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19 April 2010


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Hello, following the movie about Paul, I recommend a website on the carpenters (in french AND english.:-)
Thanks for your very interesting website.
Mikaël (from France)


oups sorry
website is http://www.charpentiers.culture.fr/

Nicola Wood

Thanks Mikaël. There's some good stuff on your site, including profiles of Ulrik Hjort Lassen who is coming to Japan with us and a video of Amemiya san I think. (The link to the English bit is here http://www.en.charpentiers.culture.fr/ )

Maussion Antoine

I love your blog and all the nice videos you share with us. I am french and so wanted to make a small contribution as a gift to your wonderful work. Here is a non professional translation of what Paul says in this video. I am sorry if my english isn't perfect, I learnt it in Canada a couple of years ago, so...
Here it is :

"My name is Paul. I am a carpenter. I am from the Haut-Doubs region. I have been a carpenter for 4 years now. I started by traditional carpentry with the «Compagnons» (du devoir), got my CAP (carpentry degree level 1) and learnt the bases of carpentry. But I didn’t quite like it because I was looking for something more of a hand craft, something more traditional. I then looked for businesses that seemed more into that and worked also for heritage buildings. It still didn’t really appeal to me because even with heritage buildings, you still have to work fast and end up always working with machine tools. So I decided to start my own business and met another carpenter who shared the same idea about our work. We started to do some research about the old tools and techniques used in pre-industrialised times. We then started to work «the old way» just for fun and to see how it felt.

This is my first building site as a traditional carpenter. I am by myself and work entirely in a traditional way which means everything is built using hand tools : axes, chisels... I don’t use any electricity on site. The techniques I use are techniques that were used 100 to 2000 years ago. These are what we call «true» traditional techniques.

The principle is to draw the frame plan on the ground at the real scale (scale 1 or in french «épure»). By using this «scale 1 drawing», we have all the mesures and angles of our frame plan. We then draw from the ground plan onto the posts and beams and cut them to length and cut the joints. After that, we assemble them using the traditional joints (mortise and tenon...). Everything is made of wood which means no screws, no nails, no metal are ever used. Hardwoods are used for the pegs, ash or acacia, and the rest of the frame is made out of fir since it’s the local timber.

Ideally, to build only the frame on this site, my colleague and I would need two and a half month. Time being split between hewing the logs, drawing and cutting the frame and finally assembling it.
It actually isn’t all that more expensive because we have very little investment. We don’t have expensive machine tools, expensive trucks. We only have hand tools and logs don’t cost much since they come straight cut from the forest by the sawmill which is very cheap. Our main cost is in labor force. It’s true that we need a lot of labor for this type of work and so it sometimes ends up costing more.

All the tools we use are tools that haven’t been used since World War 1. Since World War 1, everything was industrialised and sawmills started everywhere so that no one was hewing logs by hand anymore after that. So all the tools we are using had totally disappeared. Even our grandfathers don’t know about these tools and how to use them. To actually have some information you have to ask one, two or three generations before them. You can find those tools now at garage sales or on ebay but they are fairly rare and usually very expensive.

This tool is a tool from the 19th century. It’s called a «Breitbeil» (a type of «doloire» in french), it’s a very special german axe. It’s forged so that the handle of the axe has an angle from the axe head. It’s a finishing tool for hewing. It’s a fairly technical and heavy axe and thus not that easy to handle. But it’s the cutting edge of the hewing axes. You can’t get a better finish than the one you have with this type of axe. You end up with a really smooth and clean finish.

We choose a log from the frame we want to build. I work with a sawmill or with lumberjacks so I can choose a log either right from the tree I want in a forest or from logs in the sawmill. I choose logs for their shape, try to avoid knots and usually ask for green wood so that I can work on it more easily.
Once I chose them, I bring them on site and then one by one I set up the logs on the «hewing bench» (probably not the right translation but that how he calls them in french). It’s a simple set up : it’s only two beams on the ground at each end of the log which is then fixed with log dogs. I then draw all the lines at each end of the log with the plumb line to be sure I am on the same plane from one end to the other. After that I draw the ridge lines with the chalkline.
I just have to cut from this ridge line with the hewing axe. I start by making perpendicular cuts to ease the hewing process. I then hew the beam with another special axe. It’s not a Breitbeil but a hewing axe from eastern Europe. The handle is in line with the axe head on this one and it’s forged totally flat. I use it to cut most of the wood and then finish my work with the Breitbeil for a perfect finish. Well, I mean, perfect..."

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