Historic art of hewing is popular


“This topic deals with my favourite topic, hewing. To that end I am asking those that can square timber by hand the ‘old’ way to drop by for a chat,” wrote ‘Northern Hewer’ on the Timber Framing Guild website’s forum.

Richard Casselman, otherwise known as ‘Northern Hewer’ first started this thread about four years ago. Since that time over 500,000 interested people have visited the site, proving that interest in the historic art of hewing is still alive and well in the world.

“It does seem to me that there is much interest in the preservation of the old ways and methods,” said Casselman, a long time resident of the area. He was introduced to timber framing by his father, Ross, many years ago. 

Interestingly, both men were previously employed by Upper Canada Village (UCV). According to Richard, his father “was in charge of the restoration of many of the log and timber frame structures at Upper Canada Village during the time frame 1958 to 1961. These structures include the Saw Mill, the Woolen Mill, both Craft houses, the Fort, the Cheese Factory, the Bakery, both Dutch barns” and more.

As for Richard himself, he “was involved in maintaining these structures and in overseeing the addition of the Grist Mill, two Drive sheds, one three-bay English barn, the Tin Shop, the Smoke House, and the Harvest Barn.”

Richard worked at UCV for approximately 30 years before he finally retired.  “During my tenure at UCV, I was very fortunate to have been chosen to work closely with many great artisans. My group put together yearly and daily events that not only showed the old techniques but, in the process, we managed to bring to life many types and styles of the early building and construction styles that were disappearing in this area, thereby preserving them for future generations.”

To call him a timber framing enthusiast would be an understatement. Richard Casselman is passionately devoted to preserving local heritage, especially with respect to structures and buildings.

“Since retirement, I have tried to carry on helping and showing many people the old ways, both on the Internet and locally. I take great pride in striving to retain heritage buildings in this area,” he said. As an example, he pointed to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Morrisburg. The Church, he said, was built in 1875 and “exhibits, on its exterior facade, hand made bricks of various colours set in lime mortar and, on the interior, the original paint graining on the pews (as well as) the plastered walls set on wood lathes with nicely rounded ceiling edges to enhance the sound distribution.”

As for Casselman’s forum thread, he said he “mainly talks about historic woodworking, hewing, timber framing, and, at times, strays away to other historic subjects.” He admits that he likes to talk about “life in the days gone.” People are interested, he believes, because “it’s not coming from a book; it’s coming from a person. I’ve lived that transition. I’ve seen both sides of the equation,” he said. Here, Casselman referred to his early days, before modern inventions and technology, when, for instance, people “hunkered down” for winter. 

“There is a real interest out there for true historic talk and displays,” said Casselman. “There’s an awfully big movement in the States and in Europe, too, to learn the old ways again.”

Through the forum thread, “I have been asked on many occasions to solve problems that deal with the old trades, especially historic timber framing, but discussions might lead into other associated topics like historic millwrighting, paint graining, and water and steam powered mills,” said Casselman. “The interest in this site shows that public support and interest is there to retain and reconstruct examples of our heritage that we are losing.”

“I hope that we can retain our local historic structures as well as other out buildings like the only surviving swing beam barn that remains in this area. There were two about 20 years ago, (but) now only one remains. With its demise, we will lose a great part of our heritage for future generations.”

Richard continues trying to preserve the old techniques at home and on the Internet. His thread on timber framing is still going strong with an average of 2,000 views per day.

Forums and Threads

“A Web forum is a website or section of a website that allows visitors to communicate with each other by posting messages. Most forums allow anonymous visitors to view forum postings, but require you to create an account in order to post messages in the forum. When posting in a forum, you can create new topics (or “threads”) or post replies within existing threads.” (www.techterms.com)

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