Bojan Koželj is one of the few remaining masters of the shingle-making craft. Since 1987 he has restored the roof cladding of many churches and belfries, castles, chapels, and other historic buildings. He makes shingles by splitting dense larch or spruce wood into segments, dries them and installs them on site. He shares his knowledge in different courses and does his best to keep the craft alive, for he sees significant value in handicrafts and building with natural materials.
In 2002, Bojan Koželj's company obtained the quality label in construction, conferred by the ZRMK Building and Civil Engineering Institute. Bojan Koželj is the only knowledge holder in the shingle-making craft listed in the register of intangible cultural heritage (http://www.nesnovnadediscina.si/sl/register/skodlarstvo).
Third-generation master shingler Bojan Koželj comes from under the mountain pasture of Velika Planina, which is known for its huts with roofs clad in shingles. He first trained as a joiner, but helped his father and grandfather already as a student. He realized that the handicraft and family tradition was his true calling, so he started his own career in 1987. Today, he works with his daughter Nina Koželj and his employee Zuhdija Ožegović.
One of the few master shinglers in Slovenia, Bojan is known far and wide. He makes shingles – thin wooden roof tiles – from dense larch and spruce wood that can withstand water for 40 years and longer. He likes the handiwork: “You have to do everything yourself, that’s what I like the most, having control over the entire process.” From the very start of his career he collaborated closely with the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in the renovation of prominent sacral and secular buildings. His shingles are crafted in the so-called Carniolan style, but he will also make them in Baroque or Gothic styles when a building so requires. Come winter, he shares his knowledge on the preparation of the material and crafting of shingles in different courses. His ambition is to inspire and encourage the young generation of woodworkers to continue the tradition. He is also the knowledge holder listed in the register of intangible cultural heritage under “shingling”.
He says there are many opportunities for renovation, but the times are hard for craftsmanship. Cultural heritage is underfunded as it is, but he will stick with shingles: “We’ve been doing it for so long and we’ll keep at it as long as we are alive and kicking.”
They begin by carefully selecting and buying the timber from the state-owned company Slovenian State Forests or from farmers. The selected conifers – larch and spruce trees – are those that grew on shady, sheltered sites up to 1,000 metres above sea level. This ensures that the wood has dense growth rings, isn’t bent, and is without knots and gnarls. It’s important that the tree is felled in winter, when sap is less active.
The logs are sawn to different lengths, from 40 centimetres up to a metre, and these pieces are split with an axe into eight segments. They remove the pith, or heartwood, from each segment and peel them with a drawknife or a carpenter’s adze. The next step is splitting the shingles with a “šinklarca”, a shake axe that allows them to regulate the width. Finally, the shingles are finished, shaped with an axe, and stored in granaries where they dry at least until spring. They are prepared a year in advance. Shingles for Baroque belfries have to be steamed and bent to the shape of the roof. Parts of the roof are assembled in the workshop and transported to the site, where the roof is installed. Other steps involve making the substructure and installing the shingle cladding. Shingles are attached with hot-dipped galvanized nails.
Bojan Koželj has restored many roofs of more and less known buildings. At the moment, he and his expanded team are restoring the defensive wall, a fortified encampment around the Church of St. Nicholas at Cerovo. He is best known for the shingles on the huts on Velika Planina, where he lives. He makes shingle cladding for various buildings: churches (e.g. St. Mark’ Church in Vrba, Church of St. Margaret on Šmarjetna Gora, and Church of St. Ursula on Uršlja Gora, which is the highest-lying church in Slovenia), castles (Postojna and Celje castles, the walls of Bled Castle), various landmarks, monuments, hayracks, and similar. He took part in the renovation of the Russian Chapel on Mt. Vršič and took over the lengthy renovation project at Kočevski Rog, where he restored the roofs of 70 different barracks. He also takes private commissions and makes roofs for new builds