Thatching is the art of creating a roof out of whatever vegetation is native to the surrounding countryside. In temperate climates, such as that in England, materials can include dried straw, sedges and even heather. This age-old method of keeping water out of homes is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. City dwellers who buy homes in the country sometimes opt for this method, whether for the ambience or the small environmental footprint. The tools for thatching have not changed much over the centuries.
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Crooks and Sways
Crooks are large nail-like pieces of iron, up to 12 inches long, that are used to help hold the thatched roof in place. One end has a right-angled hook that fits into the sway. Sways are rods, made either of hazel wood or steel, that hold the thatch bundles in position against the rafters. Sways are sometimes secured by screw ties or cord that has been coated with sticky tar.
This looks somewhat like a giant version of a currycomb, a comb used to get rid of loose hairs. Traditionally made of wood, a legate has a long handle on a square head with a series of nibs---usually horseshoe nails that have been flattened. The legate is handled much like an axe, swinging it so the reed ends are pushed into place. Modern legates are also made of cast aluminium.
Thatchers use a variety of knives. An eaves knife is used to cut straw on the eaves and along the gables. A spar knife, curved with a hook on one end, is used to cut hazel wood into the rods that hold the thatch to the roof. A shearing hook, which looks like a scythe used for harvesting crops, is used to trim the ends of the thatch around the entire roof. Fine trimming is also done with large scissors or manual sheep shears.
Looking like a long wooden comb with giant, well spaced 3-inch teeth, a side rake is used to comb small bits and pieces of material out of the long bundles of set straw thatch. Combing also helps to compact the straw roof. The side rake has a long handle that makes it easier to use.
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