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Notre-Dame Milestone: French Oak Trusses Arrive Via Seine

Six wooden triangles, each weighing seven tonnes, were installed on the cathedral roof by crane. The pieces will be fitted-together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.


Sun 30 Jul 23

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When Norte-Dame de Paris Cathedral went up in flames, architectural experts warned that bringing the cathedral back to its original condition be a near-impossible dream.

As reported by Wood Central, French President Macron is pushing to have the landmark restored in time for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games – just over five years after the fire.

Earlier this month, the trusses for the new roof, made from French Oak, made their way along the Seine in two big barges. 

“The river was closed to other traffic for the operation,” according to the Guardian.

There were “oohs” from crowds on the banks of the Seine as the first of six wooden triangles, each weighing seven tonnes, were installed on the cathedral roof by crane.

Parisian crowds watch on as Oak Trusses rise to the roof of Notre Dame. (Photo Credit: Christophe Ena from AP).

Over the next two months, the pieces will be fitted-together like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

The reconstruction of the wooden structure, historically known as la forêt (the forest) because of its size and density, marks a symbolic step in the rebirth of the cathedral, one of Paris’s emblematic landmarks.

ABC News’ Ines De la Cuetara reports on the effort to rebuild Notre-Dame, with Americans joining the precise repairs—Footage Courtesy of @ABCNews.

Architects, carpenters, painters and foremen worldwide work on the 800-year-old landmark created by hand, not even a nail on the roof.

They include Will Gusakov, a timber framer from Vermont, who moved to France six months ago to lend his hand, using his expertise on the same techniques used in the middle ages.

Carpenters, including Will Gusakov, use centuries-old techniques to rebuild and restore Norte-Dame Cathedral. (Photo Credit: ABC News).

“There’s a certain amount of pressure and pride in trying to do it right because this is such an important, high-profile building,” he told ABC News Live earlier this week.

Gusakov is one of six American carpenters in the cathedral’s ongoing restoration project.

According to Jean-Louis Georgelin, the retired army general heading the reconstruction, “We want to restore this cathedral as it was built in the Middle Ages.”

“It is a way to be faithful to the [handiwork] of all the people who built all the extraordinary monuments in France.”

General Jean Louis Georgelin next to the Notre-Dame restoration site. Dated 2020. (Photo Credit: Supplied).

The project used 1500 oak trees; the spire base – weighing over 80 tonnes – was hoisted and installed in the Cathedral in May. 

The 96-metre-high spire, added in 1859 by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, is being reconstructed as it was.

Allaying fears of what the French president, Emmanuel Macron, had called a “contemporary gesture” being incorporated, along with other far-fetched schemes to turn the roof into a park or swimming pool.

“Every log has a number that corresponds to a GPS coordinate, and that is being traced throughout the entire process so that every piece of wood we know exactly where in the forest it came from,” Gusakov said. 

“And that’s basically for future research on what happens to the wood and different characteristics based on geography.”

Facing a tight deadline, carpenters and architects use computer design and other modern technologies to speed up the reconstruction.

Computers draw detailed plans for carpenters to help ensure their hand-chiselled beams fit together perfectly.

“Traditional carpenters had a lot of that in their head,” according to Peter Henrikson, one of the US carpenters involved in the project. 

“[It’s] pretty amazing to think about how they did this with what they had, the tools and technology they had at the time.”

Peter Henrikson, a timber framer, measures a beam for the new roof.(Photo credit: AP from Jeffrey Schaeffer)

Notre-Dame’s roof structure is known as ‘the forest.’

The fire’s fuel source was Notre-Dame’s famous “forest”—massive beams crafted from 5000 oaks aged between 300 and 400 years felled around 1200.

Despite the enormity of the tragedy, the actual damage was confined mainly to the roof and the colossal beams that upheld it.

Workers are finishing the replacement of Notre-Dame’s roofing from hundreds of ancient French oaks.
Workers are replacing Notre-Dame’s roofing from hundreds of ancient French oaks.

The Notre-Dame “forest” refers to a dense collection of old-growth timber.

These timbers date back to the 13th century when builders harvested 5000 oak trees from 522 hectares of an ancient forest.

When harvesting, each tree was between 300 to 400 years old. The harvested timber supports the cathedral’s roof and its 200-tonne lead cladding.

As reported by Wood Central, from September 2021 to January 2022, 45 sawmills across France processed oak trees into timbers. Little by little, each oak was stripped of its bark and cut into 36 cm sections for planking.  

Each of these venerable beams was over 800 years old, perfectly dry, and arranged with ample space and air around them, and when the fire broke out, they acted much like an enormous lattice of kindling.

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  • Wood Central

    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.

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