Monday, August 27, 2012

2012 Northeast Tour

I just came back from a week's vacation, where my wife and I did a driving tour of a section of the the Northeast, as follows:

As you can see, we circled up from Massachusetts, into Vermont, then north to Montreal, Quebec, over to Quebec City, and then up the the Saguenay region of Quebec, where we did some camping. Then we drove down through New Brunswick, a Canadian Province I had never visited before, and stopped a night in its capital city of Saint John. Our trip finished with a trek through Maine, coming through the 'down east' region over to Bangor, where we stayed a night, and concluded with a wind down the coast route 1A, a brief transit through New Hampshire, and back to our home in W. Massachusetts. I took some wood- and architecture-related photos along the way which I thought might be of interest to readers here.

Our stop in Montreal allowed me to visit the Canadian Centre for Architecture, which has a library containing probably the most extensive collection of French traditional carpentry texts in N. America. As I was a researcher from out of Province, they opened up the library outside of normal visiting hours and let me in for a look-see. I was finally able to view an 11-volume set on carpentry put out by the Compannage Librarie in Paris back in the 1980's. I was eager to finally get to see it, however it was not quite what I had expected. Instead of bound volumes as normal sort of books, each box contains a volume, comprised of 8~12 folios wrapped in paper, all the pages loose-leaf so to speak. I didn't really think it was such a great format. The section of descriptive geometry for carpentry was much smaller than I had hoped, which was a disappointment. I spent a good two hours thumbing through all the volumes and in the end concluded that it was good I hadn't ventured the €1400 it would cost to buy used.

The Library also had an original edition of the Mazerolle classic, and I discovered that the original was not a bound volume but comprised of large folded plates only. The newer edition you can buy is a perfect reproduction, so I suspect the original printing plates must have been obtained somehow. They also had the original 3-volume set from Delataille, Art Du Trait Pratique De Charpente, and unlike the copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy that I have, the original was fairly clear and legible. Still incredibly cryptic, but legible, which was a big improvement.

Then I came across an intriguing volume by a mathematician names Joseph Alphonse Adhémar, (1797-1862), entitled Cours de Mathematiques à l'usage de l'ingenieur Civil. This work was published in 14 editions, from 1832 until 1856. I looked at their 1854 edition, which was in superb condition. Here's the title page:

Adhémar was a French mathematician who came into prominence after publishing a book in 1842 on the potential connection between ice ages and astrophysical phenomena, Révolutions de la mer. He then wrote Cours de Mathematiques in 1846, followed by a few additional works on descriptive geometry, linear perspective, and the related topic of shadows. While a book by a mathematician on civil engineering might seem somewhat unrelated to carpentry, in fact a huge amount of civil engineering in that day and age concerned timber structures and their connections. The book is filled with some incredible stuff, like these intricate compound internally tabled beams:

The illustrations were really  something - take a look at these sketches of truss framing:

Some illustrations of curved log layout:

I was really blown away by that book. I'm going to have to try and get a decent copy sometime. It won't be cheap.

As I had photographed a fair amount of Quebec's house architecture on my visit there last year, I didn't seek out too much more in that vein. I did however spot a house in Île d'Orléans, an island in the Saint Lawrence River just near Quebec city, that had recently been re-roofed with the lovely asymmetrical galvanized shingles seen on so many houses in the area:

By the way, click on any of the above pictures for a larger picture.

Down in New Brunswick we found the architecture - and food - to be far less interesting than in Quebec, however upon making a stop in a town called Hartland, we came across this wonder:

The is the longest covered bridge in the world, at nearly 1300' (396m):

I've even got the t-shirt now.

Like a lot of covered bridges, there is a lot of metal present, especially for those members which function in tension. Engineers however, like to spec. steel replacement pieces wherever they can, even if timber may have functioned adequately, like for bracing. On the other hand, knee braces are poor resisters of tension, and reinforcement or replacement of these members with steel makes a lot of good sense, as with these large braces found at the entrance and exit of the bridge:

 A look at the undercarriage:

 While most covered bridges in Vermont and New Hampshire seem to be of the Town Lattice type, all of the bridges I came across in Quebec and New Brunswick were of the otherwise-rare Howe Trussed type:

One point of interest for my wife and I in New Brunswick was to check out the Bay of Fundy, site of some of the highest tides in the world. We had a delightful drive out to the Bay of Fundy National Park, and on the way came across some more covered bridges, like this one:

Again, the Howe truss seems to be de rigueur in New Brunswick:

Note the metal rod to reinforce the knee brace at the entry truss, and the octagonal straining beam to which it attaches:

There was a second bridge a stone's throw from the first, which had slightly different detailing with the straining beam:

Some recent timber restoration work was evident, along with some metal knee braces in lieu of wood:

The undercarriage - note the metal tension rods underneath the primary truss chords:

One of the bolted hammerhead splices seen in the primary spanning truss chords:

As our trip wound down, we arrived in Bangor Maine. I had heard - as had quite a few others, apparently - that Steven King had a residence in Bangor, which was famous for its 'wrought iron fence'. Intrigued, and thinking that Steven King might be one of the few people out there who could actually afford a genuine wrought iron fence, I took a trip to see his place on W. Broadway, in an area of posh homes. To no great surprise, the fence was simply a mild steel affair, no wrought iron to be seen:

'Wrought  iron' is frequently described, but, alas, not too often seen. I think that few people really have any idea what it actually is. That said, the fabrication work with the mild steel was quite creative and well-executed:

Not the sort of fence most people would want, but fun to look at. Knowing the owner by his books, the fence is a good fit of course. King's property appeared to comprise two houses, and the right hand side of the two, which virtually all of the photographers seem to ignore, had the more interesting detailing in my view:

A lot of houses in this part of Bangor are in the Second Empire Style, and Mansards - which should really be called 'Mansart' roofs - were very much in evidence:

I see the multi-volume set by the compagnons society uses the term 'Mansart' now, though older French books were using 'Mansard'. It may well be impossible to change this word use now it is so well established, but I will try anyhow.

Another one:

I thought the dormer on this garage was unusual in form:

This delightful house has two towers, one octagonal and the other circular, with an unusual copper finial atop each roof:

In another part of town I spotted this somewhat ungainly structure with incorporated octagonal roof - kind of a neat idea over a sleeping porch if you ask me (though I would detail it differently):

On the final day of our adventure I popped by the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockland, ME, where there is a gallery of current instructor's work. Great schol, but like a lot of modern furniture, plywood and veneers are strong elements in many of the pieces, so I was not especially interested in most of what I saw. I did like this chair on display in the gallery, which sat very well, if you know what I mean, and rocked pleasingly too:

The material is English Walnut:

I liked the lines of the curved parts and the sensuousness minimalism of the piece. Glued together with floating tenons, glue laminations - not my way of making, but the result is a beautiful piece. Well done by the maker.

Well, that about wraps up my account of 'How I spent my Summer Vacation'. I hope readers found the tour of as much interest as I did. Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way and comments always welcome. googlefec1ae8fd0572e83.html


  1. Hi Chris,
    thank you for your blog. I'm havin wonderful time watching it. If you like books like the one from J. Adhemar, you should have a look at the french national library at

    You should like this link as well : and this one :

    PS : if you have a link where to get the one you introduce in this post, it would be wonderful.

  2. Hi Chris,

    you can get this book / download free at Google Books.
    Sample for german:

    Thanks for your blog

  3. Great trip and photos. Next time be sure to travel around the Gaspé peninsula. The beam and truss diagrams are fabulous! I went over the Hartland covered bridge a few times as a teenager on holiday, but never looked at it as a woodworker. Thanks for the great shots of the interior, which is usually not shown in photos.

  4. Chris

    About 30 years ago my wife and I went to a covered bridge festival in Pennsylvania. It was fun. One of the bridges was over a hundred years old, not surprising. One of the main beams, in the middle of the span, had a large mortice, no missing post anywhere. That was surprising. I'm sure that that beam was salvaged from an earlier structure. That earlier structure must have had a decent life span, 80 years I would guess. The tree that provided the long and large beam for that earlier structure must have grown for at least 80 years. 30+100+80+80=awe-inspiring.

    Long live covered bridges!


  5. Tom,

    thanks for the comment and I am 100% with you in having a love for covered bridges. I am delighted to live in an area of the country with so many examples to look at and admire.


  6. actually Adhémar's book is not that expensive!

    about 24 pounds

    1. Ronaldo,

      thanks for the message. Yes, the copy you link to is a lot cheaper, however it is also a print-on-demand new reproduction, not an original. I doubt the reprint is even remotely as large a book as the original for one thing, and that would be enough for me to give it a pass. When they shrink down 19th century book formats to suit modern book sizes, the detail of the illustrations tends to suffer greatly.



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