timber frame (21)

‘They Said It Was Impossible’: How Medieval Carpenters Are Rebuilding Notre Dame

From The Guardian / The Observer
Kim Willsher

Sat 20 Aug 2022

At Guédelon Castle, the year is 1253 and the minor nobleman, Gilbert Courtenay, has ridden off to fight in the Crusades, leaving his wife in charge of workers building the family’s new home: a modest chateau that befits his social position as a humble knight in the service of King Louis IX.

Here, in a forest clearing in northern Burgundy, history is being remade to the sound of chisel against stone and axe against wood, as 21st-century artisans re-learn and perfect long-forgotten medieval skills.

The Guédelon project was dreamed up as an exercise in “experimental archaeology” 25 years ago. Instead of digging down it has been built upward, using only the tools and methods available in the Middle Ages and, wherever possible, locally sourced materials. Now, in an unforeseen twist of fate, Guédelon is playing a vital role in restoring the structure and soul of Notre Dame cathedral.

Paris’s imposing 13th-century cathedral, a world heritage site, was consumed by fire in April 2019, destroying its complex roof structure, known as La Forêt because of the large number of trees used in its construction. The widespread view was that it would be impossible to rebuild it as it was.

“The roof frame was extremely sophisticated, using techniques that were advanced for the 12th and 13th centuries,” Frédéric Épaud, a medieval wood specialist, tells the Observer.

“After the fire, there were a lot of people saying it would take thousands of trees, and we didn’t have enough of the right ones, and the wood would have to be dried for years, and nobody even knew anything about how to produce beams like they did in the Middle Ages. They said it was impossible.

A number of the companies bidding for the Notre Dame work have already engaged carpenters trained at Guédelon, and more are expected to beat a path to the Burgundy clearing 200km down the autoroute du Soleil from Paris.

It might be quicker and cheaper to turn wooden beams out of a sawmill — especially with French president Emmanuel Macron’s pledge to reopen the ravaged cathedral in 2024 — but you will not find anyone at Guédelon who believes it should be done that way.
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Timber-Frame Gothic Style Church in New Zealand

Hi Lloyd,

Here’s another amazing wooden Gothic style church built in nine months by seven carpenters and a manager in 1866. Old St. Paul’s Wellington. The ceiling timbers are Kauri, a native New Zealand hardwood.

Kind regards,
Bill Choquette
Wellington

P.S.: Been posting infrequently lately due to overwhelming busyness, both personal and professional. Also now deeply into my next book, provisionally titled Live From California, a sort of autobiography, which includes a native Californian’s view of what went on in the ’60s.

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Yogan’s Gazebo? Arbor? Little Barn? Playground?

So Hello Lloyd. Here is my last creation. A gazebo? An arbor? A little barn? A playground? (I don’t know the name in English for a small timber frame like this!)

It’s a timber frame type king post truss and hammer arch truss — mixed! I made it by cutting the trees, and then using a portable Woodmizer sawmill. I used only chestnut trees because they are so easy to work with — it’s my favorite wood.

For making the curved pieces, I sawed two sides with the sawmill, then the curved faces with a beautiful old 1947 Guillet bandsaw. Next, I drew the axis of my frame with a chalkline and defined the top and the visual sides. Then I traced the axis and levels of my frame on the floor of the workshop with a chalkline, pencil and colored chalk. I placed the pieces on the lines and with a carpenter’s plumb bob (flat and empty in the middle), I drew the assemblages — this is called piquage.

When all the wood was traced, I  machined and cut the pieces — the tenons with circular and hand saws, drill, and chisels, and my mortises with a special mortise-machine. Then I made a mise à blanc (dry run), then the finishing touches, the sculptures. I planed the wood’s edges with a draw knife and used lime and water to create a beautiful brown old-style color.

Now to erect it! For the heaviest beams, we used a long aluminum ladder with a system of four pulleys and rope.

This structure is in “Layotte,” a high-quality restaurant in southwest France, where I made two other structures in the same style. The first one 18 years ago with a twisted roof — 12 meters long, 2.5 meters on one side and 5 meters on the other, so the roof is totally curvy! The table too has a trapezoidal shape, that makes a strange vision! You are welcome to eat in my country!

–Yogan
instagram.com/yogancarpenter
yogan.over-blog.com

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Yogan’s 40-Foot-Tall Half-Timber Tower in France

From our good friend yogan, a highly skilled and innovative carpenter in France:


Our last job!

A big tower in colombage (Middle Ages technique of half-timber framing).

We sawed the wood with a mobile horizontal bandsaw, then drew an outline of the entire tower on the floor of our workshop; we then laid the wood on the markings to draw the assemblage.

Only tenons and mortises! No nails or bolts.

It’s a 4.5 × 4.5 × 12 meter (15 by 15 by 40 feet) tower (without the rock foundation).

8.7m3 (94 sq. ft.) of oak and chestnut was used. Almost 18m3 (194 sq. ft.) of uncut logs.

The roof and the walls will be finished this year!

www.cabanophiles.com
yogan.over-blog.com
facebook.com/mryogan
instagram.com/yogancarpenter

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Japanese Carpentry Workshop

“…thought you might be interested in this. We’re hosting our first ever Japanese Carpentry Workshop this year. We’re bring out two full-time professional carpenters from Okayama, Japan to lead the class. Kohei and Jon specialize in ishibatate construction. 7 days of Japanese joinery with hand tools to build a timber frame from the ground up. Details here if you’re curious: www.theyearofmud.com/natural-building-workshops/japanese-carpentry-workshop

Still love following your work! I trace back a lot of my building inspiration to your books over these 10 years.”

–Brian “Ziggy” Lioila

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Bruce Baillie’s Timber-Framed Bridge in British Columbia

Photo from Godfrey Stephens

From Bruce Baillie, who rode his 1969 Moto Guzzi motorcycle 28,000 miles to Central America in 2012-13. His story is on pp. 130-31 of Tiny Homes on the Move. Now he’s back in British Columbia, and just sent us this.

…my latest building which I framed up last summer. It’s a log structure that’s built on an old logging bridge at the zip line I helped build 10 years ago. I felled the trees on site, limbed them, bucked them to length and yarded them out of the bush with a big truck using blocks hung in trees for lift. I then framed it all up and put a bright red tin roof on it. It was all very exciting as the drop to the river below was about 45 ft. from the rooftop.

The guy ran out of money at that point but we’ll finish it this summer. There are 6 separate zip lines on this site; the last one runs under the bridge where this building is. Goofy (Godfrey Stephens) has a picture of me standing inside the building with my Harley chopper parked nearby.

Last fall I worked for a guy in the city; while I was there I bought a steel sailboat 34 ft. long that was supposed to be scrapped. Long story short: I traded straight across for this custom Harley chopper that I rode for a bit and then sold to pay for a trip to Cuba last month. It’s great to have grown up around guys like Bruno (Atkey) and Goofy while young: being around interesting people in turn helped cultivate my lifestyle into what it’s been. Life is good. I still ride my old Moto Guzzi.

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Mortise and Tenon Cedar Cabin

This mortise and tenon cabin out of yellow cedar was built by my dad and stepmom about 30 years ago. Its design was taken from my stepmom’s grandfather, who was a carver and builder named Dudley Carter.

A few other versions of this building stand along the West Coast. The first one was built in the ’30s in Big Sur, although the design is North Coast–inspired. This is one of my favorite little buildings, with its timeless look, glass walls, and timber joinery.

We have made a few small sleeping cabins inspired by this building, but not truly mortise and tenon like the originals. Hopefully one day we can.

–Marlin Hanson

Note: See book Small Homes for “Timber Home Along Canada’s Sunshine Coast,” by Marlin Hanson

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