Build it the Medieval Way, Pt. 1  

Posted by Gabel in ,

Last month I travelled to the UK to take part in a unique carpentry exercise. A dozen or so carpenters from the UK, Europe, and America came together with the goal of building a wooden structure strictly with 12th century tools and methods. Knowing what the rules were, we had left at home all of our framing squares, tape measures, spirit levels, power tools, pencils, and calculators, and brought instead our plumb bobs, dividers, chisels, and axes.

We met at a farm called Cressing Temple in Essex, England. In the 1200s this farm was owned and managed by the Knights Templar, who built two huge timber framed barns on the property. These barns, which are still standing, are called the Wheat Barn and the Barley Barn.

These barns are truly magnificent to behold. I felt small when I first walked into them. The locals refer to the Wheat Barn as "the finest 12th century timber building in Europe." That may be a bit of hometown pride talking, but it is hard to dispute that while you are standing in it. It is 70% original, and now houses a museum with interactive displays and a viewing platform--a gargantuan steel structure that resembles a MacDonald's playground. But it is nice to be able to get a closer look at the roof framing for those of us that do not travel with scaffolding.

The Barley Barn, built in 1220, was the inspiration for the structure we were to build. It has more repairs than the Wheat Barn, but is equally as impressive. The floor is open (no museums) and that makes it more striking and photogenic. Several years ago, a man named Adrian Gibson first noticed the geometric relationship between framing members. Adrian passed away in 2006, but his discovery has inspired Laurie Smith, a Welsh scholar, to continue to investigate the use of geometry in building design.

I was there to see for myself how (if?) a building could be built in three dimensions using only geometry to locate framing members. It also seemed like a good chance to clear my head and get back to basics--plumb, level, and square. The mysterious Daisy Wheel, sort of a medieval protractor, seemed like it could be added to that short list, but I had to see it work firsthand.

In next weeks installment, we get into some serious hewing, and blood is spilled.

This entry was posted at Tuesday, November 11, 2008 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


great start to the blog, good job on photos and the video's are a great idea too.

November 27, 2008 at 6:02 PM

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