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Scribing and poetry

by on 17 Jun 2011

Earlier in the Plumb Bob Factory post, we ran a photo essay on plumb bob manufacture and promised a demonstration of the tool in use. We keep that promise here, but with the caveat that the plummet was likely not the scribing tool of choice at Gwozdziec and neither is it our first resort in replicating the timber frame.

Remember that our effort to reconstruct the Gwozdziec Synagogue is only partly aimed at the recreation of an artifact. Perhaps its higher purpose is to rediscover and reanimate the skills and knowledge required to make such a building in its time and place, to learn, to the degree we are able, to be 17th and 18th century eastern European carpenters, or at least to think like them and work like them with their tool set.

In other words, we seek to learn about history by becoming history, in a hands-on way. Now of course we fall considerably short of achieving this goal, but along the way we learn a great deal and create a passable replica of the original structure.  And it has been my experience that the very best architectural historians are those who know how to think with their hands as well as their heads.

Recalling a line from Mikkel’s essay on appropriate accuracy, he expected that the builders of Gwozdziec may have “had plumb bobs but I don’t think they used them for joinery.” This conclusion summarizes one of our collective discoveries while building the timber frame. The doughnut plumb bob represents the highest evolution of the scriber’s art, but based on photographs of the original and contemporary buildings (plus site visits to the latter), coupled with our attempts to reproduce what we saw, we believe that the layout tool kit of the Gwozdziec builders included a straight edge, pencil or awl, eyeball and perhaps dividers. So our hands-on research has taken us first up the evolutionary ladder of technology and then prompted us to climb a rung or two back down.

That said, plumb bobs do make occasional appearance on site, and here are a few shots of the tool in play, along with a short explanation of its use from an article in Timber Framing.

Bruce and Tim locate and level a lower collar

Tim drops the plumb bob and begins to layout the collar to rafter joint.

He picks up a dimension from the rafter

and transfers it to the collar.

A description of  the use of the plumb bob taken from “Framing The Cabildo Roof”, Timber Framing No. 23, March 1992, pp. 8-9:

Positioned in the V made by the intersection of the two superimposed timbers, the string must be kept a hair’s breadth away from the edges of both timbers to insure plumb. In the unlikely event that both pieces are square, this procedure is a snap: once the bob has settled down, witness marks are made where the string grazes the top and bottom corners of both members, taking care to mark on the side of the string towards the joint. However, in a typical joint, at least one and probably both of the sticks are out of square, making scribing a little more involved, since the string only touches each timber at one edge.

Keep in mind that the whole point of this exercise is to trace the footprint of the end grain of one piece onto the face of the other: imagine that the pencil is an arrow shot from the plumb bob string towards the layout line. Scribing is always on the side of the string towards the joint with the flattened back side of the chisel-shaped pencil towards the string. When marking the upper timber, the pencil is aligned with the lower timber, and vice versa, insuring that the arrow is always pointed at the target, regardless of the intersection angle. When the string does not touch the necessary corner of a timber because of out-of-square stock, the gap is gauged by eye and the pencil shifted away from the string by the same amount, with care not to change the angle of attack.

*     *     *

Bob makes a point

Chip off the old block

Alicia shows how its done

and Elijah follows suit

Regular Geometry

Irregular Geometry

The dark shadow that fell over Poland in the last century can neither be erased nor ignored. But we cannot remain moored forever in that darkness. The Synagogue Project and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews recognize that there is also much to celebrate in Polish-Jewish history. We go forward facing both the dark and the light, an understanding increasingly shared by many, among them most recently the President of the United States.

*     *     *

With another take on reconstruction,  recreation and truth, roof frame team leader Bob Smith wears the Poetry Hat (metaphorically).

While the sign there may say Gwozdiec Reconstruction, I think it is important to remember that we are not reconstructing an historic structure. We are reinterpreting it; we are creating a fiction. And in this, I am reminded of a book I recently read by Tim O’Brien titled The Things They Carried. While ostensibly a story about the Vietnam War, it was more truly a story about the power and truth of story. What we are doing here is both creating a story and participating in a story.

And so, some of what Tim O’Brien had to say:

A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.

A good piece of fiction, in my view, does not offer solutions. Good stories deal with our moral struggles, our uncertainties, our dreams, our blunders, our contradictions, our endless quest for understanding. Good stories do not resolve the mysteries of the human spirit but rather describe and expand up on those mysteries.

And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.

That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.

As you work, remember your story. Remember that you are now part of someone else’s story, and that what we are doing here is more true than the truth.

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