And now for something completely dif…

A change of pace.

Today I spent all day on the roof fixing the roof tiles that run up the gable walls, and I thought it might be interesting to write about it. Not interesting for anyone but me, you understand.

The first rule about doing cement work on a roof is to have the correct tools. This is actually the first rule about any job, in any sphere or area, but it is worth mentioning so you understand that roofing work operates on the same principles as any other work anyone might be engaged in. The tool I choose to use is a Marshalltown gauging trowel, a comfortable grip, lightweight, and a blade that has just the right amount of spring to it. There are some who like a Tyzack, but I find the blade to be too stiff and by the end of a day my wrist feels it. There is a point to this, today I couldn’t find my own trowel. I don’t use it often these days, my work being mainly of the phone, managing, driving around variety, and it had been mislaid by one of the imbeciles that I mistakenly employ, so I borrowed the trowel of my brother. His has been used for many years and the blade is worn into the shape that only comes from being scraped on abrasive tiles many times. It was kind of him to lend it but right now, as I flex my sore wrist, I wish I had had my own dear old trowel.

The second key element in successful cement work is getting the cement just right. Most people think that cement is just cement, how ignorant can a person be? Roofing cement is always a three sand to one cement mix, for the very good reason that this makes the cement waterproof. Being exposed to the elements for many years it is easy to understand why this should be a requisite for the material that bonds the edge tiles to the roof. Be they ridge tiles, verge tiles, or hip tiles, waterproofness is essential. Today, I was fortunate to have one of my cement mixers on the site so it was easy to mix the quantity required. There were ninety-eight tiles to bed down so a lot of cement was needed, to have mixed by hand as we used to in the old days would have made the task double-arduous. It should be mentioned that most roofers don’t keep a cement mixer handy, but as a builder with roofing skills, I am an exception. The cement must be mixed to the correct ratio, but of equal, if not more, importance is the consistency, the stiffness or otherwise of the mix. Because when doing roofing cement-work the cement must be stiff enough to support the weight of the tiles without collapsing, but if it is too stiff it cannot be worked and the job becomes an exercise in pain. Measuring out the proportions correctly and adding a measured amount of water means that the cement, or muck as we call it, can be replicated every time, giving the exact same colour throughout the job.

The next aspect that must be arranged correctly is access. When bedding the verge tiles, the roofer must be close enough to be able to work with precision yet not too close as to disturb the previous courses of tiles that have been set in place. The job I was doing today was a roof with interlocking tiles, this made access fairly simple as the tiles slide easily up and provide an inbuilt ladder up the roof, after the work is complete the tiles are easily slid back into place. So this is what I did. I chose my first verge as a ranger-finder, as it were, the one that gives the least view from the most aspects. This allowed me to make any mistakes where they would be least visible, and allow me to be properly warmed up when the front ones, that afford the best view, were to be done. The starter in question was the rear right hand, only visible from the neighbours back garden, and only from one position. I slid up the tile on every second course, third row of tiles away from the gable, close enough to let me work comfortably but far enough away to stop the later tiles from upsetting the previous ones, and then I got started.

Removing the verge tiles and stacking them further up the roof to give me room to work, I took my bucket of cement and trowel and started shaping the cement against the side of the bucket. Perfect consistency, of course. The temperature this morning was cold, but it was promising to be quite warm later, I would need to keep an eye on the way the cement was drying out if I was to get the work to look as good as it could.

The first verge was completed in an hour, disappointing. But it was the first I had done in a long time and it looked really good, so there was some consolation. The old joke came to mind, he was only the roofers apprentice but he knew how to bed a verge in, and I moved on.

The second one was quicker, and still looked good, but all the muck was gone, time to get back to the ground and knock up some more. By now I could work our how many more times I would need to mix cement before the job would be finished, I decided that three would do it, or two more. I can do this, I thought.

The two long back verges done, I was onto the front ones which could be seen clearly from the street, no worries, I was on fire by now, the old skills were returning to life and it felt good to be doing the work. I knew I would feel it later, already I could feel twinges in my legs and back, but there was no stopping me.

My cut off time was two-thirty, there was an appointment that couldn’t be missed, I checked my watch and knew I would make it easily if I kept up the pace. The system was running itself by now, I didn’t even have to think.

By two o’clock I was washing the mixer, cleaning out the buckets, and wiping the last cement off the trowel. Looking over the job I knew it was a good one.

So, there you have it. Everything you need to know about bedding gables on the roof. Of course, this was only one type of tile, there are many more, but the principles hold true for all this work. Good tools, the right material, preparation, and most of all, years of experience.

I hope you enjoyed, although it was a selfish exercise. Most importantly, I enjoyed it twice.

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