GROTON Uwe Tobies was very sad that he had to do this job. He and his company, Tobies Restoration, were recently hired with clearing out a partially collapsed antique saw mill in town before it was to be demolished. But then something interesting happened.
“When we emptied the mill, we recovered some old machinery,” Tobies said. “Then the owner of the building asked if we could restore it. I was very happy we could do that.”
While it might seem like more work to restore an entire building rather than tear it down, Tobies thrives on the complexity and care needed to do said job. It’s the modus operandi of Tobies Restoration, a Groton-based firm that focuses on restoring antique and traditionally constructed timbercraft buildings.
Tobies Restoration’s methods follow the classic work of timber framing, where large timbers with mortise and tenon joints are connected with wooden pegs called “treenails.” This form of building construction is most recently rooted in structures found in medieval Europe and was brought over to America by early settlers. These buildings were usually barns and large houses meant to stay sturdy over time.
Sturdy craft work is the trade that Tobies was trained in. The 51-year-old is originally from Wattenscheid, Germany, where he started his career as an apprentice carpenter. He then joined the Holz-und Lehmbau Gmbh firm that specialized in restoring post-and-beam buildings. He restored traditional German half-timbered houses in his home country, a trade he wanted to do for most of his life.
“I always liked to work with wood,” Tobies said. “I remember my first day on the job seeing a house on supported stilts and knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
Tobies stayed in Germany honing his craft for some time before coming to America in 2002 with his wife, Sandra, and daughter, Caitlin. Tobies and his family first lived in New York while he briefly worked in repair framing and carpentry. He then came to Massachusetts to work for Colonial Barn Restoration in Bolton for three years.
“My passion in Germany was to work on old houses,” Tobies said. “I knew Massachusetts was full of old buildings. Massachusetts is a region where people can afford to restore old barns.”
Tobies Restoration started in 2005 with the expressed purpose of restoring antique properties in a way that Tobies described as “traditional” instead of the approach used by most contractors and builders.
“Construction is done with more modern equipment, which I think is not suitable for an older building,” he explained. “It’s more about the material itself. Like, why would I use pressure-treated wood? If you use the right wood and build it right, it will last forever. Pressure-treated wood is a crappy wood, any time I see it, it’s soft, low-quality wood.”
Tobies Restoration is not a one-man show. He has three other employees work on sites with him, not to mention Sandra, who handles most of the paperwork for the company and was the main motivator for him to start Tobies Restoration.
“I would not have started the business if my wife wasn’t on board,” he said. “Because we’re so specialized, I can’t expect anyone to know about the field. I always tell my staff that training is on the job and they have to be willing to work. I don’t like to hire regular carpenters because we’re not doing carpentry, we’re doing timber framing.”
Tobies Restoration takes on jobs within an hour radius of Groton, doing jobs like restoring the Stow Away Inn in Stow and other barns built back in the 1700s. Tobies said the company’s next project is a building in the Shaker Village in Harvard’s historic district, which Tobies said he’s “very excited” about. He’s also excited about all of the work he’s done.
“In the beginning, it was tough finding work,” Tobies said. “People who were offering services didn’t necessarily cross paths with us. You don’t look it up in the Yellow Pages. Our website has helped. We even used to give out fliers, too. When we moved here, we came as nothing. It just takes patience.”