 1″ a the bottom to 1/2″ about 8″ down from the top. The mortices in the reed holder being cut to match.

The rockers may look hard, but with a bandsaw will be easy, Cut the mortice for the uprights first from a block @ 3″ x 3 1/2″ x 16″. Draw the shape on the top and on one side, cut one from one direction, tape the 2 pieces back on then cut the other way. Sand it up and your are good to go! If this seems to difficult just cut the side profile. the top profile has no function.

The treadles for shifting the sheds are (on this one) simple sticks @ 1″ x 1 1/2″, and long enough for the weaver to reach, held up on their far end by 2 blocks that are either nailed to the cross piece or morticed into it.

the 2 blocks have holes for the pivot pint, as do the treadles

you want to make sure there is room above the treadles, between the treadles and the cross beam, so that the treadles do not bind and also between the treadles… the original had 4, that can be altered to suit your weaver.

The heddles (the rest of the “working parts”), being complicated arrangements of sticks and strings or wires and metal rods, I did not attempt to draw nor do I attempt to address here, I believe there are whole books dedicated to making heddles (string types) and the various setups you will need to actually make cloth. I can (if asked) make up a page of drawings with pulleys and or tippets.

If you’ve read this far: feel free to use what I have done to make a loom, or ask what I would charge to make one for you.

But whatever you do can you please make a donation? it helps me keep doing what I do…