Monthly Archives: July 2012

Frères Pontiers

I have in previous entries, alluded to feeling myself as being part of a continuum of sorts. This so ever-present that it perhaps might be better described as something approaching a sense of kinship, both with those few who currently make the work of wooden bridges their chosen field, and maybe more so with those many who built them in the past.

Lately I’ve spent all too much thought on what it is to be Bridgewright. The catalysts driving this wonder being many. My not making my nut, maybe being foremost among those. I’d thought the now years long uptick in potential bridgework, was how I would ride out this time of “downturn”. As it turns out, despite the frequency of rehabilitation’s being let out to bid and the bittersweet windfall of flood damage and loss, this work now comes in no more frequently than in better times when the bread and butter of new houses and barns kept my schedule flush, and the ledger something less than the current state of so damned ugly.

Another influence making me wonder was an unexpected reaction to my last diatribe here on the weblog. I fully expected some negative reaction from some certain direction, I had not held back, my piece was meant to evoke a reaction – Somehow, the expected never materialized.

I was however criticized for my outspoken stand on Glu-Lam. With this coming from someone within the design side of the capitol P Preservation community. I was a bit thunderstruck by this. A seeming condemnation, and this simply because I’d had the audacity to weigh in on both design, and the choice of materials.

I simply did not know how to react – I do know, I can count myself (this being not the time for humility) among those some certain few who share expertise in these structures. Beyond that, timber connections is what I do. Who better might weigh in? I have over time designed timber constructions with regularity. Why would I not?

So this a wake-up call. If some of those within my extended community doubt my sense of who I am, how is it I might expect anybody else might?

Niche carpentry, might be, even in a healthy market, a tough sell…

All the same, my less than trampled road sense of self, is all I have to sell. I also know that almost broken continuum yet exists, and happily, hard as it sometimes is, I am part of it.

I never felt myself more part of a long and continuing brotherhood of carpenters and builders than when I was a decade ago, able to reach through time and hold it in my hands. This while in attendance of the UK’s Carpenter’s Fellowship ’02 conference, speaking and demonstrating on Square Rule timber layout, I sat in on a talk given by Damian Goodburn, Archeologist and expert in ancient woodworks and carpentry. After the lecture we spoke at length, and I was somehow afforded the opportunity to physically examine a tenon which had been part of a Roman built wharf which stood on the banks of the River Thames in the former Londinium, and had survived two millennia in the oxygen deprived silt of the river bottom. The most striking thing about it was that despite the passage of some nineteen centuries and it being an object produced by a far different culture, was just how startlingly familiar it was. Right to the thickness of the tenon itself and its distance from either shoulder, down to the size and placement of the peghole. All measurable in imperial inches, by the six inch rule which still resides daily in the tool pocket of my carpenter’s pants.

Though The Romans are better known for their works of stone and concrete, the oldest wooden bridge we have deep description of is the Bridge of Sublicius, dating to sometime around 500 BC. Then there are the far better known examples of Caesar’s ten day bent piling bridge over the Rhine,

and the segmented arch bridge built by Appolodorus and Trajan which spanned the Danube.

And down through the ages, there are other great bridge building traditions.

Though my kinship felt has little if anything to do with any long lost Benedictine order, except that they also chose to exemplify their devotion in the building of bridges, I feel myself as part of a “Brethren” and find no guilt in borrowing their name.

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