What is a Wood Shingle?

O. Parker

Wood shingles are oblong pieces of wood used to make a roof or as siding for a house. Many old homes have wood shingled roofs or siding, as wood historically was often the most available building material. Modern roofing materials often last longer and are more durable, but to maintain the authentic look of an old home, wooden shingles are hard to beat.

Shakes are traditionally cut with an ax.
Shakes are traditionally cut with an ax.

To fabricate a wood shingle, each piece is cut from a block of wood with a saw and should be uniform in size, slope of the tapered end, and thickness. Each piece is oblong and usually measures 16 to 24 inches (about 40 to 60 cm) long and 3 to 4 inches (about 7.62 to 10.16 cm) wide. One end is 1.25 to 1.5 inches (about 3.1 to 3.8 cm) thick and tapered at the other end.

Shingles made of wood may be particularly susceptible to mold.
Shingles made of wood may be particularly susceptible to mold.

The beams of a house's roof or siding are typically where wood shingles are nailed into place. The tapered end goes at the top and holds the nail. As the shingles are attached, each row overlaps the next row to create a tight surface that will repel water.

One of the most common materials used is cedar. Types of cedar used include Eastern White Cedar, Alaskan Yellow Cedar and Western Red Cedar. This type of wood naturally has oils in it that slow the decay caused by rain, mold, and insects. As the cedar ages in the elements, the color turns to a silver-gray color. A good cedar roof should last between 25 and 50 years.

Similar to a wood shingle is a wood shake. Shakes are similarly shaped and attached in the same way. Shakes are cut by hand, however, traditionally with an ax. A shake roof is rougher in appearance and used on structures when a rustic look is desired. A shake commonly has a rough surface, while a wood shingle is smooth.

Modern roofing materials include metal, tar, and plastics that hold up longer and are more durable than wood shingles. When deciding to use a traditional wood shingle roof, the reason is often to keep the home in its original condition. Many older homes have these types of roofs.

Wood shingles vary in size and shape. Some older homes have styles that are round on the bottom or narrower or thicker than standard varieties. When restoring an old home, finding wood shingles to match the existing roof can be challenging; consulting a restoration company often can be helpful.

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