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Reinforcements, first wave

by on 29 May 2011

The Model arrives safe and sound

Last night a group of college students from the US joined us for a gathering at the Dom Turysky in downtown Sanok. The students are studying sculpture, architecture, painting, metal work and historic preservation at the Massachusetts College of Art, University of Georgia and Clemson University, and are the first wave of a Handshouse travel program that will bring successive groups of young people to work first on the construction of the Synagogue timber frame and then the polychrome painting of the cupola. The next morning they jumped in to the work with commitment and can do attitude, bringing enormous energy and growing ability to the tasks at hand, and gave us all a lift, no only in the production stats, but in their company and through their youthful perspective and energy.

It was a good day and the student contribution to it was a significant one. Also I sensed a growing confidence among the team leaders that we seemed finally to be making headway, that the pile of over 200 unpeeled raw logs was visibly shrinking as more trees moved through layout, scoring, joggling and hewing, and one began to see the first of more than 300 timbers sitting foursquare on the bunks besides their still round siblings.

As faithful followers of this blog will recall, we are our own production facility, no sawmills for us, thank you very much, but only the product of our own honest labor with axe and broadaxe, augmented today by the first appearance of two man crosscut saws in aid of scoring the deep cuts required to hew the larger logs. And, at the top of the toothed food chain, we had our first sighting of the eight foot long open pitsaw used to make big beams into smaller ones. A pitsaw trestle is nearing completion and our next work day should see the big saw in action.

Sawyers Pro…

…and Am

Pitsaw Trestle in Progress

Barking the Easy Way…

…and the Hard

A morning walk down through the site found students attentive to their new teachers as the framers demonstrated the craft. But by the time my afternoon swing brought me back up to the office at the top of the hill, it was the students confidently wielding axes while their masters watched with pride. Take the case of Adam and Amelia, he a professional framer hailing from Canada who apprenticed in, and now lives and works in Japan; she a sculpture student at Mass Art.

First the master shows how it’s done. Some irony here as Adam is hewing his first timbers on this job. You could have fooled me.

By the afternoon, the apprentice seems to have picked up the knack.

Bob lies down on the job

Now if you’ve stuck with the blog this far, I ask you to please bear with me for a bit of rationalizing. The craft of timber framing is broad and deep, encompassing many tools, skills and activities ranging from coarse to fine, from monolithic to minute, from raw utility to fine art, from rough hewn to polished, and so on. So in reporting on a timber frame project it is typically the author’s – and reader’s – pleasure to touch on multiple corners of this many sided activity. But here we are entering week two of the synagogue project and all this writer can find to talk about is axes, scoring, hewing – chop, chop, ad infinitum.

Young Man, Big Axe

Scoring Triple Threat

Well, as was said earlier, we must first have grist for the mill, but before you quit the blog in disgust, take a minute to see from the hewer’s point of view. Here is an activity that few of us are privileged to do, usually in our younger days when the back is strong and the woodworking flame burns bright. And it may be the most demanding, exacting and exhausting work we ever do, and possibly the most rewarding.

Forty some years on, I can still clearly recall my own hewing initiation: Rise before the sun, into the woods with the tractor, fell a prime spruce or balsam fir, haul it out to the building site, bark it, mark it and launch the ritual that tests hand, eye and heart to the extreme, bridging the gap between the wild and man made worlds. You start with a tree, a living thing standing in the forest, you finish with the core element of a home. Along the way you burn more than calories, and expend more than just physical energy. And, as you give out, you get back in kind. This is work and these are moments that you do not forget.

For a kindred view of the import and meaning of axe work, I commend your attention to the Robert Frost poem Two Tramps in Mud Time.

Axe Tree

The work day ends, the tools go back in the shop and we’re off to an evening campfire and barbecue at the Soneski. While awaiting dinner the residents on our crew unwind with an evening archery contest. But my camera battery dies in the twilight, so you will have to take my word for it until tomorrow night.

Along the Road in the Skansen

  1. Edo permalink

    Great reporting! So glad the weather is favorable. Wish I could be there. Keep up the good work!

  2. The gears are turning, chips are flying, no electricity being used.

    Keep up the good work and keep us updated. Blast this happening to the wide world as loud as you can, we’re all behind you!

  3. Kære Mikkel
    Det er rent guf…med guf på

  4. denis buet permalink

    bon travail, j’aimerai etre la. The guild at its best. show us everything and we will dream and cheer. salut

  5. Vincent Leyendecker permalink

    Aw Joel, you made me cry. Evoking personal memories of early timber framing enthusiasms and camaraderie; certainly some of the highest points of my life. Wish I were there, to make some more. Best wishes.

  6. Vincent Leyendecker permalink

    Well, upon closer inspection, it appears this is Ed’s post. The sentiments hold true, however. Love and peace.

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