The trunks must be carefully selected. Slow-growing and evenly formed trees with scabby bark and few hanging branches are particularly suitable. They should preferably be felled in winter when the sap is at rest. The very manner in which the shingles are made directly affects their lifespan: splitting the wood by hand leaves the wood fibres intact, whereas splitting it with a machine cuts into the fibres in many cases, causing a subsequent loss in the surface sealing qualities of the wood. Consequently, hand-cut shingles have a substantially longer lifespan.
After felling, the tree trunk is cut into 40 to 60 cm lengths which are then split lengthwise. With the shingle froe the shingle maker then splits the 10 to 15 cm wide pieces of wood into 5 to 6 cm thick shingles. This craft, which was on the verge of dying out not so very long ago, is nowadays in increasing demand and shingle roofs are becoming ever more popular. If one of these final splits tries to "run out" to one side or the other rather than going straight down the center, turn the shake so that its thickest side is to the bottom, apply downward pressure on the handle of the froe and thus on the shake and the split should turn back toward center.
You may have to rotate a problem shake several times to keep the split running straight. If some of your shingles have irregularities, such as high spots on one face or the other, they can be dressed up a bit with a draw knife or a hewing hatchet which, like a broadax, is beveled only on one side.
Ragged edges can be smoothed with a hewing hatchet or a slick a very large chisel—3 feet or so overall—designed for working logs. Tie the finished shingles in neat, tight bundles of 20, stacked with thin and thick edges alternating to prevent warping.
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These bundles of 20 make for quick counting and are light enough to tote up a ladder to the roof. It's best to install fresh shingles soon after riving them, while they're still green and pliable. But if you must store yours for some time, tie the bundles tightly to prevent warping. Many frontier-America log cabins were roofed with very large hand-split shingles attached to purlins or lath, in many cases simply weighted down rather than nailed. Since the lath strips were spaced several inches and purlins up to 3 feet apart, a couple of overlapping layers of wood shingles provided the only covering for most of the roof—no solid wood decking, no vapor barrier and no insulation.
While some larger early American log homes had crawlspace attics, most frontier cabins depended on sleeping lofts to provide a thermal buffer against both the sun's heat in summer and the cold of winter. This arrangement provided a fairly comfortable interior temperature on the ground floor, but turned the loft into an ice chest in winter and a sauna in summer.
While strongly tradition-oriented, Peter Gott doesn't recommend being that traditional except, perhaps, for outbuildings. Rather, he suggests the following roofing arrangement:. No matter what type of outer roofing material you plan to use wood, asphalt, fiberglass, metal, etc. Note: Traditional rafters are straight, peeled poles, at least 4 inches to 6 inches in diameter, with their top sides flattened so that dimension lumber can be nailed to them.
When such poles aren't available, Peter uses 4 inch by 6 inch or larger sawn timbers.
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Over the decking, tack down a layer of 30 inch pound roofing felt. Next, stand a row of vertical 2 by 6s-one positioned directly above each rafter-on edge and toenail them through the decking and into the rafters, filling the spaces between the 2 by 6s to within an inch of the top with fiberglass batting or urethane foam insulation. That inch of space above the insulation—in combination with screen vents at the bottom of the roof and, if possible, at the ridge—will allow for air circulation and prevent condensation.
The top layer can be either plywood sheathing best under asphalt shingles , 1 by 6 boards best under metal roofing or 1 by 3 lath strips for wood shingles. Peter begins each shingling job by nailing a 1 by 6 strip of bevel siding thick edge down along the eave bottom edge of the roof to set the proper angle for the first row of shingles. The first row along the eave gets 2 thicknesses of shingles. Using a chalk line to keep the rows straight, Peter begins a new row of shingles every 6 inches up the roof. Given the 19" average length of the shakes, this provides a triple overlap for maximum protection against leaks, should a shingle split.
Working from either gable end of the roof, Peter lays the first shingle in each row with its thick edge facing out. Peter weatherproofs the ridge with an underlying strip of 20 inch-wide aluminum flashing, folding the flashing over the ridge and securing it under the final couple of rows of shingles on each side of the ridge. And while many builders trim the top row of shingles level with the ridge and then cap the roof with a decorative row of horizontal shingles, Peter prefers the traditional Appalachian "feathered ridge," wherein the top 2 rows of shingles on the windward side of the roof jut up several inches above the ridge to act as a crude but effective flashing.
Hand-splitting wood shingles is quite the rustic and romantic project, and when a master craftsman such as Peter Gott does it, riving looks like child's play.
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But let's be reasonable. By the time a novice cuts, limbs, sections and hauls in a large tree for shingle stock, cobbles together a shake break, then splits a few thousand shingles. From a purely economic viewpoint—unless you're up against a financial wall and have rain pouring in through holes in your roof—the answer is probably no.
But there's more to doing for yourself than simple economics.
What does make riving your own shingles worth the effort is the rush of pride you'll get—for years to come—every time you lift your gaze to your rooftop handiwork. Editor's Note: We've prepared a plus construction manual detailing Peter Gott's Appalachian log-building methods. To order this essential handbook, see this issue, page Splitting, or "riving," shingles isn't as difficult as you might imagine.
Master craftsman Peter Gott can hand-split them from red oak as fast as his wife, Polly, can nail them in place. Of course, you won't pick up that kind of speed without a good bit of practice.
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The instructions provided in the image gallery see the shingle diagrams in the image gallery should get you started. Fermentation Frenzy!
Shingle-making, a roofing craft
This one-and-a-half day event is jam-packed with fun and informative hands-on sessions. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. How to Hand-Split Shingles and Shingle a House How to hand-split shingles and shingle a house, including tools, traditional shingle break and illustrated guide, nailing base and shingle placement.
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First,split a shingle block into eight more or less equal sections, using a froe and hardwood mallet. Split away the darker colored unusually heartwood from the point of each wedge of wood. You'll also need to split off the bark and the sapwood beneath it.
Once the block has been split a few times, you'll need to support it in a shingle break. The final splits call for a delicate touch with the froe to prevent uneven splitting. The intricate shingling pattern provides good insurance against leaks. A large chisel can be used to "dress up" any ragged edges and prepare the shingle for use.