Replacing Notre Dame's oak beams could be impossible
April 23, 2019 | 11:36 am CDT
PARIS - Rebuilding Paris' iconic Notre Dame cathedral could be nearly impossible if France wishes to replace the oak timbers destroyed in the devastating fire last week.
The wood of more than 1,300 ancient oak trees supported the 850-year-old cathedral - much of which was destroyed in the fire. The huge trees date back to the 12th century and come from primary forests - forests largely untouched by humans. There are hardly any left in Europe.
“They’ll have to look far and wide for it,” University of Montana professor of wood science and technology Ed Burke told the Missoulian. “You’re not just going to roll your logging company out. They built the way they could in the 1100s. This is going to take a concerted effort to find those resources again.”
France could look to the U.S., but even here there are just 34,000 white oak trees big enough to be suitable.
Even when the cathedral was being built, it wasn't easy to find wood. In 1000 BC, almost 80 percent of France's land was covered with forest. By 500 AD - after the spread of Christianity - that figure was down to 50 percent. It then fell to just 16 percent by the 1300s. 
It's likely that France will have to consider other building options if it wishes to follow through on President Emmanuel Macron's promise of a five-year rebuild. Some French officials doubt the five-year timeline, saying it could take up to 15 years and cost billions of dollars. Nearly $900 million has been pledged in donations from around the world. 
Many French lumber firms have offered to donate trees for reconstruction. The Fondation Fransylva, which is a French federation representing private timber growers in France, has asked all its members to offer up an oak tree for Notre-Dame, reported Business Insider.
"Loggers want Notre-Dame's 'forêt-charpente' re-constructed with French oak trees, in keeping with the same traditions and good quality of the first builders," Fransylva's press release reads.


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Robert Dalheim

Robert Dalheim is an editor at the Woodworking Network. Along with publishing online news articles, he writes feature stories for the FDMC print publication. He can be reached at