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What is Carpenters without borders and what is their aim?

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The France-based Carpenters Without Borders, or Charpentiers Sans Frontières, brings together carpenters from around the world to work on historic restoration and social welfare carpentry projects. The organization’s mission is multi-faceted: to both preserve traditional buildings and the cultural heritage of historical techniques in France, and to help build infrastructure internationally through carpentry.

The group alternates every year between a project in France and a project abroad. During the organization’s builds in France, international groups of volunteer carpenters work together to utilize carpentry tools from past periods in history and revive cultural methods of building. Instead of using power tools, the volunteers get to put their artisanal skills to use and learn a variety of novel historical methods. Recently, the organization reconstructed a 77-foot wooden drawbridge for a castle in Normandy built in the 11th century. The volunteers used a method from that time of hand hewing the logs with axes.

How Volunteers Get Involved

Though all the volunteers are experienced as carpenters, they bring with them different traditional knowledges from their home countries. After reaching out to the Carpenters Without Borders organizers in France, volunteers may be accepted into the program and are provided meals and lodging during the project build. Airfare and travel costs are not included.

Beyond Borders: Inspiring a Global Carpentry Community

During the builds, the France-based Carpenters Without Borders volunteers share their carpentry methodologies from their country of origin with each other and learn from one another. The organization also works to promote social justice projects. In 2016, volunteers built a timber frame legal center for refugees living in a camp. International migrants living in France also join the ranks of volunteers and bring their indigenous skills. Volunteers describe finding a new international carpentry family during their time together, and often commit to staying in contact after they return to their home countries.

Promoting Environmental Stewardship Through Carpentry

Another Carpenters Without Borders organization based in California, USA has an environmental component to their work, and teaches environmental stewardship and tree husbandry along with artisanal woodworking in their classroom in Latin America. Based in Guatemala, the organization is trying to help remedy the mass deforestation that has occurred in the country due to unsustainable forestry practices. Their mission is to both protect forest resources through teaching sustainable forest stewardship and give people valuable carpentry skills to improve local economic conditions.

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