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Setting the stage

by on 27 May 2011

It’s about a week now that the Guild has been on the ground at the Skansen in Sanok, Poland and our numbers have swelled to around thirty experienced timber framers split in two encampments, one at the Sosenki campground adjacent to the Skansen, (previously an R&R center for the Russian military), the other at the Dom Turysky, an upgraded communist hotel in town across the River San.

A respectable woodworking force to confront a daunting project: build the roof of an archetypal Polish wooden synagogue in a month, working by hand. Much the sort of test the Guild has faced on prior major projects. Except this time there is no ready pile of timbers to dig in to, but rather a carpet of forty foot Silver Fir logs spread across this rolling field amidst the Carpathian Mountains in the Southeast corner of Poland, a stone’s throw from Ukraine to the east and Slovakia to the south.

To further enhance the challenge, the Gwozdziec Synagogue is really two buildings in one. Built in the mid 17th Century on a square plan 36 feet on a side with a steep hip roof looming 48 feet above the street, the interior was remodeled early in the 18th Century, the original barrel vault ceiling removed in favor of a four stage, intricately curved domed cupola, its inside covered with polychrome liturgical paintings.

As a small concession to reality, we are not responsible for having the painting complete by the end of June (that is a Handshouse Studio project slated for multiple workshops over the summer and beyond).

So, before the framing can start, the log pile must first be converted into a stack of beams. Saws and chisels defer to felling and broad axes and the field rings with the steady chunk of jogglers and hewers slowly turning round into square. The only exemption is for Jim Kricker’s cupola crew, who have their hands on a pile of plank which they are – you guessed it – hewing into curved ribs to support the painted boards of the cupola ceiling.

The other Guild teams – John Nininger’s log wall crew, Gerry David’s box frame builders and Bob Smith’s roof framers are all temporarily posted to axe duty. Meanwhile Mikkel Johansen, our facilitator/fixer is in constant motion providing tools and equipment and outfitting the site into a functioning production facility.

All this under the able direction of boss Alicia Spence, with occasional glimpses of behind the scenes eminence grise, Guild Executive Director Joel McCarty.

We are lucky in the Abies Alba logs, relatively clear, straight and true. But they are a bit oversize for the splindly synagogue scantlings, leaving a great deal of wood for the jogglers to score through – chopping notches down to the line every eight to ten inches – and thick blocks to split off before the broadaxe wielders can begin their work of hewing down to the line.

To ease the joggling process, one and two man crosscut saws are being tuned up as scoring tools. There are also many sticks in the timber list too small to hew entire. These are traditionally gotten out by first hewing a log foursquare then halving or quartering it with a frame or pitsaw, and these tools are also being readied for use. So far there are no plans to resort to mechanical solutions (although we understand that there are portable sawmills nearby). And there have been occasional chainsaw sightings.

Exploring every avenue, there has also been some experimenting with riving logs in half using metal wedges and wooden gluts. But so far, the timber has not cooperated, and the process to date has been an incomplete success. But we are nothing if not persistent, so stay tuned.

  1. william hurley permalink

    The posts are fantastic. Keep up the good work. Very jealous.


  2. Sandra Johnson permalink

    Thank you for the great pictures and update. My son Jackson is working on this project so I will be following your blog closely. Thanks again and best wishes for a safe and rewarding project.

  3. Paul T. Hanson permalink

    What a great experience. What great work, culturally and in craftsmanship. From the midwest of the USA, happy birthday to your crew members Judith and Daniel!

  4. Wow. You folks are really impressive! I’m glad to be associated with the guild.

    Wish I could be there for the fun and work.

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