Make Your Own Wooden Shakes

With just a mallet, a froe and a few other tools, you can craft wooden shakes for your roof.


| February/March 2005



Shakes

Shakes (long shingles split from logs) are cut from bolts of straight-grained timber, such as cedar or redwood. They are easy to make and will give your building a rustic, handcrafted look.


Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors

Have you ever admired an old house covered with weathered shakes — those long shingles old-timers split from logs? Well, if you’re reasonably good with tools, you can make the same kind of roofing for your own buildings.

Turning out handmade shakes isn’t difficult — the hard part is finding the right material. As the illustrations show, shakes are cut from blocks of wood (shake bolts) split out of a whole trunk of cedar, sugar pine, redwood, fir or other straight-grained timber.

Not all trees that look straight from the outside actually prove to be so when they’re opened up, however, and you may have to test chunks sawed off a number of trees before you find a trunk that splits well.

Obviously, you should limit this potentially wasteful search to timber that is already down or dead.

When my wife and I need shake material, we go around to areas that have just been logged and ask the crews if we can clean up a little of the mess they’ve left. Usually, the answer is an enthusiastic “yes.” Alternatively, a permit to cut wood in a national forest will get you all the bolts you need.

The tools needed to get shake bolts out of a whole tree are a chain saw (or a two-person crosscut saw), two to three wedges, a small sledgehammer and an axe. After you’ve cut off a 24- to 36-inch length of timber, you stand it on end, tap a straight line across the diameter with a wedge and hammer, and split the chunk in half. Then split off a narrow triangular section from one of the halves and remove the center of the section so the remaining piece — measured at right angles to the rings — matches the width you want for your shingles.

ekone
7/9/2013 10:40:13 PM

I've been trying to make my own shingles for a while now.  I know how it's done... I have all the tools I'll need.  I can't find any cedar bolts for sale.  I've called the east coast, the west coast, and Canada.  Any ideas where I can get the wood?


ekone
7/9/2013 10:39:20 PM

I've been trying to make my own shingles for a while now.  I know how it's done... I have all the tools I'll need.  I can't find any cedar bolts for sale.  I've called the east coast, the west coast, and Canada.  Any ideas where I can get the wood?


ekone
7/9/2013 10:38:27 PM

I've been trying to make my own shingles for a while now.  I know how it's done... I have all the tools I'll need.  I can't find any cedar bolts for sale.  I've called the east coast, the west coast, and Canada.  Any ideas where I can get the wood?


frank kortuem
5/21/2009 5:16:34 PM

Hello: I just read you article on hand splitting your own shingles. I have split enough shingles to cover three log cabins. Unless you have timber three or four feet across, whoever said that you could get 14 sq of shingles out of 20 feet of log is dreaming. The cabin I'm shingling at the present will take 5,000 shingles to cover 14 sq. I am laying them with a 7" exposure and they average 6" across. I get 30 to 40 shingles out of a 16" bolt. By reading your article I should get 116 --- and that is if each of your shingles covered an exposure of one sq ft --- and I'd like to see them. I think you need to clarify a bit Thanks Frank Kortuem






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