Bell Towers

“There are some things that cannot be learned quickly, and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things, and because it takes a man’s life to know them, the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.”

Ernest Hemingway

Timber framing is unique among the operative crafts in that, with a relatively modest set of tools, we can create strong, durable structure from readily available raw material; while developing human capital at the same time. By now, even though we know this, precious few of us actually do it.

My first experience with the Timber Framers Guild was the Guelph bridge, which inspired me, and apparently revived the Guild. A few years later, as I watched the inception of the Business Council, the emphasis shifted away from craft. At the time, I wanted to say, “If you’ll support craft, and education, they will in turn support business.” Instead … we had a strong economy, production with CNC machines became popular, and business began making redundant a generation of skilled workers. Then, the sub-prime crash gutted the building market…


My first book on timber framing was Cecil Hewett’s English Historic Carpentry. Near the beginning, Hewett describes the Rhenish helm at Sompting as, “… a work of such assurance and competence, achieved with such economy of means, that it both indicates the work of a master and suggests the previous existence of a tradition of framing such works.” I have studied the Rhenish Helm as thoroughly as research and reading will allow. The definitive form is primarily associated with churches of the later Romanesque era, typically as a tower roof.

Some years ago, I built a scale model of the Sompting tower roof. While the upper rafters are engaged in the structure, the lower ones aren’t; they apparently were laid on after the main structure was raised. There has been speculation that the original tower might have been taller (conceivably built under the aegis of the Knights Templar, documents show that it was conveyed to the Knights Hospitallers in the 14th c.), owing in part to the scarf joints in the central tower.

Last spring, I stumbled across an old school bell in a junk shop, and started scheming on building a bell tower, because, “Why not?” I reasoned that in a smaller structure, the heavy timber work of Sompting wasn’t necessary. Anachronistically, that structure could be replaced with Gothic arches. Now, there’s space for a bell. This year, if the gods are willing, I will gather together a few people and build a bell tower. Will anyone hear it? Who knows…

As we begin another Dark Age, I sit here on a small blue dot in a vast sea of red … uncertain of the future. There is no promise of continuity in either culture or craft.

“There’s two ways to ring a church bell. One way, you pull the rope and let go, so the two claps come one right after the other. That’s the way they ring it for church service or a camp meeting. They call that the meeting bell.

The other way, you pull the rope and hold it, then let go, so there’s a little wait between the first clap and the second. And, when you hear that, you drop what you’re doing and come running, because that’s the way they ring it when there’s a fire or an accident, or someone has taken sick and died. It means someone is in need of help. And they call that the mourning bell.”

T. Crunk, New Covenant Bound

Mayday mayday mayday




Carpenter: woodcarver with a bent for typography, music, poetry, good design & living well in peace and harmony. Un-apologetically Southern; literate…

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michael langford

michael langford

Carpenter: woodcarver with a bent for typography, music, poetry, good design & living well in peace and harmony. Un-apologetically Southern; literate…

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