History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

This blog follows the reconstruction of the Revolutionary War Public Armoury on the James Anderson site

Reconstruction of the Blacksmith's & Public Armoury

December 30, 2011

Roofing the Armoury.

Colonial Williamsburg’s carpenters have spent about a month-and-a-half installing the roof on the Armoury.  Laying shingles around the various chimneys has been an interesting and challenging part of the project, and since some of you have asked, we thought we’d walk blog readers through the roofing process.

Handsplit cypress shingles on the Armoury roof.

The first step is to make 16,000 shingles. We can produce, on average, about 500 shingles a week, so the shingle production began back in March of this year and continued right up until the time of the roof installation. The cypress logs from which shingles were cut came from Surry County, just across the James River from Jamestown.  Cypress is a local wood, readily available in Tidewater Virginia.  The 18th-century builders of the Armoury simply bought a load of shingles and had them delivered to the site.  Shingle-making was a big business in colonial times and roof shingles were bought and sold as a commodity just like scantlings and planks and iron and bricks.  We, on the other hand, made our shingles at Colonial Williamsburg as part of the interpretive program.

Groove cut into chimney for flashing.


Shingled roofs are very effective at shedding water… until you cut a hole into them and run up a chimney. Then things become more complicated. We solve the water problem around a chimney by cutting a groove all the way around the brick chimney.


Sheet lead counterflashing set into groove.




Then sheet lead is set around the chimney and hammered into the groove to seal the water out of the joint.




Lead cover for cricket.





 Finally we build a little roof just uphill of the chimney, called a cricket or a saddle, to divert the water around the funnel of the chimney instead of letting it run down the roof right into the stack. We covered the small crickets above the forge chimneys with more sheet lead.




Finished cricket on forge chimney.


 And we continue to run the courses of shingles up to the roof peak. It requires about 250 shingles to run one course 68 feet long (the length of the Armoury building).





Woven shingle cricket valley.


An enormous cricket was built between the Armourer’s Shop roof and the Armoury Kitchen chimney. We shingled the larger cricket roof, and wove the shingles into the valleys of the cricket.  Finally, lead flashing was set into the brickwork of the kitchen chimney.



View of large cricket and flashing.



In weaving the valley, each shingle was custom fit, wider at the top, tapering down almost to a point.  The edges of the shingles were then angled to fit. It took about ten days to shingle the cricket, but the results are spectacular.




Armoury roof ridge with crickets.



We may be a little biased, but we think it is one of the prettiest roofs in the Historic Area!

Contributed by Garland Wood,  Master Carpenter.


Leave a Reply

  1. Excellent job showings us all the details going into the shingled roof. The progress has been amazing and the weather has been cooperating for the most part. We are looking forward to seeing the finished product this spring.

  2. BEAUTIFUL roof!

  3. Is the pattern of flashing for the chimney historic? I’m sure that there are geographic differences from Virginia to Maine, and every mason I’ve worked with does it differently, but I’ve never seen flashing inserted into a groove in the bricks here in Maine. Were old bricks soft enough that that was easy in the 1700’s? We’ve always woven the flashing into the naturally occurring seams between the courses, and then overlapped the pieces. The way the armoury chimbneys are flashed has a lot fewer places to leak, and is a lot prettier, but I’m just wondering if this is another case where modern techniques are a little better, or if southern styles are different than here.

    Thanks, it really looks great.

    • Ed~
      Architectural Historian, Willie Graham (to whom I am very grateful for an informed response!) says this:

      “18th-century flashing was tackled in several different ways. A cheap alternative was simply to put a mortar wash against a chimney and on top of the shingles. This was not very successful and needed frequent repair, but is known to have been done.”

      “A second method, probably also used in conjunction with other types of flashing (including both the mortar wash and lead, but also simply on its own) was to put a wooden wedge under the shingles along the edge of the chimney so that the shingles would rise slightly against the chimney and help shed water.”

      “Lead flashing was plenty common. The typical installation was to flash between each shingle course and then use a counter flashing to cover it. The counter flashing usually ran along a rake without being stepped, although there are a few known instances of stepped flashing. Typically this flashing was simply nailed to the sides of the chimney and sealed the joint as best as possible, but occasionally a rebate was cut into the brick to fold the flashing into for a better seal. This last method is what we have used at the armoury chimneys. “

  4. The roof is beautiful, thank you for the very informative information and pictures.

    • Chuck, Storrey, and Ronald,
      Thanks for the support. Our carpenters do great work, don’t they?!

  5. Must get my husband to read this, trying to explain the crickets was impossible. He does wonder when you will start seasoning??? the forges?

    • Margaret- The forges were built last summer, so that the mortar would be allowed to cure without freezing. Traditional formula mortar will ideally have 4 to 6 months to cure before use. In order to promote curing, we have capped the chimneys to keep rain out, and have kept a lightbulb illuminated inside the chimneys to keep them slightly warm. In a few weeks, we will begin furnishing the shop, and setting up the forges. Once they are set up, we will fire them, and probably begin making additional furnishings on site. There will not be a “seasoning” per se- just a normal “get acquainted” period.

      • thank you, I am so looking forward to seeing them this fall when we bring our grandson for his visit.

  6. Lets all chip in and buy the gentleman who is building the steps a new saw!

    What a beauty! The patina on the handle and blade shows the age.

    It doesn’t look like it can be sharpened too many more times!

    I continue to enjoy the site very much.

  7. To Ken and the whole crew,
    It looks great and it has been fun and interesting watching and learning the building process.
    I want to know where you are getting the wood for those 10 to 12 inch planks for the interior walls? Are they being delivered or are you cutting them on site or are they salvaged wood(recycling at its best)from old buildings in Virginia?
    When will you be starting the demolition of the bulding for the tin shop? I hope they keep the web-cams on the site.
    Have a great New Year!
    Chris Hansley
    Tinley Park, IL

    • Hi Christine – The sheathing material for the interior walls of the Armoury are native, new growth tulip poplar, and the 10 to 12 inch boards are the SMALL ones…the widest of the material is over 16 inches. One of the reasons our early American ancestors liked tulip poplar trees was the ability to get really wide material out of the truncks.
      As for the tin shop, we are actually doing archeology inside the building, under the floor, and will decide on a demolition date when the archeology is wrapped up there. I’m sure we will still have the web cam trained on it, so stay tuned…

  8. Hello Meredith,

    Some blog information indicated there is archaeological work currently underway inside ‘Eleanor’s home.’ Could you give a sneak explanation as to what has been found? Do the findings re-enforce the outside evidence that a tin shop existed on this site? Any information would satisfy my appetite.

    Ron Trabandt

    • Ron- Meredith and Company have been away presenting their preliminary findings at an archaeological conference, so I am taking the liberty of answering. Eleanor’s house is indeed under additional scrutiny this winter. We broke through the flooring and Andy conducted core sampling of material under the floor. It appears that we have a large section of undisturbed archaeological material inside of the foundation walls. We have removed the flooring inside of the building, and this coming week we will begin excavating the interior to see what the deposited material reveals about the tin shop. Eleanor has graciously given her permission to proceed, so Meredith, Andy, and Lucie will have a comfortable indoor work environment for the winter. We will reposition the webcam soon so that you can watch the work, and we will give updates as we learn more. Keep posted!

  9. Hi Ken,
    I’m sorry, but I have to go here.
    Will Eleanor be moving to new housing? Or will she guard the dig site at night and oversee the dig during the day? Maybe even help dig?? Sorry, she’s so cute I couldn’t resist.
    Also, has anyone checked the guy on the webcam for a pulse? He’s been sitting there now for at least four days.
    This is called having a bad day and trying to smile a little. Sorry about that.
    Keep up the great work that all of you do.
    Take care,
    Chris Hansley

    • Chris~
      Eleanor is incredibly adaptable, and has been more curious about our presence than anything else. In laying out the excavation inside of her “home”, we spared one room, and shifted her bed, water, and food accordingly. We would welcome her help…though we have not yet succeeded in teaching her to use a trowel.

      As for “the guy on the webcam,” will certainly check for a pulse, though I just left the site and all present seemed appropriately animated!

      • Garland
        A couple of questions.
        Have you fired up the brick floor warmer yet? It’s got to be a little chilly in that place. Maybe that explains why the guy sat there so long over the last few days because it was on and felt good. Second, will the Armoury be painted the same color as the kitchen and did Anderson leave in his notes as to what paint was ordered or used? Last,Thank you for looking out for our beloved Eleanor.If you want her to work you might want to outfit her with some knee pads and apron Just a thought.

  10. Hi Kerry – the radiant heat floor is working just fine. When we open the doors in the morning the Armoury is toasty warm.
    We got the technical glitch with the webcam resolved and in fact you are now able to watch the archeology team working inside the Stith Tin Shop (instead of viewing Dan sitting on the forge without moving for 48 hours.)
    As far as I know the plan is still to paint the Armoury with a simulated white lead paint, with whitewash on the interior surfaces. There are several references to the builder of the Armoury being issued white lead and white lead ground in oil from the Williamsburg and Richmond Public (State of Virginia) Stores.
    Eleanor is doing well and is busy trying to find the warmest spot on the Armoury floor to lay on…the research and testing is still ongoing at this point.

  11. Is the roving cam going to be alternating between the two locations or only Tin Shop? I for one am very interested in the further work/setup of the Armoury to completion. Can it be a %50/50 deal?

    • Dale- We will shift the camera periodically depending on the work activity at the site. We want to give our archaeological colleagues due recognition for their great contributions to the project. They will be in the tin shop site digging for a relatively short period. Soon we will begin some of the early furnishing of the Armoury- anvil stumps, work benches, etc. to set the stage for outfitting the shop for a late March opening. The camera will be set to show the interesting aspects of the work.

  12. Hi Ken and crew,
    I’m glad Eleanor is the test cat for the floor heating. Her full name should be changed to Eleanor of Williamsburg.
    As for as the webcams….why not move the one from the house, that is looking at the exterior wall, over to the interior of the Armory??
    We’re going to be shoveling snow later this afternoon in our suburb of Chicago. We’ve been having Williamsburg type winter weather so far. Alas, our luck my have run out.
    Have a great weekend,
    Chris Hansley

    • Chris- The Anderson House web cam is set to capture a long term development of the site for a time-lapsed progression, so it needs to remain in a stable position. That leaves our roving cam for highlighting new and different activities on the site. We thought it to be exciting and interesting that in the 1940’s when the current “tin shop” building was reconstructed, that the ground inside of the foundation walls remained undisturbed, and offerend an opportunity for “indoor archaeology” this winter. At this point, it has hardly been a great advantage weatherwise, as we have had a very mild winter (it is 64 degrees and sunny as I write this) but the good weather cannot last too much longer. The cold and snow that you are shovelling this afternoon will descend upon us by Friday, and Andy, Meredith, and Mark will be able to work in warm comfort with good light.

      So far, Eleanor has approved of the warm floor, although I have to say that she has grown a thick coat and seems happy outside as well. We will see where she sleeps when the cold air gets here.

  13. Just now catching up on the blog. Thank you for the detailed pictures. It is a beautiful roof-now that you have the hang of it, you can come up here and do mine!

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