The Difference Between Wood Shingles and Wood Shakes
Updated: May 12
As humanity continues its march toward a high-tech future, many of us yearn for something that reminds us of simpler times. Though we may love our gadgets and all the stylings that they have inspired, our eyes can only process so much smoothness, uniformity and mass-produced sleekness. Eventually, we crave a return to nature.
Using wood shingles or shakes is one of the best ways to introduce a natural touch to your everyday life. Your house’s roof is more than just protection against the elements. When you take in the view of a house, you have an emotional response to its design. Some roofs make a bold statement, while others are more understated — much like the bass line in a great song, they influence the observer on a subconscious level.
Wooden shingles and shakes make a statement that is somewhere between bold and understated. It’s a unique effect. Wooden shingles and shakes catch the eye with their elegance and rustic charm, and yet their natural look is simultaneously inherently tasteful and subtle.
But what are shakes and shingles, and how are they different? What are the key things that show the difference between shakes and shingles?
If you find yourself asking this question, you’re not alone — there are some subtle differences between these two items. Let’s take a look at what each type is, how it is built, how to spot differences in quality and what variations they come in.
Cedar shingles are much beloved for their economical price, aesthetic and protective abilities. They give homes a charming rusticity, while also being a symbol of quality and investment. Cedar shingle roof life is also remarkably high — at least 30 years with proper care. Asphalt shingles, on the other hand, may last only 15 years.
A smooth, uniform look is one thing that characterizes cedar shingles. This appearance is due to the way in which shingles get produced. Up until the middle of the 20th century, woodworkers sawed cedar shingles by hand from a block of wood to create a smooth surface on all sides of the shingle.
Today, machines quickly and reliably produce shingles, saving time, money and a lot of thankful arm muscles. Each one is tapered to be thicker on one end.
On a roof, cedar shingles have a graceful and consistent look. While they are far more rustic and charming than asphalt shingles, they also have a refined quality that makes them well-suited for classical, Victorian, Greek Revival or ranch homes. Their style complements fine architecture and naturally adds to the sophistication of a house.
Cedar shakes are the rugged brother of shingles. They are beloved for their rusticity and non-uniformity, with each shake looking slightly different from the ones surrounding it. Cedar shake roof life is also around 30 years, making them an outstanding investment for homes.
The ruggedness of cedar shakes stems from the fact that their surface is rough-cut, with gouges and imperfections aplenty for the eye to feast on. This rough-cut surface results from the method of production. Traditionally, cedar shakes were made by splitting the wood with a froe and mallet. This method imprinted the imperfections into the style, which we have come to love as time has gone on.
A cedar shake is much thicker than a cedar shingle. This thickness compensates for the crests and troughs along its width. Without a half-inch or three-quarter-inch thickness, it is possible the dips in texture might create weak points in the shingle, while the added sturdiness assures each one will be strong and not at risk of splitting.
Cedar shakes are still made by hand, though of course there is a lot of machinery involved as well. Wood splitters cut and split up logs, and skilled handlers move the pieces through a series of cuts to ensure quality.
Due to their rough-cut look, cedar shakes are an excellent choice for any rustic-style house. They are equally at home on cabins, country farmhouses and other such homes. Because they have a “fairytale” appeal, they are beautiful on tiny cottages that need an extra touch of rustic charm.
Cedar Shingles and Shakes — Differences in Cost
Both cedar shingles and shakes are great options for adding a touch of luxury to your home. Let’s take a look at what each one costs, and how they compare to other types of roofing.
A lot of factors go into the cost of a roof. There are the size and slope of the roof, the complexity of its surfaces and angles, what underlayment you’ll have underneath it, how much flashing is required and how much labor it will take.
Roofers describe the slope of a roof, otherwise known as its pitch, in terms like “3 in 12.” Recall the grade-school formula for slope, which is rise over run. That’s what these numbers are: the first number indicates how many inches the roof rises during a 12-inch run. Slope will be extremely important when you choose your roofing material, and is a big factor in whether you should go with shingles or shakes.
Roofers often state costs per roofing “square,” which is a 10-foot by 10-foot area. Cedar shingles are about $400 to $700 per roofing square. Cedar shakes are more expensive, at $600 to $900 per square. We can attribute the difference in cost to these factors:
Cedar shakes are thicker, meaning there is more raw material in them.
Cedar shakes take more labor to make.
Cedar shakes also take more labor to install.
Understanding Wood Grains and Cuts
As you immerse yourself in the world of cedar roofing, the importance of wood quality soon becomes obvious. How a tree is cut will almost single-handedly determine the quality of the resulting shingles and shakes.
Imagine looking at the cross-section of a cut tree, with the concentric tree rings facing you. The following are the primary cuts possible for shingles and shakes.
Edge cuts: If you were to cut a sliver horizontally across, passing through the tree’s center, the resulting cut would naturally contain lots of tree rings — this is because the cut was made perpendicular to them. This is the strongest cut possible and is the one responsible for high-quality cedar shingles and shakes.
Flat cuts: A shingle or shake cut from the area directly above and below the tree’s center would produce a flat cut. Because of the circular shape of the grains, they would rise on one end and fall on the other, creating a cut that is weaker than the edge cut. This type of cut will probably split in a roofing application.
Slash cuts: Whereas edge cuts are completely against the grain and flat cuts are completely along it, slash cuts are a combination of both. Above or below the center, these cuts start towards the middle and work their way outward. As a result, they are less stable than both edge cuts and flat cuts.
The Difference in Wood Grades
As there are so many types of trees and different ways to cut them, it is easy to see how wood would come in different grades of quality. Wood grading is something to pay attention to when choosing your cedar shingles or shakes for roofing or siding.
There are four grades of wood.
Grade 1: The highest-quality wood available, this type is made completely from edge grain cuts. It is guaranteed to be free of defects and will create a long-lasting roof.
Grade 2: Some sapwood makes its way into grade 2 lumber, but overall, this is still a good-quality product. It is made from flat grain. There may be some knots and blemishes that will appear on the exposed part of the shingle. Grade 2 lumber is fine for replacing parts of the roof or as a way to learn how to roof cedar shingles. It is also suitable for siding.
Grade 3: This is the budget option for those needing an underlayer of wood siding. It will have more permitted defects and blemishes than grade 2 lumber, and many of them will show on the exposed part of the shingle once the roof is installed. Some sapwood will be included in this grade. If used on the exterior of a building, this grade is best suited for buildings like sheds.
Grade 4: The lowest-quality option available, this type of shingle should only be used for the underlayer on siding. It is not suitable for any type of exterior work.
Options for Wood Shingles
Wood shingles are extremely versatile. They can be used on gradual roofs, as well as siding. Their smooth texture is the reason these shingles are in use on roofs that are not steep. Wood shakes have gouges and valleys that create friction for sliding snow, as well as trap moisture and allow things like moss to gain a foothold. Wood shingles, on the other hand, allow rain, snow and ice to roll downward and exit the roof.
For this reason, wood shingles can be used on pitches as low as 3 in 12, making them an excellent choice for those who live in areas with lots of inclement weather. Do keep in mind that gradual roofs should have a proper underlayer to ensure no water gets through.
Wood shingles come in three different sizes, each one progressively more expensive.
Fivex shingles: These shingles are slender — only ¼” thick and 16” long. This shingle offers 7-½” of exposure, with 8-½” overlapped by the shingle above.
Perfection shingles: Obviously regarded highly by whoever named them, perfection shingles are slightly thicker than fivex shingles, at 3/8”. Their 18” length gives them an 8-½” exposure, which might suit a slightly larger house.
Royal shingles: Royal shingles reflect their name in that they are larger and statelier than their counterparts. They are only a slight bit thicker than perfection shingles, at ½”. However, they are substantially longer at 24”. This means not only a thicker profile and a sturdier shingle, but also an 11-½” exposure.
The general rule of thumb is that a shingle’s exposure should be ½” less than half of its length. That’s why a 16” shingle will have 7-½” of exposure, while a royal shingle will have 11-½”.
Options for Wood Shakes
Wood shakes are naturally thicker than shingles, which, as we mentioned before, can partly account for their higher cost. They are best suited for roofs of 4 in 12 pitch or greater.
There are three types of wood shake, each desirable for its own set of qualities.
Heavy split/resawn: This is the classic, high-quality wood shake most people can immediately picture. The exposed shake has a rough, gouged surface that is the result of a natural splitting process in manufacturing. The bottoms of these shakes are sawn smooth, allowing them to lay flush against the underlayer. As their name suggests, these shakes are quite thick: they come in ¾”, 1” or 1-¼” thicknesses. They are also tapered, so this thickness is that of the exposed butt.
Medium split/resawn: These shakes are identical to heavy split shakes in every way except for their thickness, which comes in ½” or 3/8”. These are a good option for those looking for a luxurious aesthetic while saving a bit of money.
Tapersawn: While technically a shake due to its thickness, this type is sawn until it is smooth on all sides, much like a shingle. It is the most popular type of wood shake roof on the market, as it is versatile and works with many different types of house architectures. It has the uniform look of wood shingles and the beautiful shadows of shakes. It comes in 5/8”, ¾” and 1” thicknesses.
Premium Options for Both Wood Shingles and Shakes
If you are looking to spruce up the value of your wood shingle or shake roof, there are a few options available to you.
Fancy-butt shingles: The butt of the shingle or shake doesn’t have to be square — it can also be cut in any number of different decorative shapes like circles, cusps and notches. Be sure to look at samples to see if a fancy-butt item would work on your home.
Fire-retardant application: One of the few downsides of wood roofs is that they are vulnerable to fires. However, a process exists to make shingles or shakes resistant to flames by pressure-treating them with a fire-retardant substance. This treatment adds another level of safety and peace of mind to your home.
Fungus prevention application: Preventing the growth of mold and fungus will lengthen the life of your roof immensely. Shingles or shakes are treated in the same way as with fire retardants, with a pressure application system. Note that you cannot have both fire and fungal protection — you can only choose one.
Contact Cedar Roof Coatings
Cedar Roof Coatings offers an unmatched quality of work. For 35 years, our family-owned and -operated business has served the communities of Fairfield County, CT and Westchester County, N.Y. We are a Fine Paints of Europe Certified Painter and are fully bonded, licensed and insured.