Friday, August 17, 2012

Post-peak woodwork

The modest me admiring a wooden shack in the village of Valboncione, Italy. I already placed on line a picture of the village and of some of the local dwellers.

Building things by yourself, especially with leftover material, has this air of post-peak self-reliance. But, often, that supposes the existence of industrially made products. When you need wood, for instance, you can get planks or beams from a store or, more in a post-peak style, you use material taken from discarded furniture. But in both cases, the wood you use has been industrially processed.

Suppose, instead, that you live in a remote village in the mountains, a place like  Valboncione, in Italy. Up to not so long ago, clearly, they didn't have access to industrially processed wood. Still, they needed to build shacks and they managed to do that with what they had. The results are remarkable, in a sense, although not exactly the kind of place where you can find shelter from a gust of cold wind!

There are several of these shacks in the village; all built in the same way and none can be older than a few decades - they couldn't possibly have lasted more than that. They way they were made is amazing: look at how all sorts of beams and planks have been joined together. It looks like all the elements in wood were made by hand, one by one.

And look at how the hinges for one of the doors were made:

If this is not post-peak, what is?


  1. Hugo - some confusion in language here I think. What you have is the outcome of what carpenters call 'botching'. I'm afraid the first decent storm to find it will demonstrate why carpenters spend many years becoming proficient at carpentry.

    If you can find any old boy in Italy who can teach you the use of trenails (which preceded metal fastenings and are still used in trad oak-frame buildings) that could really be a useful technique after TEOTWAWKI.



  2. Well, it may be, Lewis, but these things are not a patched up job made last year. As I said, they must be at least a few decades old. I think they go back to the 1960s; when the people of the village were still very, very poor and people couldn't even afford to buy wood planks. The shacks look like being made by a madman, but in this madness, there is a method.

    And I am reasonably sure that these shacks have seen quite a few storms; even though with climate change ongoing so fast, the next one may carry everything away.

  3. Ugo
    You explained previously that the old ladies were the only permanent residents in the village these days. I note from your pictures that the present owners of the houses (used for holidays only?) have spent quite a lot of money modernising the pavements, water control devices etc. It is interesting in this case that the owner has kept the old 'lean-to' shed in its authentic form at the back of the property. That shed surely dates to the era before money, modernisers and holiday makers.
    Was the original use for an animal, or perhaps to keep tools out of the wet? Or just privacy for ablutions? We have a smaller version on our property in rural Northumberland GB (we are permanent residents, not always modernised!) that protected a water supply, but now contains tools).
    Lewis (above) comment about trenails/tree nails, which is interesting. They do prevent 'nail sickness' in vulnerable wood - and have their value.

    There was a period in rural Italy, I understand, after WWII when rural areas often had to support extended families on traditional family smallholdings; families presumably swollen by returning people without jobs. I know a smallholding near Gubbio which supported about 30 people for a while on mostly home-grown food. Families eventually moved on and the old man sold up for cash in the late 60s early 70s - the place could not be usefully divided among the next generation.


    1. Yes, Phil, the stone houses of the village are mostly used for holidays and they have been modernized. It is hard to say how they were exactly made in the past. Surely, not as nice and clean as they are today.

      The shacks are not used for living today, obviously, but I have this feeling that in the past they may have been shelters for human beings.

      In a nearby village, I was shown a house for sale. Completely rebuilt and modernized, except for the wooden stove; still working. They wanted something like 60 KEur for three floors: two bedrooms, one living room, two kitchens and two bathrooms. I was somewhat tempted (surely, the price was negotiable, a lot!). The problem is that 50 years ago they were almost starving and climate change had not yet reduced to zero the yield of the chestnut woods. Now, what is it going to happen in the future there? I saw myself being boiled by the natives in a giant cauldron... :-)

    2. Thanks Ugo
      (But not by the old ladies, surely?
      You might find yourself looking after them though.)
      Yes - nice part of the world - tempting! Sometimes you can tell whether people have been happy in a place, even when they faced hunger at times.

      A pity about those chestnut trees. There are other places I have heard of in Europe where chestnuts were the staple food. I was involved with plant pathology in my career. Do you know whether the trees suffered from a disease that has affected trees so badly elsewhere? I saw the results in Macedonia starting in the mid to late 90s. I think it was mostly the female trees that were worst affected. There could be a link with climate change although we have only seen the beginning of the regional results for that looming threat so far. A very sad thought.


    3. Oh, well, the ladies didn't seem intentioned to cook me in a cauldron. They were very nice and friendly. But, you know, when you are a foreigner in a place, usually you are the scapegoat. Who knows?

      About the chestnut, I am not sure of what caused the disaster. Probably both disease and climate change, but I think they in both cases the ultimate origin is the same. It is impressive to think that those little villages survived on basically nothing but chestnuts for centuries. Now they survive on tourism...

  4. Hi Ugo! We have plenty such buildings in Russian villages. I used to live in my childhood near the Volga river. I used to know a family consisting of mother and two children. Her teenage son built a tiny summer cottage for them, using only the wood which he caught in a nearby river. The fact is that a neighboring sawmill shipped timber by means of rafting. So they lost lots of timber in the river.

    1. Very post-industrial. It is called "asset stripping". It was done extensively after the fall of the Soviet Union. I am afraid we'll see that done here, too



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)