Thatching a roof is actually not as complex as it sounds and you can do it yourself without consulting a roofing expert. After all, there was often nobody in that profession to help villagers in rural England when they made their own roofs a few centuries ago.
As long as you are prepared and ready to devote a lot of time and effort to the process, there is no reason you cannot do it yourself.
In England, the traditional thatch material used for most thatch roofs is straw, either combed wheat straw or longstraw. In the lowlands of England, water reed, also known as Norfolk reed, is used.
These materials are available from suppliers to be shipped almost anywhere. Newer synthetic thatch materials, also on the market, are claimed to last longer than natural products, but those sensitive to chemicals may wish to avoid these.
There are several steps involved in thatching your own roof. It will take a lot of work to get your roof prepared and lay the thatching as well so be sure to plan in advance. Also try to make sure that the weather is fine and still. Wind will only serve to make your job harder and thatching often has to be abandoned if it happens to be raining.
You will also need at least one other person to help you, otherwise you will be juggling all sorts of materials. This can lead to wasted time and also, more importantly, a poorly thatched roof.
When you have the person you need to help you and the correct weather conditions, the following basic steps will give you an idea of what is involved to get through the process.
Depending on the slope of the roof, and what features it has, such as chimneys or dormers, application procedures will vary. The procedure will also be considerably different for each type of thatch, as combed reed and longstraw each have their own laying and bundling techniques associated with their use. See the downloadable book in the link at the bottom of the page for more detailed info.
Thatching Your Roof
1. Commence thatching at the eaves by lining the roof with wads or bottles, which are bound bundles that serve to keep your home dry. They should be tied to the rafters in lines and packed as tightly as possible. You should pin them with wooden broaches to prevent them falling through in the future.
2. When the roof is lined, begin to position long straw on top of the bundles and affix it to them using steel thatching crooks and steel sways. Make sure that the straw is level before moving on to the next step.
3. Repeat step two but make sure that the next layer of straw overlaps the previous one and the surface remains even. It is advisable to put at least three or four layers on.
4. Apply the weathering thatch in vertical strips. It should run from the top of the roof right to the eaves. It should make a depth of at least 15” and be completely even over the roof’s surface area.
5. Use a rake to brush the straw because it removes any loose bits that will look untidy later. Then you should even the end of the straw at the eaves before affixing liggers to keep it in place. You should maintain it after a month to make sure that all loose straw is removed and to make sure that the roof has set well.
Thatched roof cottages and small houses are commonly associated with the English countryside. They give a quaint impression of rural life in the 19th Century that is probably a little rosier than it actually was in reality, but the thatched roof cottages have one other thing in common aside from the fact that they look good.
But there are many other cultures which use thatched roof construction, especially in tropical equatorial areas. From the Hawaiian islands grass shack roofs made from the ti leaves and pili grass of fan palms, to the Kenyan sugarcane leaf roofs of the Kikuyu tribes to Fiji islands tiki huts, thatching is the preferred roofing material.
Thatched roofs are also environmentally friendly, which is one of the main reasons why they are making a comeback and gaining in popularity again.
The Thatchers Craft: downloadable pdf file book on the history of thatching, the stage-by-stage construction using long straw, combed wheat or water reed, with chapters on materials, tools and roof construction.
Thatch.org Site is maintained and written by a thatcher with over 45 years experience.
Photo: jtriefen, Creative Commons License