Dictum Workshop

by Mathieu

This is a short report of the workshop I gave for Dictum in Germany where we built a model of a Japanese hip roof. It took me a lot of time to prepare this workshop and when I was ready with all the prep work I looked forward to actually making it happen. One of the participants, a Canadian carpenter living in the UK, drove to Belgium and traveled to Niederalteich Germany with me. I was grateful for the company on the seven and a half hour drive. The car’s radio didn’t work so we were forced to talk carpentry the whole time, which you can imagine was very boring.  Maxim has a wonderful sense of humor and helped me get int touch with my sarcastic side.

From the start of the course it was clear that everything was organized very well and that the people at Dictum are highly professional. Their workshop is well equipped, with handtools covering the walls – they have all the tools you ever wanted. Everything was provided for each participant. If there was anything missing or if there were not enough blockplanes for instance we just had to ask and the tools were brought instantly. It sure was very pleasant to teach at their facilities. Of course not everything was perfect and I could comment on the sharpness of some of the chisels at hand. Some of them where not all that sharp and if there is something I dislike it is dull tools. But I have also learned that everyone’s definition of sharp is different and mine is somewhat at one of the spectrum.  All the free drinks and pastries during the breaks made up for it to a certain extent I guess.

The course took four days and this is a long time to be smashed around the head with triangles and roof geometry you barely understand at first. Most of the participants had little experience with roof geometry so it was only logical that it took them some time to get their heads around the subject. Luckily for me they where all very talented and bright and it became quickly apparent that none of them had great difficulties understanding what I was trying to explain. One participant, Eberhardt a 70 year old farmer, spoke little English and the language barrier between us was minor issue. He was very creative and could visualize things easily, above all it was clear that he understood wood very well. Not so surprising for a farmer. Besides the language he had all the skills it took to understand the content of the course and it only took some extra personal attention from my part to make sure he stayed on the track.

I tried to keep the balance between theory and practice and wanted to spend as much time dealing with the actual layout on the wood. The content of the course, an introduction to Japanese roof geometry, is theoretical enough in it’s self and the more practical it remains the better.

cutting jackrafter

Progress was a bit slower then I hoped and it seems that I am always to optimistic about progress in general. I readjusted our bearings and decided to concentrate on the layout and not prioritize the cut out of all the joinery. As long as one understands the whole layout process it remains a matter of cutting to the lines and assembling it all. (In theory that is.)

After four days I was happy to see that every single participant was able to complete all aspects of the layout involved with a simple hiprafter in a 45° to plan angle. Depending on the participants they completed between 70 and 90% of the joinery.

Most of the participants had one or several eureka moments during the course. You know, this sudden moment where the impenetrable fog disapaers and things start to become clear in way you couldn’t imagine? When I heard this from the students it made me happy to see that somehow all these triangles and their internal relation started to stick to them. This was exactly what the course was about, training your visualization skills with compound angled planes and understanding the relation of triangles and where they are found in the roof.

model

It was the first time I taught this course and if I do it again there are probably some things I would adjust. If I know look back at it I can say it was a success since I got nothing then positive responses and emails and the students told me they would love to take another course with me in the future. I really appreciate these comments because I am always a bit insecure about the outcome of such a course.

At the moment I have not made any plans for another workshop but since Dictum asked me to teach at their facilities again there is a chance I will repeat it or do something similar. I can’t really think of such a thing at the moment since this course was very intense for me as well. All the talking and placing yourself in someone else’s mind to understand the points where they are struggling with eats up a lot of your energy. Combine this with two seven and a half hour trips to Eastern Germany and you can imagine how I felt after this week. Happy and satisfied but exhausted as well.

Klöster liqueur

I would like to thank all the participants for joining the course and hope they will continue their study in roof geometry. I am sure some of them will.

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