Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hand Shakes

Old section of wall along Mississauga Road

Old section of wall along Balsam Lake Road

A curious feature of a few older dry stone walls built in this part of Canada involves the use of hand split cedar shakes. They have been found inside the walls in two areas particularly, one along Mississauga Road near Bellfountain (using rounder glacial fieldstone granite) and the other around Balsam Lake near Kirkfield (using mostly flatter limestone). Remnants of old wooden shakes are often discovered as these walls are taken apart to be rebuilt.

I have never heard any waller referring to cedar being used nowadays or anytime in the past nor have I read about this sort of thing in any walling books. The actual reason for their being in the wall is not exactly clear. Presumably they were used like through-stones but why? There definitely seems to have been enough throughstones available, particularly up at Balsam Lake, but there is more evidence of through-shakes being used rather than throughstones in any place where cedar shake walls are discovered.

As it is unclear why the shakes were used, it is difficult to know how sympathetically walls like these can be rebuilt.

Below is a photo of a reconstructed section of the Mississauga Road wall where the waller has tried to build the wall using new strips of cedar . Sadly this new wall has many small exterior pin and shim stones in it as well and doesn't adequately address the problem of why or how cedar shakes should be used in dry stone wall construction.

Any thoughts?


  1. The only similar thing which I have seen in Scotland are what we call Douks. These are normally round oak pegs set into stonework. The purpose of these is to attack any type of wooden structure such as steps or small shelters using nails.

  2. There is one account, early 1900's, from the Scottish Borders which mentions timber throughbands. The writer does not seem surprised so it may have been common where suitable stone was not available.