A helpful buying guide about wooden shingles and shakes, covering a selection of materials and styles as well as considerations for DIY projects at home.
Wood shingles and shakes, typically made of decay-resistant cedar, are prized for their rustic beauty and ability to adapt to intricate architectural styles. However, due to their high degree of flammability, many regions of the country have restricted them. In addition, shingles and shakes are prone to rot, splinter, crack, and cup. They can be pried loose by wind and change color if not properly maintained.
Cedar shingles are graded #1 (“blue label”), the best, and #2 (“red label”), which are acceptable as underlayment when double-coursing (applying two layers). Widths are random-from 3 to 14 inches-and lengths are 16, 18, or 24 inches. Shingles are also available in specialty patterns.
Shakes are thicker than shingles, with butts 3/8 to 3/4 inch thick. They are primarily sold unpainted but are also available pre-stained, painted, and treated with fire retardant.
Depending on heat, humidity, and maintenance, shingles and shakes can last from 20 to 40 years. Maintenance in hot, humid climates requires applying a fungicide/mildew retardant every three years. In dry climates, preserve resiliency with an oil finish every five years.
Shakes and shingles are easy to handle and install, though the job is time-consuming. Still, it is manageable with basic carpentry skills and tools plus a roofer’s hatchet.