French Oak is There but At What Cost?
The fire at Notre Dame in Paris is just heartbreaking. As a woodworker (heck, as a human being) seeing such an amazing example of architecture destroyed hurts my heart deeply. The craftsmanship built into that structure boggles the mind and the impact it had on millions of people cannot be overstated. Today we start to look at the future and how it can be rebuilt. From a lumber perspective this raises a great many questions. The French Oak of Notre Dame is massive in the size of each individual timber as well as the number used. Is it even possible to replace them?
This episode focuses on the species French Oak (Quercus robur) and a bit more about its working properties, its availability, and the not so lovely truths about the trade around it. I discuss some of the history of the timbers involved in building the cathedral and discuss whether or not it is even possible to replace those original parts. More importantly, is it the right thing to do. This episode raises more questions than answers. I would love to hear from the listeners on their thoughts about the reconstruction and what modern methods could be employed. Is it possible while maintaining the historical impact and accuracy?
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Perry Chappano says
Awesome podcast Shannon, no matter what Mark says 😉 Rock on!
Arron Pauley says
Great update on the French oak.
Stephen Bloomberg says
This is a great podcast!
My wife keeps saying she heard there are trees in Canada that could be used for rebuilding the attic. When I asked her where she heard it, she said it was from a post she read and she can’t remember from what site. Reminds me of the “one guy, one post” about the oaks at Versailles you mentioned.
You are absolutely correct that they should use a fire resistant material. Even steel if the stonework can take the weight. If they must have wood, they could use laminated beams with veneered faces to look like solid beams. Like the ones you made for the home in Hawaii.
I question whether or not any trees that would match the size and volume specifications can be used on such a high profile project like this. The court of public opinion really looks askance at projects like this. Even though sustainable silvicultural practices are in use for many species, when a high profile project calls for a lot of the material, things get shut down. This could be good or bad depending on the species and the specific trade but it is what happens regardless.
Tom Schaefer says
Thanks Shannon. What a great episode to listen too as a new listener. I had a few comments on what I heard.
When I heard of the fire I was like many and deeply saddened by the events as it unfolded. Not only to the potential loss of an iconic building but also the centuries of old timber going up inflames. I had vision of the bell towers that my wife saw at sunset some years before now engulfed in flames and the bells tumbling down.
I’ve toured the roof in an old castle in Denmark and wonder then as I’d do now that why in this day of age wasn’t there some sort of fire suppression system. I tell my son all the time the first rule of ANYTHING is to be safe. To me it’s almost irresponsible for them as stewards of the building not to have some sort of system in place. I live in a house that is 119 years old and I’m installing a fire suppression system as we remodel. Another thought came to mind was that I highly doubt they would be able to located enough old growth trees to reconstruct the entire roof. I’m all for nostalgia but maybe a metal structure might be better suited going forward. You can’t see it anyway.
Something else you mentioned that was very thought provoking that I hadn’t given much thought too is the illegal harvesting of trees. It just never occurred to me. I tend to buy wood from local mills that mill urban/local trees. So as I buy imported wood in the further I will be careful and ask the questions upfront where it is sourced.
Thanks again. I really enjoyed your podcast.
Don’t be afraid of exotic lumber. In fact one of the best ways to encourage sustainable forestry practices is by supporting the trade. If the species have value more companies will taken on the considerable expense of managing a forest concession and maintaining the chain of custody paperwork and efforts. When a species is boycotted or regulated out of trade, the land the trees are on becomes more valuable than the trees themselves and this is what leads to the number one cause of deforestation: cattle and other grazing animals. In a future episode I will devote some time to recognizing what lumber is legit and what questions to be asking as you consider exotic species. Probably many future episodes as the equation is a complex one and mostly we as buyers need to just be aware of the upstream factors.
Jeremy Specce says
Shannon, I want to thank you for this episode, it was enlightening, interesting, and engaging. I began to listen among a few coworkers who have zero knowledge or interest in woodworking. They giggled and rolled their eyes as you started talking about S4S boards and lumber grading. By minute three, I tell you they were riveted! This is a tragedy but your take on it was absolutely fascinating. Great job, you are off to an incredible start.
Wanted to chime in a bit as this episode was especially enlightening. I had no knowledge of the French Oak market, but in a historic structure like this, should wood or laminated beams even be reused at all? The old roof was built with what they had in the 1300’s – old growth wood and 250 tons of lead. Restoring the look of the old building can easily be done with what we have in abundance today – namely steel and a lighter roofing material. The span and angles of a steel frame would be easy by today’s standards, far lighter and stronger, and wouldn’t burden the aging stone walls nearly as much. I’ve even seen a few more radical proposals for creating a glass roof and greenhouse on top of the cathedral.
I guess it comes down to faithfully recreating the past vs building upon it.
Thanks for the episode and I look forward to more .
Jason Goodrich says
So interesting to hear such a different take on a current issue. Thank you.