Thursday, March 3, 2016

March 3, 2016 - Cedar Shingles

Each cedar shingle on this old house was made by hand.  When the shingles were new, they were light brown in color.  Now, just like human hair, they have aged to an old silver-grey hue.  Even so, a good many of them, grey or not, still survive intact.

I know a man who makes cedar shingles, or “shakes” as he calls them, by hand.  He still makes them exactly as they’ve always been made.  He uses a “froe” (a metal wedge/blade), lines it up with the end of the bolt of wood, and drives it straight down with a big wooden mallet.  And suddenly a shake appears, sliced straight down from the wood, tapering just a bit.  Of course, he makes it look easy, like there’s nothing to it.

Old silver shakes.

He sits outback of his house and makes lots and lots of shakes every day.  When he first started, he did so because he was building his own home and didn’t like what shingle manufacturers had to offer.  So he decided to make his own.  He taught himself how to do it through trial and error, and eventually he became quite good at it.  He made plenty of shakes to cover his house and was very pleased.

And he thought that was the end of it, but it wasn’t.  Other people also became very pleased with his work.  Anyone who saw his house knew this man had shakes that no one else had, at least no one else in modern times.  They wanted shakes like that for their own building projects, but when they asked him where he got them, they found out no one was selling them because they were handmade.  They left saddened.

Not all of them left, though.  A husband and wife asked him if he’d be willing to make enough shakes for a new home they were building.  He was very busy with other projects, but the new homeowners were persistent.  Eventually, he agreed and they paid him well and everyone was happy.

But now there were two homes in the area with unique handmade shakes.  “Where did you get those shakes?” became the question people started asking, and they were directed to the quiet man who sits outback of his house and makes them.  More orders for shakes were placed.  At first the man was exasperated, but he soon realized what an opportunity this was, the more so because he had never set out to make shakes for other people in the first place.  In a short time, though, he had quit the job he was working and found himself outback of his house, cutting shakes all day long.  He went from being very poor to not very poor at all in a very short time.

It’s the wood, though.  He loves the wood and the patterns he finds inside a tree.  He loves the smell of freshly cut shakes.  He loves working with simple hand tools, taking his time cutting pretty shakes.  He tells me he sits and thinks a lot while he’s out there cutting them.  He has conversations with the wood about this knot and that, about this idea and that, about this turn in life and that.

He’s still a very quiet man and doesn’t like it when a lot of people come around.  He deals with one customer and one order at a time, and there are people lined up far into the future, waiting for the handmade shakes.  Oh, they could buy shakes anywhere, but not like the ones this man makes.  They’re unique, with each shake having its own personality.  When put together, they make a beautiful building that will last long into the future.

Someday, a couple of hundred years from now, there will be some old homes sitting here and there in a field.  They’ll be covered with old handmade shakes made by my friend that have weathered to a fine silver-grey.  Long after the windows and doors have been all but destroyed and the roof is dangerously bowed, the shakes will still be there.  Someone might drive by with a camera and take a photo of those old cedar shingles as they stand in the late winter sun, waiting for another spring.

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