Foxfire started out as an essay project at the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in northern Georgia. It evolved into 12 anthologies covering all sorts of folk craft and wisdom. The first one has a short segment on splitting wooden shingles, which jumped to mind when it was clear that the roof needed replacing. I can’t reproduce the pages here because of copyright issues, but I can summarize and explain the process they describe. This comes from pages 45–51 from the 1972 Anchor Books edition of The Foxfire Book.
The process starts with a 2-ft long piece of trunk about a 32-in diameter. This round is split in half using a “go-devil” (splitting maul) and wedges. The halves are split into four pieces each. Then the heartwood (the inner 2-4 in of darker wood at the point of each of the pieces) is separated with a wedge. The remaining outside piece, which is vaguely rectangular, is split into four pieces, shown in the diagram.
Each small segment then has the bark removed with a froe, which is a tool with a long, thin blade with a handle at a right angle. The froe is held on top of the segment and struck with a wooden mallet, which causes the segment to split like firewood but in a much more controlled fashion. Once the bark is off, the segments are split into three or four shingles with the froe by splitting the segments in half and then half again.
These rough shingles are cleaned up with a draw knife.
This might not sound perfectly clear if you’re not familiar with wood tools from 1800s, but we’ll be publishing a video showing how this all works. If you’re in the Madison area, you’ll be welcome to stop by our open house in a week and a half or so, but more information on that when it is available.
Or check out this video showing the process: