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Thread: Handsplit Shakes (shingles)

  1. #1
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    Default Handsplit Shakes (shingles)

    Anyone try making these up here? I've read some "how to" articles on how to make your own. I know they are traditionally made from cedar, but I'm curious about white spruce. Lot's of big spruce trees went down around my cabin and I'm thinking of more uses for them other than just firewood. Wondering if anyone has tried splitting shakes out of bolts of spruce and what tips you might have.

    Also, anywhere in Anchorage to buy a froe? I know where I can order one online, but we're headed out to the cabin for Thanksgiving and I thought it might be fun to give it a try then.

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    Some of the reasons shakes or split shingles are made from cedar is that wood has a natural resistance to insects, rot, mold, mildew and water saturation. Since spruce has poor results to these problems, unless they are all saturation treated or pressure treated, i would guess your shakes would need replaced every few years, if not yearly. i'm not trying to "rain on your parade" just trying to point out some downfalls i can see from spruce.

    I have made shakes out of cedar and i can tell you its not really that hard with that wood because it splits easily as long as you can get good, knot free stock to start with that is long enough. I have even seen Amish craftsmen make them for quick repairs after bad storms using nothing more than 2-3 normal splitting wedges and a hammer. Something to remember is old shingles on historic buildings that are original, have a square profile, very few were tapered due to the natural split following the grain as opposed to machine made ones that are often cut through the grain on the back side to get a taper for a cleaner look when installed.

  3. #3

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    I had a home that had cedar shake shingles and siding. I used the Chevron shingle oil on them and it helped with the water resistance (this was in Juneau). It also helped keep the wood from drying out. Do folks in southcentral use the shingle oil on shakes?

  4. #4

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    If those trees are big enough, you might consider using them for lumber instead of firewood. You'll still get plenty of firewood from the slab pieces and the cracked or knotty pieces. If you choose to make a lot of shakes, you might want to dip them in some sort of preservative.

    I've split shakes and it's worth trying it just for the experience, but don't expect to get consistent results at first. I had to split an awful lot of blanks to get enough usable shakes for a small shed. The majority wound up as waste, or firewood, or crafts projects. YMMV, but spruce just isn't the same as cedar. Still, I'm glad I made the effort for the experience, and some of those oddly shaped unusable pieces ended up as beautiful crafts.

    BTW, shingles are sawn, shakes are split. If you have the proper saw, it might be easier to make your own shingles instead of shakes. But I always say free advice is worth what you pay for it, so you might as well give it a try no matter what kind of responses you get here!
    Inspiration is simply the momentary cessation of stupidity.

  5. #5
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    Default Splitting tapered shakes . . .

    You can split tapered shakes with a froe:

    Handsplit Tapered Shakes
    Handmade from only the finest, straightest grain red cedar on the planet, hand split tapered shakes are one of life's simple pleasures. Quite simply - nothing is better.


    It all starts with the experienced eye selecting the best shake blocks. It is next to impossible to make tapersplit shakes from less than perfect wood. From there it is almost easy, except for knowing how to attack the block to get the best yield from this precious resource.
    People watch in wonder as the shake maker works his trade, using his mallet, (hammer) to smash the froe (knife) into the block of wood, splitting a shake about 1/2" thick. As he pries the froe down the length of the block, teasing the new shake away, the wood naturally tapers, creating a thin tip. To do it all again, he flips the shake block end to end, to recreate the tapering effect. It works every time but nobody is quite sure why.

    *******************


    Shake blocks are split into 1 inch thick slats called blanks, using either a hydraulic press with a blade attached, called a cuber, or split by hand using a froe and mallet. These blanks are uniform in thickness throughout if split from the same edge without flipping the block. Alternatively, the splitter may flip the block after a blank is taken off each edge, which results in a tapered split from end to end, called tapers or hand-split. The blanks which are not tapered require further processing before application to create this taper, and are run through a large band saw, pushed by hand to cut them from corner to corner forming a tapered shake, sawn on one face.

    **************

    NO. 1 TAPERSPLITProduced largely by hand, using a sharpbladed steel froe and a mallet. The natural shingle-like taper is achieved by reversing the block, end-for-end, with each split which achieves the taper of the wood. This was the original shake that was hand made without any machinery.

    ********************

    Simonson's major error comes in his description of technique used in splitting blocks. In order to get a tapered shake, a woodcutter must flip the block upside down of each shake has been split off. For example, the froe is set the top surface—across the grain approximately 1/2" to 5/8" from the block's edge—and hammered down into the wood. If luck is with you, this first shake will have some taper to it . . . but usually it's as thick at the bottom as it is at the top (what is known as a "shake board"). If this uniform shape is what you're after, you can continue to set the froe 1/2" to 5/8" away from and parallel to the edge of the wood bolt and you'll split nothing but even shake boards. If you're hoping to cut tapers, however, you must flip the block over and split off from the same surface that the first board came from . . . and you will witness a simple but beautiful phenomenon of nature take place if you do this: a perfectly tapered shake.

  6. #6
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    Thanks for the replies so far. I guess I should have stated that these shakes aren't going on a roof. I'm thinking of using them on the gable ends of my cabin and outbuildings mainly for looks. They would be under the overhand of the roof and protected from the rain. Also, I was thinking of dipping them in deck stain before nailing them up.

    Seriphina, I intend to cut lumber too. I already have some nice 12' sections cut and plan to use my chainsaw mill to make 4 bys out of them. My current thinking for each tree is cutting 30" or so rounds from the bottom of the tree for shakes, a 12' or 8' section or two for lumber, then the rest firewood.

    My chainsaw is in for a workout this winter.

  7. #7
    Member AKDoug's Avatar
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    You will most likely not be able to get any decent shingles from white spruce in S.C. Alaska. The climate is such that the trees grow in a spiral. I have a froe, I have attempted to split both spruce and birch with horrible results. The kids used to use it for making kindling, that's about it. Have a go at it, but be prepared to be frustrated.

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    Default Shakes

    This discussion brings back memories. Growing up, I thought hand split cedar shakes were the only roofing option available. During the winter, sometimes Dad would get layed-off from the woods because logging would shut down and that meant it was time to become a cedar rat and cut shake bolts to pay the bills. He kept his eye out for old growth red cedar stumps and logs the first loggers left behind and we would go salvage the wood, cut bolts and pack them out.

    Later, the price of cedar went through the roof and cedar theft became a problem and access to old-growth became an issue. I became fairly good at splitting tapered shakes for projects around the place. Speaking of the froes we had, I recall they were all hand made from truck leaf springs and the mallets were made from a large bolt with a head made from layers of conveyor belting sandwiched together. I suppose spruce would work if it was straight. I made some nice shakes from old-growth douglas fir. The forum members down in S.E have it nice because they can get lucky and find an occasional chunk of salt-cured red cedar on the beach to tow back home on a high tide.

  9. #9
    Member tustumena_lake's Avatar
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    At one time the roof on my cabin up on tustumena had shakes put on back in the 1930's but around 1996 I put the metal roof on. The gable ends are still looking good though after all these years. The old timers even made boards by splitting them. The uprights on the old fence to the garden in the bottom photo were hand split on site over 50 years ago, not sawn.

    shingles.JPG

    fence.JPG

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