The twin brothers Tobias and Christian Pfeifer are the seventh generation to run the family-owed shingle making business. In their carpentry workshop in the Winterkasten district of Lindenfels, they combine traditional craftsmanship with state-of-the-art technology and make old buildings shine again.
Wood shavings gently fall to the ground. Tobias Pfeifer guides the drawing knife over a piece of wood performing fluid movements. With each pull, more shavings fall. The wood start to take shape. Tobias sits on a wooden bench where even his great-great-grandfather sat and performed the exact same movements. He bends forward a little, presses the pedal down clamping the piece of wood in place at the top. He then pulls the drawing knife, which has a handle on each side, backwards with strength and feeling. He works on the board’s edges, giving the piece a diamond shape—the prevailing shape in the Odenwald. Numerous houses in the region are covered with shingles of this shape.
Tobias is a shingle maker, although his work has evolved and is now very different from the way he is demonstrating here. But Tobias and his twin brother Christian still learned the old technique from their father and grandfather. The traditional knowledge is passed on from generation to generation and is thus preserved, which is important to the family. Of course, the Pfeifer carpentry workshop has long been equipped with machines that do most of the work. Otherwise it would hardly be possible to produce 100,000 shingles a year. Nevertheless, the place where they are made still looks “a bit like the master carpentry in the former children’s series Master Eder and his Pumuckl,” as Christian describes it. It smells like that, too—of wood chips and resin. Automation of the shingle-making process is limited. Each shingle still has to be picked up eight times, as it used to be. “It remains a craft,” Tobias explains.
The twins take pride in continuing a tradition that has long been in Winterkasten. At some point they will take over the workshop from their father Matthias Pfeifer. Johann Nikolaus Pfeifer founded the carpentry and cabinet making joinery in 1840 and specialised in wooden shingle work here in the small Lindenfels district of Winterkasten, which is located in the Odenwald in the very north of the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region. Back then, half-timbered houses were still widespread in the Odenwald. To protect and prevent the wooden beams from rotting on the weather side too quickly, they were covered with wooden shingles.
Tobias and Christian Pfeifer are continuing a long tradition in Winterkasten.
The Pfeifer carpentry workshop has been here since 1840.
The craftsmen themselves choose the trees to be used for the shingles.
Machines help with production, but shingle making remains a specialty craft.
Shingles come in many different shapes.
They still adorn many buildings in the Odenwald.
The brothers love to make…
… old buildings shine again.
Protecting wood from rot by means of applying wood? Sounds contradictory, but “the fact that wood gets wet is not a problem, as long as it can dry well afterwards,” Tobias explains. This is why the shingles are not applied directly to the façade but attached to a wooden construction. This ensures a draught of air, which in turn enables the shingles to dry again quickly. “This construction has the great advantage of making way for an additional layer,” Christian adds, so the traditional construction method can be used together with state-of-the-art thermal insulation.
Sometimes the buildings are really dilapidated, but when we’re done, they really shine again
The Pfeifer carpentry specialises in cultivating ancient craftsmanship in combination with modern technology. The grandfather, Heinrich Pfeifer, expanded the workshop in the 1970s. Since then, the family has increasingly been making furniture, but above all doors and windows for listed buildings. “In shingled houses, the restoration of the transitions from the windows to the shingles is a particular challenge,” Tobias says. “So it’s a great advantage to get both from a single source.” He shows us a piece of wood with an infinite number of offsets and angles. It is the complicated puzzle piece of a window frame. “This is what you get when you make a window that looks like they used to, features triple-glazing, has two levels of sealing and maybe even integrates a burglar alarm, which sends owners a warning to their mobile phone if the security glass breaks.”
The frames are made in large machines controlled by computers in the workshop. “The process is automated to a large extent, but it’s still not fully automated,” Christian explains. The special requirements that windows or doors for listed buildings entail often push the machines to the limits of what they can handle. Tobias turns the elegant frame piece in his hands. “We constantly challenge the automation process.”
Word has got around that they also make possible the seemingly impossible and that they always respond to special requests. The monument authorities in the region are happy to recommend the Pfeifer carpentry even for larger projects, such as the Eulbach hunting lodge of Count of Erbach-Erbach, which they restored and on which they installed new shingles in 2018. “You are involved in the entire restoration process. That’s what makes the job so interesting for me. Sometimes the buildings are really dilapidated, but when we’re done, they really shine again,” Tobias tells us.
The demand for shingle work is not abating. “On the contrary, it is even increasing,” Tobias reports. Now and then they cover new houses with shingles, but for the most part they do restorations. The wood for the projects comes from the Odenwald. Larch is the wood type mainly used in their workshop because it is hard and has a high resin content, which makes it particularly impenetrable to water. The craftsmen themselves choose the trees to be used for the shingles. “The local forester already knows what we need: trees that have grown as straight as possible and have few branches.” The logs are roughly sawn into shape and stored for two years to dry completely. They are then processed further. The chips that are produced in the process are collected in a silo and then burnt in a chip heating system with the heat being used both in the workshop and the residential building.
Tobias has been a master carpenter since 2017. Christian trained and worked in another carpentry workshop in the beginning. He wanted to specialise in interior construction. “I thought it was important to get a taste of another company and see what they do differently and maybe better.” The brothers complement each other perfectly. Tobias now works mainly in the office and manages the business together with his father. Christian is more of a hands-on man. He organises the workshop and goes along to the construction sites.
Both still live in Winterkasten. “It’s a widespread phenomenon that nobody wants to leave the place,” the brothers say, although the village with its 670 residents is really tranquil. “But there are many social clubs here and there is a strong sense of community.” When one of the clubs hosts an event, the whole village turns out. Tobias built his house right next to the carpentry and Christian lives in the attic of his parents’ house directly opposite. The façade is, of course, clad with pointed wooden shingles—the typical type seen in the Odenwald.
Learning another trade was never an option for the two brothers, although “our father always gave us the choice,” as Tobias emphasises. But they are deeply rooted in wood as a material and have been helping out in the carpentry since they were 14 years old. “We quickly took a liking to it,” his brother confirms. They also continued on their path when their classmates asked them why they were taking their Abitur examination if they ‘only’ wanted to become carpenters. “I don’t want to do any other job,” says Christian. “Every day I see what I have done and achieved. We can drive around the region and find our doors, our shingling work or the windows that we put in. And the houses always look better than before. That’s such a good feeling.”
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