shakes and shingles

– this may sound like a post about some form of illness, but in case you didn’t know it is actually about an ancient form of roof covering. hundreds, if not thousands of years of tradition.

shingles are sawn timber roof tiles, usually 16″ (400mm) or more long, and random widths, laid tripple lapped. generally they’re made from cedar and some species of pine or chestnut and oak. shakes are split instead of sawn, which gives them a better natural resistance. it also gives them a rustic appearance, and because of the way they are made, they are usually available only in narrower widths (50-175mm)

i’ve hankered after using shingles or shakes for years, and now i have an opportunity. i like the woodsyness of them, i like the naturalness of them, their beauty, the way they age (silvery). i like how easy they are to make (shakes not shingles), that they are one of the only kinds of renewable roofing materials. and that, from the woods themselves i can make another essential part of the house. of and from it. they are the woods.

the process of making shakes is quite easy. you don’t need many tools, a froe ( a special tool for splitting) a wooden club to hit the froe blade with, and an axe for trimming. having felled your poles, cut the blanks (the rounds of timber also known as bolts from which you will split the shakes), and debarked them, begin by splitting them in half, then quartering, then subdividing. you should be able to subdivide somewhere between 32nds and 64ths, for most bolts.

you can also split them right across the diameter of the bolt, which, because of the difficulty of obtaining anything from it, is called a bastard shake.

rounds much less than 200mm diameter wont make very big shingles, so you will need subsequently more of them. fresh growth on a coppiced stump is the best. somewhere between 20-30 years is ideal. past 50 years and its over-stood, and probably suffering from one or more defect, like heart rot, or shakes (radial splits). shingles are an easy to manufacture solution to roof covering, they take less material than thatching, are lighter than most other forms of roofing material (particularly clay or concrete tiles, or stone slate), easy to install, and very durable. you could expect up-to 70 years out of a shingle roof before it needs re-roofing, about the same as you would expect from slate, and more than you would from clay tiles. the church of east greenstead in essex, england, is one of the oldest surviving timber frame buildings anywhere, and like many other early churches in northern europe (especially stave churches, which to some extent it resembles) it has a shingle clad spire.

why i chose chestnut, was principally because we had some (enough as it turned out for 2500) and it is more durable than pine which i also considered. although i would have had enough pine to do all the shingles i could ever imagine doing, it still would’ve needed treating with a tar based product to prevent insect ingress or fungal growth.

in the end we traded some labor for raw materials, so all the 7000 shakes cost us was about 5 litres of petrol and some oil for the chainsaw. well that, and the physical toll on me, which was not inconsiderable. i wouldn’t want to make them everyday, put it that way.

why 7000? well that’s what estimated it would take to cover 100m2 of roof, and how long did it take? including felling, hauling out of the woods, making, and stacking, 40 days and 40 nights, how very biblical, how very appropriate.

This entry was posted in Blokey stuff, building, Forestry, Roofing materials (shingles and shakes, peg tiles and slate). Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to shakes and shingles

  1. Julia & Mick says:

    Very interesting reading! It's a shame you haven't had any divine intervention to build the whole house in 40 days & 40 nights!!

  2. I'm gonna love this house!!! :)))

  3. Rick McKee says:

    This is EPIC, Rick. Amazing work. That chestnut looks like it's splitting beautifully. Do you leave the sapwood on? I love that you're keeping time trials of your work–very informative. Thanks!

  4. Those chestnut colored shakes will totally bring a rusty aesthetic to that house. By the way, is it done already? 40 days and 40 nights of work can drain your energy, and you have the tendency to lose focus at the same time. Don't rush out there, but, it's pretty exciting to see the complete house as soon as possible. Here's a tip: count the shakes/shingles that you can install per day, this will definitely help you quicken the pace of your work.

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