French scribing is not only a skill. It plays an important symbolic role in the initiation and value system of the companions of the Tour de France (that is, the journeymen companions). The successive rites of passage (novice, journeyman, confirmed journeyman) of the carpenters make metaphorical use of aspects borrowed from the field of scribing. More than a technical discipline, scribing represents the gold standard of a veritable vision of the world that is specific to the world of the guild, passing on its values.
   ’It is called the art of scribing, and in the word “art” there is something that invokes the mind. This characteristic of the French scribing method is based on a line of axis and a level line which symbolizes the earth, having one’s feet on the ground. The line of axis means to be upstanding. These two axes constitute the underlying principle of the art of scribing. Rotations are made of the plain figures in order to obtain life-size values. Geometry is the touchstone of precision and reality. It is possible to divide a circle into seven equal parts using a compass, which could never be done in mathematics with figures as there is always something after the decimal point, but not after the compass. Scribing affords immediate real-life access to the volumes and the thicknesses of the timber. Unlike descriptive geometry with its simple lines, the process here concerns the assembling of pieces of wood that have sections and lengths that must be adapted to their intended use’ (Jean Louis Valentin, Compagnon Charpentier du Devoir du Tour de France)

Model of three cones interpenetrating

source (http://imagesdouvrages.free.fr/trait7.htm)

 The Stereotomical drawing of three interpenetrating cones

source (http://imagesdouvrages.free.fr/trait6.htm)

    The French scribing system brings together the different graphic possibilities in use in France since the thirteenth century to express, with drawings of the greatest possible precision, the reality of a building’s volumes, how they fit together and the characteristics of the pieces of timber that frame them. It is taught in its own specific way, quite distinct from architectural theory and practice. Using this procedure during the prefabrication phase, the carpenter can identify on the ground all the constituent pieces, irrespective of their complexity, and can thus be sure that when the frame is assembled, even the most complex and voluminous elements will fall perfectly into place.

A short video of the inscription of 'Le Trait" into the UNESCO

In french

The carpenters Sainte-Joseph ceremony in 1900.

source (Romanèche-Thorins, Musée départemental du compagnonnage Pierre-François Guillon)

School for the Compagnon Carpenters at Tours. 1905-1906

source (http://www.museecompagnonnage.fr/compagnonnage-main-perfectionnement.html)

Pierre Guillon is found in the middle of that years class with a compass in his right hand.
source (http://www.romaneche-thorins.com/personnages.php#guillon)
Pierre Guillon, Compagnon Charpentier du Devoir de Liberte
source (http://www.balades-bourgogne.fr/en/node/26)
Pierre-François Guillon with his family in front of his school.

source (http://www.balades-bourgogne.fr/en/node/26)

(top left) - Pierre François Guillon is in the center with some students

(top right) - He is to be found in the center of that years class with the large compass in his right hand

(bottom) - Two students of his showing that years models they built

source (http://www.romaneche-thorins.com/personnages.php#guillon)

A recent front view of Pierre Francois' school of "trait" in Romanèche-Thorins. It now is home to the

'Musée départemental du compagnonnage'.

source (http://www.officiel-galeries-musees.com/musee/musee-guillon-du-compagnonnage)

Carpenters at the peak of the belfry carpentry

source (http://imageretro.free.fr/echafaudage.htm)

This is the grand works of the Compagnon carpenter Mr. Pierre Bertrand. A sloping guitarde dormer in an imperial form with a twisted pinnacle on a circular base. Built in the first quarter of the 20th century. 
Source - http://www.monumentum.fr/maison-lucarnes-type-compagnonnique-pa45000003.html 

An 1892 stereotomical drawing "epure" of a spiral staircase, or 'escalier a vis' from the school of 'trait' in Romaneche Thorins.

source (http://imagesdouvrages.free.fr/trait25.htm)

source ("Dome tors et Fleche torse a devers" planche 111-112 p.268 'Traite Theorique et Pratique de Charpenter" Par Louis Mazerolle edition H. Vial)

The 'trait' or "L'art du trait' is the combination of techniques and operations that supports the construction of carpentry.

source (http://imagesdouvrages.free.fr/trait_de_charpente.htm#1)

Click here if you want to see more art that include master pieces of Trait.

Here are some examples of what Patrick did with Le Trait. Click here to view more.

   Alexander Morel, known as Lyonnais la Loyaute (The Loyal One from Lyon). Thanks to the training he received at Romaneche, in 1927 he was named one of the first Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. He put hi talents to use in Morocco, Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Switzerland. Some of his 'master pieces' are on exhibit in the museum.


   In addition to being an extraordinary professor of Trait, Pierre Francois Guillon was also mayor of Romaneche-Thorins, a freemasonic dignitary, and president of the superior council of the devoir de liberte. he died in 1923, but through the museum in Romaneche, which is housed in his former school, his memory and work remain alive on the Tour de France. All lovers of compagnonnage owe it to themselves to visit this sanctuary of the indiens, which was founded by the son of Pierre, Osiris Guillon, who wanted to assemble in one place the remains of his father's work.

   Raoul Thorel, known as Louvier L'Ami du Trait (The Friend of Trait from Louviers), who attended the school in 1879 and 1880. He later built the Palais des Eaux et Forets for the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris as well as the Tanarville embankments in Le Havre.

   Victor Auclair, known as Bourbonnais L'Enfant du Progres (The Child of Progress from Bourbonnais). After studying with Guillon from 1883 to 1885, he went to South America where he helped to rebuild the cities of Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile, after they were severely damaged by earthquakes. Auclair was instrumental in popularizing the use of reinforced concrete, and the cathedral of Santiago is his masterpiece in this technique.

   Guillaume Cartierm known as Carcasson l"enfant du Progres (The Child of Progress from Carcassone); After studying with Guillon from 1893 to 1895, he worked on many important projects in France and South America. his specialty was hoisting materials during the construction of aqueducts.

   Claude Matrat, known as Beaujolais l'Enfant du Progres (The Child of Progress from the Beaujolais), who attended the school from 1877 to 1879. He built the Palais des Arts Appliques for the 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.

    An exceptionally gifted carpenter, Pierre Francois Guillon took to heart the centuries-old law of compagnonnage; pass on the legacy of the elders. In this spirit, in October of 1871, he created the Ecole Pratique de Stereotomie Appliquee a la Construction (School of Applied Stereotomy). Henceforth, Guillon's reputation spread far and wide. From all the provinces of France as well as from Algeria, Switzerland, and even the United States, students came to Romaneche to learn carpentry, joinery, stair construction, marquetry, and stone cutting. In his school, he trained a large number of exceptional journeymen, contractors, and stone dressers, including, notable;

    J. Boucher, known as Lamarche le Soutien de Salomon (The Stay of Salomon from Lamarche), who attended the school from 1874 to 1876. He later became the chief architect of the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the urbanist of Montevideo, Uruguay.

    Borne June 13th, 1848, in Romaneche-Thorins, Pierre Francois Guillon completed his Tour de France and became a journeymen carpenter of the devoir de liberte on March 19, 1866, in Auxerre, taking as his symbolic name Maconnais L'Enfant du Progres (The Child of Progress from Macon). In 1867, he met Agricol Perdiguer, and the encounter has a profound influence on his humanist orientation. After working in Blois, Paris, Angers, Chenonceaux, and Tours, he returned to Romaneche in 1869 to take over his father's workshop, greatly enriched by his experiences and having acquired formidable skills.

Worker's University - The school of Trait: Romaneche-Thorins


    This little village in the department of Saone-et-Loire, right in the middle of the Beaujolais, some ten miles from Macon, is of great interest to anyone intrigued by journeymen traditions. This charming and peaceful town is home to a museum devoted to the glory and achievement of an extraordinary journeyman: Pierre Francois Guillon, the indien of Romaneche. His is a story of workers' universities.

Click here to see more great works of Art.


Now available - Online courses

    The art of stereotomical drawings is alive and well in France, with instruction being given in various training centers and Maisons des Compagnons (Journeymen Houses) and it is still part of the training system guaranteed by the national education system. However, with the recent impressive growth in digitally-controlled machines that are gradually being adopted by businessmen, it is to be feared that in about 10 years, instruction in stereotomical drawings will have vanished from the technical culture of timber framers, replaced by machines.'

Source (document)

    While in France, Patrick studied intensively the magnificent art of 'Trait'. He took this art to the next level. His fellow coteries always told him that he would write the next page of the Mazerolle. After 3 years of extensive study and practice, Patrick mastered the art of Stereotomical drawings and his masterpiece - the final show piece that would allow him to join the ranks of Compagnons - would find a home at the Musee Du Compagnonnage in Tours, France.

    The contemporary world of building is dominated by standardization and mechanization that are transforming builders into mere laborers devoid of any creative thinking. But France has a tradition that is alive and well, although not given sufficient prominence, which allows men and women builders to retain full mastery of the intellectual and technical aspects of designing volume and space. This skill also enables the coupling of highly sophisticated technical thinking and practice, amounting to a true vision of human beings as masters of their own destiny.
    It is difficult to determine the origin of this technical and symbolic tradition. It is the subject of founding myths cultivated by the trade guilds, which date the mastery of scribing back to founders such as Solomon, Maître Jacques (master stonemason) and Père Soubise (master carpenter).
    Be that as it may, the first concrete signs of scribing in French timber framing were observed during the Middle Ages. Scribing, which was linked to the expansion of medieval monasteries, developed in close correlation to the building of Gothic monuments.

    Throughout France, training centers, maisons compagnonniques or guild houses, and firms use the French scribing method on a more or less daily basis. They maintain a strong presence in Normandy because of a strong tradition of wooden construction and the historic role played by a theoretician of the “trait du charpente”, Nicolas Fourneau, the author of a famous eighteenth-century treatise. The instruction on scribing given there is well known, in particular at the building trades regional training center (CEREF BTP) in Bourgtheroulde and centers of the Association Ouvrière des Compagnons du Devoir (Workers’ Association of the Companions of Duty).
    Evaluation of the training centers: the Fédération Compagnonnique des Métiers du Bâtiment (Federation of the Companions of the Building Trade) has 25 training centers in France (see www.compagnons.org). The Association ouvrière des Compagnons du Devoir du Tour de France covers 65 towns with training for young carpenters, and an Institut supérieur de la Charpente et de la construction bois (Higher Institute for Timber Framing and Construction) in Angers (see http://www.compagnons-du-devoir.com). The Union compagnonnique (Companions Union) has 25 local sections (see www.lecompagnonnage.com). It is impossible to determine the number of active
professionals using and giving instruction on scribing as compared to the numerous carpentry firms in which it is not practiced at all.

Here are a few excerpts from the inscription of Le Trait into the UNESCO


    'The scribe tradition in French timber framing, or the “trait de charpente” as the carpenters call it, makes it possible to design complex wooden buildings in three dimensions. To understand this system is to master the perception of the volume of buildings and, thereby, possess an essential quality in the art of building. The mastery of the French scribe system is therefore accompanied by powerful symbolic and social practices that play a crucial role in the characteristic representations of the compagnonnages or trade guilds. Knowledge of it enables one, metaphorically speaking, to know exactly how to behave in the universe and society. The art of scribing is a discipline specific to France, with related practices to be found only in Japan and Germany. Since the Middle Ages, it has made possible the construction of the greatest French monuments. It also makes possible a social and professional achievement that is accessible to all, including young people from the underprivileged sections of society. Furthermore, it contributes to intercultural and international dialogue.

                          click here to access the document "Stereotomy, a multifaceted technique" by Joel Sakarovitch

                         click here to find the official UNESCO website of "Le Trait"

                          click here to find the document of the inscription of 'Le Trait' into the UNESCO

L'Art du Trait





So what is 'Trait' or 'L'Art du Trait'?


   This term, specific to the vocabulary of Compagnonnage, designates a science relative to drawing, or more precisely, a way of representing volumes in depth. An art of stereotomy, the trait is also a kind of applied geometry practiced without the abstract formulas required by descriptive geometry. In more concrete terms, the notion of the trait encompasses a set of graphic techniques facilitating the production - at a reduced scale or full scale, on paper, on parchment, or even on the ground - of working drawings needed to complete structures in wood or stone.

   For centuries, youngsters on the Tour de France have been initiated into the mysteries of the trait in courses given by journeyman professors who are past masters of its subtleties. In fact, the working drawings used in realizing great "master pieces" of carpentry are just as remarkable as the artifacts themselves. A visit to the museum in Romaneche-Thorins demonstrates this.

   The trait transforms the work as well as the worker. With support and supervision of his professor, the student thinks, reflects, and learns to envision differently. It is in this spirit that we can understand the definition of the trait formulated by the journeyman Aveyronnais la Clef des Coeurs (The Heart Keystone from Aveyron); "The trait makes anyone who has mastered it a visionary in spatial depth. It is the alchemy of solids. Numbers are scientific but lines are initiatory." Finally, we note that the art of the trait is not restricted to journeymen carpenters, joiners, stone cutters,. Like the tinkers, journeymen in many crafts continue to teach this noble skill so dear to the Compagnons.

source ("The Artisans and Guilds of France - Beautiful Craftsmanship Through the Centuries" By Francois Icher, 2000 Harry N. Abrams)