Making Roof Shingles With Hand Tools

Categories: Construction Methods, Handmade

Making some chestnut shingles using hand tools including froe and side axe. In this film John shows you two different methods for making roofing shingles or shakes, and goes into some detail. He is an expert on this having made more than 2,000 for his woodland building alone!.

Ever admire an old house covered with weathered shakes...those long shingles old-timers used to 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 wooden shingles isn't difficult in itself...the hard part is finding the right material. Shingles 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 lookstraight from the outside prove to be so when they're opened up, however, and you may have to test two- to three-foot chunks sawed off a number of trees before you find a trunk that splits out well. Obviously, you should limit this potentially wasteful search to timber that is already down or dead.

The tools needed to get shingle bolts out of a whole tree are a chain saw (or a two-man crosscut saw), two or three wedges, a small sledgehammer, and an axe. After you've cut off a 24"-36" drum of timber, you stand it on end, tap a straight line across the diameter with wedge and hammer and split the chunk in half. Then split off a narrow triangular section from one of the halves and remove the heartwood so that the remainingpiece—measured at right angles to therings—matches the width you want your shingles to be .

Finally, try slicing the sample hunk into shingle. If the wood is unsuitable, you'll have to go on to another log...but if you're lucky, the test bolt will split into smooth shingles 1/4"-5/8" thick. In that case, go ahead and divide the section into shingle . [The Foxfire Book has an excellent sequence of photographs showing this operation. —MOTHER EARTH NEWS.] The tree you found should give you enough material to cover a good-sized roof. (To be more exact, 20 feet of good straight timber will yield about 20 "squares" of shingles ...a square being enough to cover an area of 100 square feet when the slabs are properly laid.)

The tools you'll need to split the shingle from the bolts include afroe (metal wedge 8"-12" long, with an "eye" in one end to hold a handle) and a wooden mallet (made of hardwood, with a knot for strength).Froes can sometimes be found insecondhand stores...I wouldn't pay more than about $8.00. Or ask almost any older farmer. Very likely he has one of these outmoded tools lying around and will lend or give it to you.

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