passing on knowledge
"Guédelon is built on the strength of the castle's foundations of course, but also on the strength of the team"
(Maryline Martin, Guédelon co-founder, extract from Guédelon Guédelon Des hommes fous un château fort, Ed. Aubanel, 2004)
Today 70 members of staff work at Guédelon, 40 of whom are directly concerned with the castle’s construction.
The team comes from a wide range of backgrounds; some are qualified craftsmen, others have learnt on-the-job. Through the transformation of materials, the Guédelon team is reviving heritage craft skills and shedding light on the world of medieval construction.
On the construction site, open to the public, each craftsmen has two missions, each as important as the other: they are here to carry out their craft, but they are also responsible for explaining their work to visitors.
Florian Renucci is the master-mason. He is responsible for drawing up the plans and, along with the scientific committee, the technical supervision of the project.
The team is given a helping hand by those we call our «bâtisseurs» (master-builders). Each year, around 650 people choose to play a hands-on role in the venture. Stone enthusiasts, novices wanting to try their hand at castle-construction or students on work placements may, for a few days, immerse themselves in life on the construction site.
- Master-builder course: designed for individuals wishing to actively participate in building a castle. No specific skills are required: to apply only a positive attitude, the willingness to learn and an interest in the work we're carrying out are needed.
- Work placements: these are for students wishing to work at Guédelon as part of their professional training. Guédelon is a certified Training Centre for stonemasonry, joinery and hand-hewing.
- Groups: As part of an educational programme, small groups of students work on site accompanied by their group leader.
The quarrymen require a keen sense of observation in order to be able extract high-quality blocks without exhausting themselves. It takes several years to learn to "read the stone". The quarrymen read the rock by observing its colour, seeking out the stone's natural fracture lines. The darker the rock, the harder it will be to split. When the rock is a yellowy-orange, it will be easier to split and dress. The quarrymen prefer a bank of rust-red quarry which will provide high-quality stone that is not too hard for the stonemasons to dress.
After having found the best fracture line, the quarrymen makes a line of wedge holes. Then, he places wedges in the wedge holes. He hits the wedges very hard with his sledgehammer. The stone will then split cleanly and easily.
The quarrymen work to order. The master-mason provides a precise list of the stones to be quarried, with details of the sizes, thickness and quality required.
The banker masons dress sandstone (red stone) and limestone (white stone). They understand and use geometry every day. They use a wooden floor to trace full-scale designs of the features to build. Once the design has been drawn on the tracing floor, the stonemasons reproduce each element which needs dressing on wooden templates called moulds.
- the mason's mark: this is his signature. It allows the master-mason to check the quality of work. In the Middle Ages, the stonemasons were somtimes paid per finished stone.
- positioning marks: this shows exactly where the stone will be positioned in the castle. The fixer-masons then know precisely where to fix the stone.
Fixer masons are often represented on medieval miniatures working high walls with the three essential tools of their trade: trowel, plumb-line and a mason’s level.
Often less celebrated than other crafts, the role of a fixer mason is not simply limited to placing one stone on top of another. The masons must also be capable of assembling complicated features from dressed stone: gothic windows, rib-vaults, groin vaults, barrel vaults, domed vaults etc. The building of a vault is a complex operation; the masons must place each stone in such a way that the load is equally distributed.
The mortar makers are responsible for making the mortar which will bind the stones. The mortar is a mix of non-hydraulic lime, sand and water, but the exact composition varies according to the materials being used and where the mortar will be employed in the construction.
The basic ingredients are always the same, but the mortar makers make up different types of mortar:
flexible mortars for use in vaults, arches etc.
fine mortar for use on the facing walls
coarse mortar for use in the walls’ rubble cores
By adjusting the dosage of lime, by using different sand grades and varying the water content, they achieve the different types of mortar required in the construction.
The mortar is mixed with long hoes on wooden boards.
At Guédelon, the woodsmen work mainly with oak.
Each tree is selected for felling according to its length, girth and shape. It is felled with a specific purpose in mind. Curved branches are selected for specific uses; once squared up, each piece will be used to make up curved angle braces for the roof timbers or a workshop. By squaring up along the natural grain of the wood makes the assembled structure stronger than wood from modern saw mills which don't respect the grain direction.
If the required shape of tree aren't available in Guédelon forest, oaks are bought in from a neighbouring woodland.
The woodsmen fell the trees using wedges and an axe. Once the tree is down, it is squared up while the wood is still green making the work much easier with side-axes. Squaring up involves making a section of timber square by removing the bark and part of the sapwood to make beams, rafters, joists...