Chestnut shingle-making
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At the very beginning, when I started, we used to make the shingles in transportable huts in the forest and we would leave the waste there. So the wood stayed where it came from. The only thing we took out of the forest was the finished product. So I learned on the job.
That piece is a bit dry.
I took over for someone who had been doing that for years, maybe since 1900, probably even before that. So that person had practically the exclusivity of this activity in France and he only worked for Historical Monuments . When he retired he asked me if I would take over his business. And it was something that I really wanted to do, so it wasn’t a hardship for me to take over in his steps.
This one isn’t any more tender.
Shingles in general, no matter the tree essence used, have existed since the dawn of time. In the Middle Ages they were very largely used and their use slowly decreased in favor of modern materials. So there were always some buildings left to cover, and I think there will be for quite some time . We keep trying to encourage the use of shingles in contemporary architecture but it is very difficult.
So I use chestnut . And the real name of chestnut shingles is « essentes » . And in a lot of regions they are known as« essentes » . So a wall or facade restoration is called an « essentage » . I’ll emphasize on the fact that proper shingles are made of wood that is split, not sawed. Split to respect the grain of the wood , to avoid any distortions and to allow the water to flow much faster than it would on sawn or planed wood.
So , now I have split my log into 2cm wide small boards. This small board, as you can see, isn’t very regular. So with the plane and the trestle to keep the board in place, I am going to work on it and rectify any rough patches. Here the board is finished. It is the first shingle made today.
We use chestnut because it has many qualities. Not like me, I have many flaws! It is not sensitive to parasites, so it doesn’t need any treatment and is said to never rot. The chestnut we use is from the area, from no more than 20 kms away. We have enough raw material. What’s great with this material is that it grows very fast, in the places where it likes to grow of course. And I’ve already cut this particular forest down 3 times. And I will surely cut it down a fourth time, which is quite remarkable. We can’t do that with oak or resinous trees. I don’t really know how long a chestnut forest can live, but it can be pretty much eternal since it will bear fruit and those chestnuts will fall to the ground and become un-grafted trees which can , in turn, be cut down and give life to another
This is a classic shingle, which means that it is flat at its base, but there are also some shingles that have a little bevel . That bevel has a purpose for me, since it allows the water to flow faster here and with the effect of capillarity, keeps the water down.
So the “essentes” made in Creuse, at Richard’s place*, can be found anywhere in France. From the Pyrénées to Pas de Calais. There are very few territories that don’t use chestnut shingles, mainly places that are dry and hot. But it is safe to say that they are used almost everywhere. We see them a lot on steeples. And when you are used to seeing roofs, you often assume that they are made with slates, but if the sun is out, if you look carefully, you realize that they are actually made of chestnut shingles.
With this tool called “parloir”,  I will shape the shingles. I can give them a scale shape or whatever shape my clients wish. This is the tool I will use. Every shingle is handmade, without a model.  
I have run out of ammunition.

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History and savoir-faire

Chestnut shingle-making

The entire front of this house is covered in chestnut shingles, a local skill evoked in this video by Marc Richard, filmed using the old-fashioned technique.

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