What are Barge Boards?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Barge boards are decorative features which are mounted on the gables of the house, following the pitch of the roof. The boards are mounted right along the roofline, obscuring the structural details of the roof and adding a decorative accent. This type of roof trim is used in many regions of the world and examples can be seen across a wide range of architectural styles. In fact, a perusal of almost any neighborhood on Earth should turn up a few barge boards.

Man with a drill
Man with a drill

These decorative features are also known as fly rafters or gable rafters. They do not serve a structural function in the home, being added after the home has been built along with other decorative trim. On some houses, the barge boards are plain, and painted in the same color of the rest of the trim if the trim is painted. These boards can also be highly ornamental, as seen in architectural styles such as Queen Anne, in which the fly rafters are often heavily carved and may be painted in multiple colors.

This type of roof trim can only be seen on gabled roofs, in which two sections of roof are spanned by a triangular wall. Many schools of architecture use gables to add visual interest. Barge boards can be supplemented with a variety of other decorative trim, perhaps most notably in the ornate styles associated with Gothic Houses. People who want to add this type of trim or change the boards on their homes can usually easily do so.

While barge boards are classically from wooden planks or carved wood, other materials can be used as well. Some homebuilders use composite materials because they are cheaper and sometimes sturdier, and plastics, plasters, or decorative metal strips can also be used. When selecting barge boards, people should think about other materials used in the construction of a home, and the desired lifespan of the decorative trim, as it can be difficult to reach the gables of a roof for maintenance and touch-up painting.

The term “barge board” is also used to describe an aerodynamic feature which is added to some types of race cars, particularly open wheel race cars. The barge board is designed to stabilize and direct the air flow around the car to allow it to achieve greater speeds. The meaning of the term is usually clear from the context of the conversation or text in which barge boards are referenced.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Barge boards are not only a decoration - they protect against rain and snow getting under the tiles.


Here in St. Louis, Barge boards are a striking feature of some of the row houses that make up so much of the urban landscape. In some sad cases they have fallen into total disrepair, but in many other they have been preserved or restored to highlight their original beauty. Many of them have been painted ornamental in the Queen Anne style. It really is beautiful. Theses architectural fetaures manage to look both classic and exotic at the same time. It just proves the adage, they don't make em like they used to.


HUH, I thought that barge boards meant something completely different. I have a friend that lives in New Orleans and he said that his house has barge boards in the rafters. When I asked him what this meant, he told me that they used to sail barges down the Mississippi and then dismantle them in New Orleans to use the wood for construction. The boards literally came off of a barge. When I actually write it down though that sounds kind of far fetched. Why wouldn't they just sail the barges back up river?

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