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Gingerbread, Anyone?

Updated: Jan 29, 2022



Recently we visited my wife’s birthplace, a village tucked under the mountains in the heart of Transylvania, Romania, and as a woodworker, I was thrilled to see some log homes still standing, as more and more they’re replaced with modern masonry structures. The weathered hand-hewn logs, still holding together with tight fitting joints after nearly a century, are a testimony to the skill of the country craftsmen of ages past.



What impressed me, was the artistry of the gingerbread that dressed up the eves under the roof, done at a time when all a craftsman had, were hand tools, which made such work rather time consuming and labor intensive. Still, it didn’t deter them from going on a “tour-de-force” of sorts, almost like saying, “let this be my signature”.


The woodworker in me was wondering, trying to imagine how that work was done and I had made a couple different scenarios before the light came on, as the answer to my question was right there before me. All the gingerbread panels I looked at, consisted of stylized floral motifs, intertwined branches with leaves and pinwheels and among them I kept seeing some shapes which at first, I thought were just “fill-ins”.




But then I noticed that these “fill-ins” had a certain shape that didn’t necessarily fill the space they were assigned to and I saw it repeated on another roof, down the road. Then finally it dawned on me, the shape I was looking at was that of a keyhole saw! Yet on another roof I saw the keyhole saw shape with a slightly different style of a handle, and those were both saws that I was familiar with, just from having had at one time, a collection of woodworking hand tools. The craftsman must have used the saw and traced around it, right on the panel. Another shape I saw repeated, was one that I believe to be of a brace, which would have been necessary for drilling the holes required for the saw to start the cut.


In conclusion, this is how the gingerbread was done, for those who care to know, the boards that made up the panels were installed in place, then the design was traced maybe using a pattern and a pounce wheel. Since the designs are identical on both sides, the pattern was “flipped” over and the mirror image was traced on the opposite side.



The designs I saw, although similar, were different from one house to another, meaning either that the craftsmen must have made them up at the site, not keeping patterns to re-use on the next house or, they had several models, giving the customer something to choose from.



The craftsman would also cut the date the house was built and the initials of the owners.


The last houses exhibiting gingerbread work date to early 60s, after that, the log homes being built, were missing the panels altogether. Then in the 70s the Communists decreed that no more timber is to be cut for domestic building purposes, being re-directed to export, and with that, the time-honored trade of log home building went extinct and today, one would be hard pressed to find someone who could still square up a pine log with the broad axe.

If anyone is interested in some gingerbread, you’ll have to settle for the kind found at the country fair, the pastry from which the decorative woodwork got its name, or was it the other way around? At any rate, those are great with a cup of tea or latte.


A kitten sunning by a structure that's over 100 years old.




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3 Comments


Judy Moyer
Judy Moyer
Jan 21, 2022

loved seeing and reading about the gingerbread. It is beautiful. It is surprising how well it still looks after weathering for so many years. The craftsman, like you were creative and did beautiful work. I wonder how much they were paid for their artistry and labor? I can tell you were intrigued as you figured out about the tools and the tracing of some for the design.

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Cathy Jones Vinson
Cathy Jones Vinson
Jan 21, 2022

I don’t know if I am responding right, voicu, and have very much enjoyed reading and learning on these last two posts. I will always look with more interest at Gingerbread And if it is anywhere in the USA. Thanks for encouraging creativity this way. I continue to do drawings of dear children in families we love. Thank you.(I have had two email replies ReturnEd so know that is not the way to respond :))

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mc845927
mc845927
Jan 21, 2022

Great tour! Makes me miss Romania all the more. Fascinating to see how the craftsmen cut patterns of their tools into the lattices and how that revealed how they did their work. Nice sleuthing. Sad to see so many skills lost in new technology or disinterest or even bureaucratic interference. Is a motive to keep as much of it alive as we can.

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