Making Wooden Shingles With Hand Tools

A man standing next to a log holds a wooden mallet and a grey froe with a wooden handle. The froe's long straight blade sits atop the end of the log. Several cuts radiate out from the center of the log going through the length of the wood.

While they have mostly been replaced with other roofing technologies, wooden shingles have a certain rustic charm. If you’re curious about how to make them by hand, [Harry Rogers] takes us through his friend [John] making some.

There are two primary means of splitting a log for making shingles (or shakes). The first is radial, like one would cut a pie, and the other is lateral, with all the cuts in the same orientation. Using a froe, the log is split in progressively smaller halves to control the way the grain splits down the length of the log and minimize waste. Larger logs result in less waste and lend themselves to the radial method, while smaller logs must be cut laterally. Laterally cut shingles have a higher propensity for warping and other issues, but will work when larger logs are not available.

Once the pieces are split out of the log, they are trimmed with an axe, including removing the outer sapwood which is the main attractant for bugs and other creatures that might try eating your roof. Once down to approximately the right dimensions, the shingle is then smoothed out on a shave horse with a draw knife. Interestingly, the hand-made shingles have a longer lifespan than those sawn since the process works more with the grain of the wood and introduces fewer opportunities for water to seep into the shingles.

If you’re looking for something more solarpunk and less cottagecore for your house, maybe try a green solar roof, and if you’ve got a glass roof, try cleaning it with the Grawler.

23 thoughts on “Making Wooden Shingles With Hand Tools

  1. I chopped shingles like this when I was a kid some 50 years ago. It’s very cool when you figure out how to make a chunk of wood behave the way you want it to. It’s not as easy as it looks. The froe is somewhere in my basement, but I haven’t seen it in years.

  2. I’ve made short boards of oak firewood this way for bluebird houses. This is a subset of a more general practice of “riven” oak from several centuries ago. It was much easier to split furniture boards than saw them

  3. Shake shingles like this were outlawed for roofs on new houses decades ago as a fire hazard, at least in my state. I’m not even sure you can get homeowners insurance here for a house with wooden shake shingles.

    1. I used to manage a roofing company here in the states, and it was common for us to encounter cedar shake roofs, which we replaced with asphalt shingles or slate tiles (or fake slate made of rubber), or replaced a few shakes to extend the life of their existing roof (they were available from our roofing supplier but I’m not sure if anyone was doing whole new roofs with them). From a quick bit of research, it looks like it’s a problem trying to insure a wood roof in areas with higher fire risk, not a legal issue.

    2. Actually they seem to be the roofing of choice at least in some suburbs of Portland Oregon. They look to be pressure treated so maybe less flammable than plain cedar. I was told they come with a 50 year warranty. Also FWIW, an asphalt roof is pretty flammable…

  4. Came here just to say that I almost did not open the video, not thinking much of it. But I’m glad I did, it such a nice and pleasant thing to watch. Where I live wood shingles are not used (too much humidity), but the tools and the process are fascinating to watch anyway.

    1. They have been doing that for a while.

      also this is not a hack and should never have been published here.

      next week on hack a day this great new hack to turn ice into water, spoiler alert warm it up above 0 Deg C and keep it below 100 Deg C

      1. You always have to guess.
        Are they removing critical comments, censoring ‘wrong think’ or just incompetent.

        ArtsAndCraftaDay runs on wordpress. Which is married to the _shittiest_ database on earth (mySQL and forks). Comments routinely disappear with blown indexes, then come back on the routine re-index. They’d be better off upgrading to Dbase 3.

          1. Just for you, I request the Hackaday writers to do an article on wrapping wire around a bolt to make an electromagnet… I’m sure there will be information that you are not aware of. There’s enough theory and math on that principle to bore you for many hours. Others would find it fascinating.

            Nothing says it needs to be novel. As far as a hack, yes it is – using something in a manner beyond it’s original or innate intent.

            Again, some of us like the historical hacks, low-tech hacks, survival hacks, etc. I know I am not alone. It all boils down to curiosity and a desire to learn.

            If you don’t like it, feel free to skip it.


            Thanks for the post, Navarre!

    2. If you are referring to the one I think you are, it wasn’t so much critical of the article as it was a personal attack on the author.

      As far as “not a hack”, no, it’s not a hack, assuming your criterion for “hack” is novelty.

      But it is a skill. Once upon a time it was a hack, then it became a skill. Like all skills.

  5. wood shingles are so pasé, the real action is thatching.

    actually, most hand work is a wonderful skill to have, and the mental tools to carry it off are good for most any task you care to try if you care to learn the skills. The shave horse used to finish the shingles is a fabulous design, and surprisingly it is only one of three basic styles in European history.

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