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Charpentiers d'Europe et d'ailleurs
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The diversity of broad axes

Single-bevel axe, tool-maker Denizot A few examples of very region-specific carpenter's axes.

The history of French tools is a little-explored area. In particular, the variety and dating of tool shapes have never been the subject of an integrated study.

It is a complex area, and one quickly realises that – depending on the region and the country – carpenters use a very wide variety of tools of different shapes and names to doler, i.e. square off logs. Such axes have both short and long handles, their blades – both wide and narrow – can be bevelled on one or both sides, and the shaft can straight, or angled to the left or right.

The interpretation of these variants, particularly by Paul Feller, a renowned tool expert, means taking into consideration the dialogue between tool-maker and customer. The shape, weight and style of each tool are the result of each carpenter's experience with the tool-maker of his or her choice. This was especially the case in more historic times, when personal relationships counted for a great deal, and each tool was relatively unique.

There are shapes particular to this or that region, even if they are still poorly understood.

Nevertheless, cultural and regional differences do count for something, and there are shapes particular to this or that region, even if they are still poorly understood. The centre of France, with its Occitan culture, was clearly the source of the axe known as the bigeoire, whose shapes are readily identifiable. For a long time, regions closer to Germany remained faithful to the single-bevelled Breitbeil. In the north of France, there was a long-term preference for a long-socket axe with a curved blade, which can often be seen in Gothic imagery. Of course, these various shapes travelled, which makes their interpretation at bit more complicated. Immigrant workers at various times brought their technical culture with them to France.

On this page we have assembled a few well-documented examples, most of them undated, to show the relationship between their use and where they were made. We cannot establish a typology from this, but merely an indication of trends.

We are grateful to Jean-François Roubeyrie, Marc Grodwohl, Michel Tixier, Dominique Provost and Maurice Pommier for having shared their knowledge with us.

Our thanks as well to the Musée de l'Outil et de la Pensée ouvrière for having opened its doors to us.

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France, Spain, Croatia, Scandinavia, Italy
France, Spain, Croatia, Scandinavia, Italy