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suitable tree species for shakes  RSS feed

 
christoph Berger
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I am planning on making shakes for my log cabin roof here in vermont and wondering what kind of trees would be suitable to use? I have white spruce on my land that I was considering.I just want them to last like 20 years at least with a 45 degree pitch. I also have sugar maples here black cherry, beach, and birch.that's about it so I was thinking the white spruce would be the best option. But if that is not a halfway decent wood for shakes I'm willing to go to the effort to find a better type of wood for it. Thanks

PS is it crucial to season the wood a whole lot before using it?
 
r ranson
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I don't know much about making shakes, but I'm very interested in it.  Locally we use ceader.  I don't know if they age it or not, but there is one guy who used to buck up and rive driftwood off the beach into shakes.  It was amazing to watch him work.  He used the froe to square off the block, then rived a shake, fliped the block over, rived another one. 

It's also really facinating that these actions have their own specialized vocabulary. 

Not hugely helpful on the wood question, but something I stumbled across today that might be of interest are these instructions for how to use a froe to rive shakes.




You can also use the froe to initiate the split when making shakes from dimension stock of straight-grained wood like cedar but only after you have squared the block to get rid of juvenile wood. In such a case you push or pull the handle toward the material you are splitting off the block. This causes the shake to taper as the split advances. You then turn the block over to start the second shake from the opposite end.

If you are splitting shakes from straight grain hardwood (like oak) you will usually find that it tapers very little and you will have to use a draw knife to create the taper you want. In this case you would usually not have to invert the block for subsequent splits. In most other uses of the froe, you are controlling the advancing split by pushing the froe handle toward the thicker part of the wood being split in order to get consistent thickness of the piece being split off the blocks.

 
Dale Gi
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I have two thoughts that come from an off-the-grid cabin we are building in Alaska using natural methods and materials.
   1) The Denaina, a local native tribe used birch bark for shingles.  That's not shakes, but it might be useful information.  The would take 1/2 the diameter of the tree's bark and use it like half-round ceramic roofing tiles, alternating concave and convex.  Birch bark is waterproof (think of birch bark canoes), that's why the tree can be rotten, but the bark holds it's shape.
   2) On our property there was the collapsed remains of a 100-year old house.  Both for recycling purposes, and for preserving the history of the land, we are recycling everything we can.  One of the things we managed to salvage was a large number of cedar shingles.  We brushed them with a wire brush (manual, not electric -- that would have chewed through them) to get the old dirt and moss off (if any).  Then, we coated them with boiled linseed oil, and put them on our roof (where it is not earthen), and on some walls.  The message here is that many of the shingles were still good after about 100 years of exposure to Alaskan winters.

Hope that gives you some ideas...
 
jared strand
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If you have a SURPLUS of sugar maple, I bet they would work great- bake them in a slow fire to carmelize the sugars into something like shellac, they should last.
 
nancy sutton
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What about that Japanese process of 'charring, toasting, singeing... " ?   Maybe it only works on cedar? ?   Too lazy to dig it out, but there's a thread here somewhere
 
Jay Angler
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I think that making slowly biodegradable houses is awesome, but just want to remind those considering cladding with shakes about considering the fire risks. In our area, the fire department is seriously discouraging shakes because of forest fire risk. If you are considering shakes, also think about how you could have a sprinkler system to thoroughly water them down if needed, planting of fire-resistant species in patterns that would redirect fire, ponds etc. Consider the likely direction fire might come from, and consider a fire-resistant material such as cob for that direction.
 
Glenn Herbert
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This points up the fact that climates can vary tremendously across the continent, and what works or is important in one area is impractical or irrelevant elsewhere.

In areas where a dry season regularly makes fire risks, combustible roofing is a bad idea, but in wet areas cob of any kind that is not protected by a wide roof overhang is quickly doomed.

Mentioning relevant facts about your climate (or having your general location in your signature or your "Location" tag below your name) will help avoid confusion and incorrect advice many times.
 
jared strand
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OP did say he was in VERMONT...
 
Glenn Ingram
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Location: Brevard, NC
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Unfortunately, none of the woods you mentioned last very long--I highly doubt they would last 20 years.  The best wood available in your area would be white oak (with rounded lobes), not red oak (pointy lobes).  It is long-lasting and they rive really well.  They are a very traditional shake wood.  I don't know Vermont, but I would assume you would be able to find some pretty easily.  Check out saw mills and firewood people.  You can often just buy logs from them and they may even deliver.  You're going to want the log below the first limbs--that has the straightest grain so will split into nice shakes.  If the log is too wide to split into shakes, that is actually good.  Split it through the center (pith) with an ax or wedges and then split each half into shakes using the froe.  Those are actually superior as they don't warp as much when drying. 
 
Jotham Bessey
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Location: Newfoundland, Canada
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nancy sutton wrote:What about that Japanese process of 'charring, toasting, singeing... " ?   Maybe it only works on cedar? ?   Too lazy to dig it out, but there's a thread here somewhere

That would work very well with spruce. When I read the title, spruce was the first tree that came to mind.

Shakes need to breathe because, during rain, some water will wick up between them by capillary action. If you use hardwood, between the shakes will take forever to dry after a rain. best to use softwood.
As for seasoning them, they will shrink. best to let them dry to an average humidity, I would think. maybe air dry for 2-3 months?

I've never worked with shakes, I'm just extrapolating from other knowledge
 
christoph Berger
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Thanks all you guys. I have researched recently as well and apparently both red and white oak work well. I am going to use oak because its easier to find nearby here even though there's none on my land. But they say red oak actually does work and they use it commonly in the Appalachian because it dries out very quickly according to what I read and although big oak logs can rot fast the shakes are so thin that they dry out better and actually do last pretty long. And white oak might be even better but they both work similarly. Also according to mother earth news you do split them off Green wood. I'm really interested in shakes because it seems like such a better material than asphalt.I'm not worried about fires cause it's not gonna catch unless your house is already on fire or you have chimney problems so just gonna be sure to do the chimney well. But also its so worth it environmentally, like I don't think we can afford to keep using the old building materials honestly much longer and furthermore because shakes last so much longer they are a better material not to mention so much nicer looking. But its also cool cause you can do a whole roof for free... for the time I would spend earning money to pay for new asphalt shingles every 15 years I would way rather be making shakes and probably spend less time on them anyway. Thanks also for the advice on how to do it you guys I'm excited to give it a try soon
 
Glenn Ingram
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Location: Brevard, NC
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You split the shakes off the green log (all logs of any size are green no matter how long they've been sitting there) but I do believe you air dry them for a while before installing them.  Obviously check on that to be sure.  Good to know about the red oak being almost as good as white oak--we have about a million times more red oak around here.
 
Daniel Schneider
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Location: Sweden
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In Sweden spruce is one of the tradiotional woods for shingles. You actually want to split it very green, and then let it dry in shingle form.
 
Dan Boone
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Dale Gi wrote:One of the things we managed to salvage was a large number of cedar shingles.  ... The message here is that many of the shingles were still good after about 100 years of exposure to Alaskan winters.


Where in Alaska are you, and what kind of cedar are you talking about?  I grew up in the interior, where we don't have any cedar species at all.  It was black spruce, white spruce, birch, cottonwood, or nothing.  I'm not challenging you, I'm just really curious what cedar species you're talking about and where it might have come from.
 
Ben de Leiris
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I live in Vermont as well and have cut and split by hand a lot of maple, beech, birch and cherry for firewood. Without even considering durability, you would have a hell of a time splitting any of those into straight, usable shakes. The spruce I am not as familiar with but would likely be easier. I don't have any white oak which is much more durable than red, but red oak and white ash both split very cleanly and easily. Straight ash can be pretty easy to find around here.
 
Mitch Multer
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Location: Minnesota
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White cedar , most of the house on the  New England coast are white cedar shakes and it lasts a long time. Splits straight. Maybe you could find a local saw mill and trade with them ? Just an idea.
 
Victor Johanson
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Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
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Aspen, although regarded as decay-prone, has been fashioned into cladding and roofing for centuries. The Church of the Transfiguration in Kizhi Pogost ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kizhi_Pogost ) is clad entirely in aspen, and this place in Poland sells shingles and shakes: https://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?act=url&depth=1&hl=en&ie=UTF8&prev=_t&rurl=translate.google.com&sl=auto&tl=en&u=http://www.ekodachpol.pl/wior-osikowy-101.htm&usg=ALkJrhga7ghpoK42pRq7SG5POap4prJd5Q . Apparently once they weather, they are able to resist decay. From the USDA publication "Aspen lumber for building purposes" :

"Very little is known regarding the use of aspen shingles. A small barn
built near Swatara, Minnesota, in 1938, was covered with aspen shingles.
The roof was still in good condition in 1944. Another barn, built in
1944, was covered with aspen shingles. The owner, basing his statement
on previous experience, said that he expected these shingles to last at
least 15 years » It should be possible to treat aspen shingles with a
wood preservative which would probably double their service life. On
roofs with considerable pitch, untreated aspen shingles may perform
reasonably well, but they should never be used on low pitch roofs unless
first treated with a wood preservative."

There was also a study done on the feasibility of aspen shingles in Alberta: http://cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/bookstore_pdfs/19464.pdf . and there's a video of a guy roofing with them at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILh5wgu0vnI .
 
Travis Johnson
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We have a shingle mill and while 99% of the wood for shingles is cedar, other options exist. The ones cited are NOT resistant to rot, but fortunately you live in Vermont where suitable species are easy to get ahold of. One surprising species is white pine. White pine actually outlast cedar IF...and this is a huge if...it is allowed to dry out after getting wet. With posts or ground contact it rots out quick, but it actually outlasts cedar when used for siding. Few people know that. For the best possible wall, cedar should be used for the first 2 feet or so, then white pine after that.

For a roof, white pine would work. It is clear of knots, has really wide shingles/shakes, straight grain and is a stable wood. My next choice would be hemlock. Spruce rots incredibly quick.

But since getting white pine or even hemlock would mean obtaining it from neighbors, you might as well see if you can obtain some cedar. Commercially it is not a very sought after wood so I would think you could get it really reasonable.
 
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