Making Nailed Boules
Aiguines was the capital of nailed boule making. It is situated in the north of the department of the Var, on the left bank of the Grand Canyon of the Verdon. In a region blessed with forests of Boxwood the town was already known for its woodturning industry which made household articles. Boulemaking took off here in the nineteenth century. From 1872 onward the boules were covered with nails.
To make boules the turners needed pieces of Boxwood root, which they found in the surrounding hills. In the brushy vegetation of the surrounding hills, the Boxwood received the full strength of the Provençal sun. In this environment it was stunted, more bush than tree, which produced a very hard root. From these hard roots they turned the "boules d'Aiguines" which made the town famous.
The turners would go out to look for Boxwood bushes of the right size, removing the branches with a pocket knife. Then they woulld dig out the roots with a pick called "la pitche". The root would be cleaned up on the spot so as to reduce the load to be carried back to the village. Once back at their workshop, the turners blocked out the shape with a band saw. Then the rough boule was finished on the lathe to make it ready for the nailers.
The Nailing or "ferrage" was done by women. The work required a hammer, a heavy stump of wood to serve as a workbench and especially a "rond de cepoun". This was a metal ring which was placed on the stump to hold the boule in position for nailing.
There were two different styles of nailing:
For this style they used only nails of steel, brass or copper with flat round heads. The nails followed a continuous spiral. The second nail covers part of the first, the third part of the second and so on. The last nail ends up exactly opposite the first. Fishscale nailing leaves a perfectly smooth surface, completely hiding the wooden boule underneath. This style was used particularly for the boules of small diameter (70 to 90 mm) used to play pétanque and jeu provençal. Only the simplest ornamentation was possible with fishscale nailing - letters, initials or symbols.
This was used especially on large diameter boules (90 - 110 mm). Using a template, the desired design was drawn on the surface of the bare wooden boule, and the nailing then followed the pattern. There were different styles of nailheads - square, roundhead, flathead and hexhead in steel, brass and copper. Any given boule would use only one style of nailhead, but by varying the metal it was possible to create fantastic designs. They stopped making wooden boules in Aiguines in 1933.