A group of 35 international timber framers gathered in Sedgwick at the end of August for an ambitious project: to construct an outbuilding/blacksmith shop using hand tools in the space of a week. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY KATE COUGH

International group uses traditional methods to construct outbuilding in Sedgwick



SEDGWICK — “The word that just keeps coming to mind,” said Joshua Klein, holding a mug of coffee and standing on a pile of wood scraps, “is beautiful. The frame is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the whole thing is beautiful.”

What had Klein so captivated was the scene sprawled out on the field in front of him: a bright late summer day, a stack of freshly cut white pine and 35 woodworkers scattered among the logs, hewing away.

“This whole thing is like one big collaboration,” continued Klein, a furniture conservator and maker who also runs Mortise & Tenon Magazine at his homestead in Sedgwick.

“It’s this cultural exchange. It’s just a bunch of people pouring themselves out to make this happen.”

The group, Charpentiers sans Frontiers (Carpenters Without Borders), had descended upon Klein’s homestead in Sedgwick for an ambitious project: to construct a 16-by-25-foot timber frame outbuilding/blacksmith shop in the space of a week. They would use only hand tools and traditional methods. “Think Amish barn raising,” Klein explained.

None of the workers would be paid for their hours of labor. They were staying nearby, either camping near the worksite or in one of the two houses Klein had rented for the purpose.

His family and friends, including his wife and three sons, were working round-the-clock to feed the ravenous crew, while Klein himself was busy directing and answering questions from the slowly gathering crowd of visitors.

“I dreamed of someday going to participate,” said Klein, of working with Carpenters Without Borders. “Being a fly on the wall. And now they’re here, at my house.”

The international group of volunteers hails from France, England, Slovenia, Estonia and the United States. Many make a living either as carpenters or traditional timber framers, but this is something they do for fun: “For a lot of them,” said Klein, “this is their vacation.”

The group takes on one project each year. It does not accept applications for projects, rather, it searches for one that will provide members with a chance to learn a particular historic method of woodworking, or have a community benefit.

“They wanted to come to the United States,” said Klein, and “were searching for a while to try and find a good project.” When a friend mentioned the plans in Sedgwick, the group jumped at the chance.

The Sedgwick project is Carpenters Without Borders’ first in the United States, and they were eager, said Klein, to try a traditional American square-rule timber framing layout, and to show the American framers the French style, known as Le Piquage.

Both systems are a way to take roughsawn, imperfect timbers and accurately lay out a frame with mortise and tenon joinery.

From the felling of the trees to the raising of the structure, the project was an exercise in collaboration and traditional methods.

The trees were logged by local farmer John Ellsworth (who also provided much of the produce to feed the group) using his Suffolk Punch horses, Jay and Jackson. The logs were hewed into timbers with antique axes and the joinery cut with hand tools.

Will Gusakov, a traditional timber framer from Vermont, designed the building and oversaw the project alongside François Calame, an ethnologist in the Ministry of Culture in Normandy.

The soundtrack for the raising was local, with Klein’s wife and the couple’s friend serenading the group.

“It’s really going to be a hybrid New England-French,” said Klein, looking out over where the building would eventually stand.

One visitor wanted to know if the group would be taking on other projects in the United States again anytime soon.

They’re likely to be tied up abroad for a bit, Klein answered. “They’re restoring part of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.”

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Southwest Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]
Kate Cough

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