What Do You Mean by “Shakes,” “Shingles” and “Froes”?
By “Awake!” correspondent in Canada
IN THE English language, many words can be understood in different ways. A medical man might well understand the word “shakes” to refer to an uncontrollable trembling. Other individuals might think of handclasps, as when congratulating someone or showing agreement. Similarly, when hearing the word “shingles,” some persons think of stretches of fine pebbles at the seashore. Our medical friends could just as easily think of areas of the human body erupting in sores because of nerve-end irritation. Still, all could be correct. As for the word “froe,” many might say that they had never heard of it. In fact, a search in most dictionaries might not even provide a definition.
However, in this case we are using the language of the construction man when talking about roofing. In some countries, roofing material can be thin sheets of slate, or baked clay tiles, or their more modern asphalt substitute. When settling the United States and Canada, men used whatever materials were at hand to run the rain off roofs. They even employed sod cut from the prairie earth. Farther westward and near the Pacific coast, giant cedar trees were found. These possessed a type of grain and splitting qualities somewhat unique in treedom. So straight, indeed, were the splitting qualities of this wood that even framing could be split and used successfully. Some houses were built without any sawn lumber at all, even the paneling being split thin and wide from logs cut from the main trunk of the tree. Since the diameter of many of the trees was over 10 feet (3 meters), and that of some was even 20 feet (6 meters), there was an abundant supply of wood available.
An average “shake” is a thin, split panel of cedarwood, some 26 inches (66 centimeters) long and usually tapering from a half-inch (1.3-centimeter) thickness to a fine edge. Special ones can be 18 inches (46 centimeters) long. Shakes vary in width and can be as small as three or four inches (7.6 or 10 centimeters), or as wide as 12 inches (30 centimeters) or more. In earlier days, a durable roof of shakes could be built rapidly. Later, shingles, which are thinner than shakes, came into use. These are sawed and, therefore, a roof of shingles has a flatter, more finished appearance. However, due to the rougher surface left by the saw cut and their being less resistant to the penetration of moisture, shingles do not last as long as shakes. Since many people like the rustic effect of the shake roof, shake splitting continues to meet this demand.
But what is a “froe”? It is the tool developed for splitting shakes. A froe must have an edge that enters the cedar block when the froe is tapped. This tool must also be 16 inches (41 centimeters) long and must have an upright handle of strong wood to enable the user to turn the blade so as to pry off the shake.
Now let us return to our construction men to whom shakes, shingles and froes are no mystery. This particular group consists of volunteers working in Surrey, British Columbia, on the erection of a fine assembly hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses of that area. Since a good supply of shakes was needed, just where would a suitable tree be found? The supply of such trees diminishes every year. Nevertheless, an available tree was located some 60 miles (97 kilometers) to the northwest.
One fall weekend a group left the Surrey area early to catch the ferry leaving at Horseshoe Bay for the one-hour crossing of How Sound to Langdale on the Sechelt Peninsula. Then the journey by road resumed for the final lap. The mountain, forest and fjord scenery enjoyed during the two-and-a-half-hour trip was simply magnificent.
The time came for leaving the paved road running east along Porpoise Bay and for taking a logging trail. At last the goal was reached—a dead giant of a tree some eight feet (2.4 meters) in diameter and perhaps 180 feet (55 meters) tall. No wonder the tree had been left behind! To fell it could mean hitting the nearby transmission lines and having to pay a fine greater than the value of the tree. Hence, the top 75 feet (23 meters) of the tree had to be cut first. Next the main part was felled. Soon the trunk was being sawed into 18-inch (46-centimeter) slabs.
With one slab ready, shake-making could begin. First, the slab is halved across its center and then segmented as often as necessary to form blocks small enough for easy handling. Examining one of the blocks, we note that the end grain has the curve of the tree’s ring growths. The side grain, however, is straight up and down and is fine and slightly ribbed. This is the face to use on outer surfaces, as it has a natural corrugation that will quickly dispose of any rain. The split wood has a pleasant fragrance—evidence of the natural decay-resistant oils within.
We watch the placing of the froe on the block, ready for the blow of the mallet that will drive it into the cedar. The experienced worker agrees to slow down for the next shake. He also explains that the froe is really on a line that points to the center of the tree, not on the line of the tree’s growth rings, as that would produce an inferior product with no fine-grain corrugations for shedding rain. Placed about a half inch (1.3 centimeters) in from the edge of the wood and parallel to it, the froe is ready. The mallet descends and the steel blade enters the wood. A quick forward motion of the handle and the blade turns enough to pry the thin slab loose. The result? An 18-inch parallel shake, about half an inch thick.
But how can a tapered shake be produced? Experience soon revealed that, in a split of about 26 inches (66 centimeters), the grain of the block, tearing slightly, caused a gradual thinning of the shake to just the right taper. The next split, also causing the same tearing of the grain, would result in a parallel shake. However, if the block is turned over and then split, another taper results. Parallel shakes can be made faster, as there is no need to turn the block.
Eventually splitting, transporting and using the shakes to complete the outside of the assembly hall came to a finish. The end product was a delight to the beholders and brought back happy memories to those who had shared in procuring the building materials directly from the native forest.
[Diagram on page 25]
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