About Shakes & Shingling
I’ve covered the walls and/or roofs of three houses now with home-split redwood shakes. For one, I found a windfall tree, knocked down years earlier by wind, in the Mendocino woods, and the owner let me split shakes from it in return for leaving some for him. The second tree, for the second house, I found up a steep trail in a canyon abandoned by loggers. The last bunch of shakes came from driftwood redwood logs: the logs were about 1/2 mile from truck access so I went down to the beach in a wet suit, with a kayak paddle, levered a log into the water at high tide, sat on it, and rowed up to the beach road. I floated in as far as I could, left the log, came back at low tide, cut it up, and hauled sections home in my truck, to be split later into shakes. Another way to move logs along a beach is get them into the water, then tow them with a rope. Let the water carry the weight.
A Sample Chapter from Shelter
Theres a good section on splitting oak shakes in The Foxfire Book. Here is what Ive learned working with redwood:
The principle of shingling, or overlapping, as with a birds feathers, is perhaps the best water-shedding device discovered by man, and is used in a variety of ways on roofs: shingles, shakes, tiles, tin roofing, mineral paper, composition shingles, slate, etc. All overlap and pass water along until it leaves the building. Whereas shingles are cut by saws, shakes are handsplit. Best shakes come from old trees, with tight growth rings. A good shake tree will be at least two feet in diameter at a point two feet above ground, straight, and with no limbs in the first 15 feet. A sign of good grain is bark that runs straight from the roots to the first fork. (The best book on splitting and shakes is Old Ways of Working Wood .
- First thing, before cutting up an entire log: cut out a section and try splitting test shakes. Many trees aren’t suitable knots, bad grain or too young.
- You cut 24" sections out of the log for standard shakes. If it’s a big tree and your chain saw won’t cut through all the way, cut as deep as possible, then with wedges split sections out.
Some of the best woods are oak, cedar, and redwood, all becoming increasingly scarce. But if you look around, on beaches or in the woods, you may find trees left behind by loggers, and shakes can often be made from short lengths of wood not good for much else. The best thing about shakes is that with a chain saw and a few hand tools, you can make your own building materials. This procedure works if you are going to split standard against-the-grain-shakes.
For these you must have a tree with tight rings. If the wood doesn’t split well against the grain, as shown by the bolts in photo 5, it may still be possible to split with the grain, to make bastard shakes. In splitting bastard shakes, you do not split from the ends. Rather, and this is important, you split the bolt down the middle, and continue to halve the sections until you get as thin as you can. These are more likely to warp than regular shakes, better for walls than roofs.
People in the northwest have made shakes from lumberyard scraps. I ran into a professional shake splitter once, be told me that commercial cedar shakes are made from wood after logging operations, and that theres much wastage; they only take the prime wood, and burn the rest.
Most cedar shakes are split into about 1" thick sections, then sawed in two with a taper at one end. Theyre sawn by eye on a band saw the men doing it are paid by the number of shakes they turn out, and most of them have less than ten fingers. You can try making shakes out of any type wood. Shakes to be used on walls dont have to be as good as roofing shakes. Ive made them from old redwood highway markers, railroad ties, douglas fir, and even eucalyptus.
Roof pitch and exposure: Handsplit shakes should be used on roofs where the slope or pitch is sufficient to insure good drainage. Minimum recommended pitch is 1/6 th or 4-in-12 (4" vertical rise for each 12" horizontal run). Maximum recommended weather exposure is 10" for 24" shakes.
Roof application: Along the eave line a 36" wide strip of 30-lb. roofing felt is laid over the sheathing. The beginning or starter course at he eave line should be doubled. After each course of shakes is applied, an 18" wide strip of 30-lb. roofing felt is laid over the top portion of the shakes and extending onto the sheathing, with the bottom edge of the felt positioned at a distance above the butt equal to twice the weather exposure.
Nailing: Use two hot-dipped zinc-coated nails for each shake, placing them approximately one inch from each edge, and high enough to be covered an inch or two by the succeeding course. Nails should be long enough to penetrate at least 1/2” into sheathing.
Individual shakes should be spaced apart about 1/4 to 3/8 inches, to allow for possible expansion. These joints or spaces-between-shakes should be broken or offset at least 1 1/2 inches in adjacent courses.
Some tips from Leon Henry, shake splitter from the Russian River area, California, on redwood shakes:
How would you frame a roof for 24" shakes?
On top of the rafters, nail a 1" x 3" or 1" x 4" strip every 56". Nail here, two nails per shake.
Leave about 1/2" between shakes, 10" exposure. Nails under above shake.
Put em on right, get the right pitch, you dont need tar paper. Ive slept in a place, you could see the stars through the shakes, but when it rained, no water came in.
A lot of people make the mistake of putting shakes on a roof thats too flat. You shouldnt go shallower than 5" in 12" thats pretty steep. If its too shallow the wind can get underneath and pull shakes off, and water gets driven up inside them.
Building codes today require tarpaper between shakes. Leon thinks this isn’t a bad idea, but not necessary with proper pitch, and, that this ruling probably came from people trying to put shakes on shallow-pitched roofs, and roofing companies trying to sell paper. He says that what’s good about nailing shakes onto strips is the air circulation, drying out, less chance of rot.