May 22, 2018
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Old craft to be taught anew at wood hewing workshop in Brooks

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

BROOKS, Maine — This weekend, the air around the Newforest Institute in Brooks will ring with the sound of axes meeting pine logs, as local craftsman Mike Beaudry teaches his old skills to a new group of people.

With no machines and no power other than that provided by human muscle, Beaudry and others will turn the logs into a roof frame for a solar shower building.

“Hewing allows me, with no money, to walk into the woods and get all the timbers I need to put a frame together,” he said Wednesday. “Those skills shouldn’t be lost.”

Beaudry, 58, a longtime timber framer, timber hewer, builder of log structures and author who lives in Montville, became interested in traditional building techniques when he and his wife, Claudette, moved to Maine from southern New Hampshire in the 1970s.

“I just wanted to be closer to the earth. I wanted to live my life not in a suburban routine,” he said. “I moved up here with very little money and very little skill. I just started to do it, and I fell in love with timbers. I developed a passion for it.”

During the two-day workshop at Newforest Institute, which was established in 2006 as a sustainable agriculture and sustainable living center, participants will have the chance to hoist their broadaxes and turn logs into squared timbers.

Once the timbers have taken shape, Beaudry said, he will show folks how to cut them so that they will fit together like pieces in a puzzle. Once this joinery has been done, they will then drill holes in the timber and place a wooden peg in it.

This type of building is very strong and very old, Beaudry said, with all old post-and-beam houses in Maine built in this way.

“It was a tried and proven method for a long time,” he said.

With the industrial revolution came factory-built 2-by-4s and cheap nails. But for generations before that, craftsmen like him were able to turn the trees from their woodlots into stout homesteads.

Interest in the art of hewing timber and making timber frame structures has grown in recent years.

“Nationwide, it seems to be picking up,” Beaudry said. “A lot of restoration people want their project to match, and a lot of young back-to-the-landers are interested.”

For more than a decade, he has been going to the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity in the fall to demonstrate this technique to passers-by.

“We attract pretty big crowds all the way through the weekend,” he said.

But with so many people asking lots of questions about the process, it’s hard to accomplish much with the joinery during the fair. The weekend project at the Newforest Institute should allow for a more focused teaching style.

So far, interest has been solid, with six people having registered to take part in the workshop, according to the institute’s executive director, Susan Cutting.

“We’re looking forward to a really good weekend,” she said.

Beaudry’s craft, which uses local, natural materials to make something which will support sustainable living techniques is a perfect fit for the institute, she said. The farm there serves as a demonstration site for permaculture projects.

“It makes sense. It’s kind of crazy that we’ve forgotten how to build without using these things,” Cutting said.

Beaudry said the physical effort that is part of hewing and framing with timber is great. At 58 years old, he feels he won’t be able to do the work for much longer, but is very glad that he followed his dream to Maine and to a more natural and traditional way of life.

“I’m living pretty much the way I want to live,” he said.

He’s also glad that others are seeing the value in this kind of knowledge.

“Being forever dependent on lumber coming from somewhere else seems to not be the safest way to go,” Beaudry said. “I think that we need to keep the skills, whatever the skills, for your home and for your life. We need them to not disappear.”

For more information about the workshop at the Newforest Institute in Brooks, which will be held Saturday, May 7, and Sunday, May 8, email or call 722-3625. The fees are on a sliding scale from $90 to $180 and include lunch and snacks.

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