April, 2010

Lessons from Henry Roach

April 6th, 2010 by admin

The day after Easter, on a postcard-perfect spring day, the Plimoth Plantation Interpretive Artisans Department welcomed former museum employee Henry Roach to come and show us how to make spars. Hank is a thatcher (having learned from the legendary Peter Slevin), basket maker, and all-around craftsman. He is a master of many forgotten arts and is an invaluable source of information. His willingness to share his knowledge, coupled with his sense of humor, made for very enjoyable and informative morning.

What are spars?

April 6th, 2010 by admin

Spars are the wooden “staples” that hold down thatch on a roof. They are driven into the thatch, across long sticks which run the length of the roof, to help secure the material. They are twisted from green wood such as maple, and each roof in our re-created English Village needs several hundred of them.

A sapling of about 1 1/2 inch in diameter and about 2 feet long, is split in half (sometimes quartered) with a tool called a bill-hook. The hook is also used to point the ends of the spar so it more easily can be driven into the thatch.

Twisting the spar

April 6th, 2010 by admin

Twisting the spar is particularly challenging. While it would seem an easy process, there is a surprising amount of subtlety in doing it correctly and efficiently.

Here, Hank has trimmed just enough of the wood away to make it easier to twist without breaking. He has left a ridge for his fingers to grasp, and with a deft twist of his right hand, bends the fibers of the sapling.

Perfectly positioned

April 6th, 2010 by admin

Here, Hank’s hands and fingers are perfectly positioned to twist the spar with a minimum of breaking. The tip of his right index finger makes a perfect mold to wrap the spar around. The few broken fibers on this spar have more to do with the material than with Hank’s technique.

Hands-On Demonstration

April 6th, 2010 by admin

Here, Hank is demonstrating just the right twisting motion to Interpretive Artisan Justin Keegan.

Many thanks to Hank for his time and his expertise. There is so much wisdom in the seemingly simple process of making a spar. We are fortunate to have Hank as both a resource and as a friend.

© 2003-2011 Plimoth Plantation. All rights reserved.

Plimoth Plantation is a not-for-profit 501 (c)3 organization, supported by admissions, grants, members, volunteers, and generous contributors.