Compagnons du Tour de France and its connection with Timber Frames

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A Woodworkers Musings

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Timber Framing is “post-and-beam” construction.  A method of building with heavy timbers rather than traditional 2x4s. It uses heavy squared-off and carefully fitted and joined timbers with joints secured by large wooden pegs (larger versions of the mortise and tenon joints).  In the picture below you can see timber framing in the process of construction.

timberframenormandy-copyCoupesarte Manor (Normandy, France)

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Timber framed structures, especially the more elaborate or complex structures, are often times first built as a small scale timber frame model prior to construction.  (See below)

Image result for images of a french compagnonPicture from the private collection of Monsieur Claude Pignede

An example of a more complex model such as those used in hip roofs is owned by Rob Fargason.  It represents the entire upper portion of a barn.


Rob is an avid collector of timber frame models.  Below are more examples of whats considered to be a bit more simple in nature.  These models are ones that he has acquired on his many travels to France.





France has a strong tradition of timber framing which can still be seen in the architecture of homes, especially throughout the northern portion of France.  Many of these have been rendered by a Compagnon.


The Compagnon du Devoir is a French guild system (Guilds were and are associations of artisans or merchants who control the practice of their craft in a particular town) that dates back to the 13th century and has been educating the master craftsman of France since that time.  Many of the trades include mason, farrier, baker, pastry maker, winemaker and of course carpentry–to mention only a few.


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The word compagnon (companion) is a very old French word (Old World France) which means companion/compaignon – a person with whom one breaks bread.  A very intimate word coupled with the term Tour de France which refers to travel.

So what is the Compagnon du Tour de France?  It is a French organization of artisans and craftsmen that travel and move around the country of France doing apprenticeships with masters.  This organization dates back to the Middle Ages.

It is the traditional way to learn a trade while developing character through travel.  The young men and often a woman or two, live together in a house which may be five people to 100 people.  They live in a Compagnon house known as a cayenne and it is managed by a mere or mother.  In this case she is acting mother to all of these young people.  Currently there are more than 80 of these houses in France.

The woman in this picture is more than likely the mere of the house.

Les Compagnons du Tour de France

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The sash and the walking stick are presented by the full Compagnon to the Aspirant upon adoption and acceptance of the Aspirant’s initial project.   Once an Aspirant you are required to work in your trade under  Compagnons and travel for the next three to five years.

During the students time of traveling and studying he has to have also earned recognition of his peers.  A candidate must also prove himself a final time by creating a “masterpiece”– an example of his best work. This presupposes demonstrable competence within the particular trade.  If the masterpiece is accepted, the apprentice is presented an invitation to become a full Compagnon — and lastly is presented with a new walking stick that reaches the height of the heart and dubbed Compagnon!
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A compagnon’s “best work” is considered his masterpiece.  Masterpieces can take in excess of 700 hours to create.  Many of these master-pieces  are housed in museums.

Some of the most brilliant masterpieces are displayed at the Musees du Compagnonnage in Tours and Paris.

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– French Compagnon House Carpenter Great Masterpiece –
 Below is an example of such finery.
French Compagnon House Carpenter Great Masterpiece 1
Looking up close you can see the intricate detail – an exact model of what would be built to scale.
Image result for compagnon masterpieceFrench Compagnon House Carpenter Great Masterpiece 9
Please note:  With exception to those owned by Rob Fargason, a few of the models pictured in this post can be found on 1st Dibs-the particular one above is offered by Raphael Bedos.   On very rare occasions they can be purchased from individuals and antique stores.
Some pictures were also used in this post from the Historical Carpentry to educate and inform.  
This post may contain links and other sources for educational purposes.
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Au Revoir!  A La Prochaine!!