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Making and Installing Wood Shingles in Romanian Crafts Village – VIDEO

installing wood shingles roofing

Carpenter Iosif Cîrstean Had Split Wood Shingles With Hand Tools, Then Installed Them Onto a Tree House

Since we started this blog, I get a lot of people asking if there’s any place in Romania where they can visit and learn a craft themselves, but honestly, there was none that I was aware of, nothing organized in such a manner that anyone willing to learn a craft could come and take lessons without having to worry about food and accommodation. Well, luckily, this dream finally came true in the village of Bilca, where the passionate carpenter Iosif Cîrstean had thought up the best plan to teach and accommodate any soul eager to learn the old ways in a genuine environment. Located in Suceava County, the village of Bilca has a reputation not only for its wonderful location, and rustic houses but also for being home to a great number of highly skilled woodworkers. We visited there this early summer. Just outside his workshop stood Mr. Iosif, a man with a sturdy frame and tall in growth. We asked if he could show us a little of the shingle-making process and he immediately started preparing the necessary material for the job, inspecting a large and heavy log before splitting wood shingles out of it.

installing wood shingles

“We determine if the wood is suitable for splitting shingles. The middle cracks should be straight. If they are curved, then it’s not suitable, and the vertical splits in the bark are quite straight. Although there are knots in the wood, they are removed, and the shingles are cut shorter,” he explained.

With a surreal strength, he then picked it up, carrying it inside, as if the log was light as a feather. Inside, mallets, froes, draw knives, and handsaws of different sizes were aligned on the walls.

splitting wood shingles
Splitting wood shingles with a mallet and a froe

“These are the very special tools that we’re using in our workshops. These old hand tools had been salvaged from demolition”. He touched each tool, then went on to explain briefly about selecting the right tools.

Next, with a mallet and a froe, he set about splitting the log into shake bolts. Then, the shake bolts were split into shingles of about 0.31″ thick.

Levelling edges with a plane
Levelling edges with a plane

For leveling the edges he used a planer that made the edges straight and smooth.  This man was so eager to teach others and so passionate about his work, that he even explained us a bit of the installation process, while he nailed wood shingles onto a treehouse. Having four-sided roofs, roofing a Romanian house can be very tricky and challenging, as each corner piece must be carved in a manner that covers the joint from the previous row completely. One thing I noticed was that he spent a great amount of time deciding on where to trim each corner to cover the cracks below, as well as keep the scalloped design of each piece.

“It’s not allowed to cross over a crack, that will cause the roof to leak. So the joint must be completely covered by the overlapping shingle, or else it will leak”, he gasped.

But tools were not the only things that were saved from destruction. The very house in which he made his workshop was saved and relocated just before demolition.

Saving Old Houses and Keeping Historic Crafts Alive in The Crafts Village

Crafts Village

“The house was built in 1955, it was saved and relocated from Straja. It takes one week to dismantle a house and one week to reconstruct it, as if it was a big jigsaw puzzle, one for adults”, said Mr. Iosif with an air of satisfaction.

All it takes is passion and will, and Mr. Iosif is a man of strong will, whose aim is breathing new life into old things. With a strong structure and coated with clay, the house now had a new identity. Up on an exterior wall by the door stood a sign. It read:  This workshop will preserve and continue the old craft of shingle making.

And more was to come. At the far edge of the yard, past the waddling ducks nibbling on the grass, and past the wooden fence, was a lawn. There stood a house that was in construction, with a timber frame, and covered with reclaimed roof tiles of the most beautiful shade of red. 

“This will be the farriery. We aim to have our guests taught by master craftsmen within each workshop. Our guests will be able to stay as long as they need to learn the trade.”

A flock of sheep was nibbling grass between the piles of reclaimed wood. A donkey and her colt came busily by, waiting for a treat. The sun was at its highest, shining brightly, birds were singing their best songs, rabbits hopping around, Mr Iosif’s kids were freely roaming, and the eldest son helping and supporting his father at work. To escape the midday heat, we went up front to his guesthouse, a charming country cottage with a front porch, restored and decorated with traditional furniture and vintage collections acquired over time.

Ambulanta Casutelor Bucovinene Restoring Old Houses

It was a one-bedroom house with a bathroom, its attic was converted into a room adding an extra bedroom to this beautiful house. Downstairs was a stove used for domestic heating. In winter people may cook apples and potato chips, and sleep on top of the stove to keep warm. The floorboards were covered with rugs, the table, and chairs were made from upcycled wood, walls covered with vowen tapestry. There was a shabby chic cupboard and a comfortable old bed. The whole space felt comfy and safe. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of calm wash over me. How nice it was to feel the chill of a wooden house in the summer heat!

Nearby the guesthouse stood a small house with a veranda.

Ambulanta Casutelor Bucovinene Restoring Old Houses

“We began reconditioning the small house inherited from our grandparents. We felt so much satisfaction when we saw how useful such a house can be. We gathered in it and ate something baked in the oven. Around that time I heard about another house being demolished, which later became our guesthouse. We decided to dismantle and relocate it”, told Mr. Iosif dreamily about the beginnings of his mission.

When work was done, the feeling of satisfaction was so intense that he decided to create a new project, The Bukovinian Homes Ambulance (Ambulanța căsuțelor Bucovinene), to save these precious gemstones from destruction and help those who are willing to get an old house and turn it into their dream cottage.

Following his dreams with passion and determination, Iosif Cîrstean is making a significant impact on the world around him.

Making and Installing Wood Shingles- VIDEO

Contact Cîrstean Iosif
Phone: 004 0743 645 888

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