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20 June 2018

New thatch for Overwaard windmill 3

One of the most eye-catching maintenance activities this Summer is the replacement of three thatch sheets on Overwaard windmill number 3. As we speak, the job – all pure manual craftsmanship – is well underway.

New thatch for Overwaard windmill 3

Screened by the white sheets suspended as cover, a looming silhouette can occasionally be glimpsed as a stiff breeze ripples the Summer morning. It is clear that the thatcher and the millwrights have taken control of the windmill operated by Cor and Tineke den Boer. “We will be beaming with pride once everything is neat and tidy again”, Tineke says as she sits in the pavilion overlooking their gorgeous, flower-filled millyard. “We feel that it’s important to make sure this place looks great.”

Overwaard mill number 3 is currently undergoing some thorough maintenance. Three of the thatch sheets on its southwest face are being replaced. This is time-consuming work, and necessarily expensive too, because most of the labour has to be done by hand. There is simply no other way to do it. Still, the investment is bound to be worth it: a fresh set of thatch sheets is expected to last for about eighty years, even in the unpredictable Dutch climate. “As you can see, this will probably be the last time for me”, 79-year-old Cor says jokingly, having lived in this windmill for the past 55 years.

Manual labour

Manual labour

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A time-consuming and expensive job, as most of the work has to be done by hand

Soot

The maintenance work is carried out by our trusted partners, the Gebr. Visser thatcher firm, or Visser Bros., for our English readers. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re the best in the country”, says Ad Wisse, responsible for all maintenance to the Kinderdijk windmills. Removing the old thatch is a dirty job: the inner layers are full of soot and dust that is released in the process. This is the result of decades’ worth of accumulated waste emitted by the stove, clogging the thatch for lack of a decent chimney outlet.

The woodwork, which is also replaced where necessary, serves as the foundation for the thatchers’ work. First, they apply a vertical layer of flat spread-out thatch. On top of that comes a thicker thatch layer, cut to a slightly sloping shape down to the bottom section, to improve drainage capacity. Each sheet of thatch will take the thatchers about a week to replace. They only use a specific type of thatch known as Kalenberger, which is grown exclusively in a village in the eastern province of Overijssel. This type of thatch, named after the village where it is cultivated, is counted among the best variants in the world. Wisse asserts that not a drop of protective chemicals will be used in the process. “Sure, there’s all sorts of flame-retardant stuff out there, but none of those work for more than two years. Using these chemicals would be completely pointless here.”

Once the maintenance work is complete, the Den Boer family mill will be completely up to date again. Its other five sheets of thatch were replaced in 2010, and the thatch roof of the mill was renovated before that.

The new layer can be seen to the left; to the right is a current thatch sheet that was replaced eight years ago.

The new layer can be seen to the left; to the right is a current thatch sheet that was replaced eight years ago.

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