Wood shingles are wooden tiles for exterior cladding of buildings, typically roofs, but also walls. A shingle is a shaped (profiled or dressed) shake. In other words, a shake is a raw, split piece of wood and a shingle is that same shake shaped to have a slightly different angle (slightly thicker towards the bottom), and a chamfered bottom edge to make it easier to lay on a roof. A shake is a quick, rustic product and a shingle is a more refined, crafted product.
Historically, shingles and shakes were one of the original natural roofing materials, along with thatch and stone (including slate). Fired clay roofing tiles came along and eclipsed shingles, but they are now enjoying a renaissance. Traditionally, building materials and styles were vernacular, and the underlying geology and flora of a region determined the type of buildings that people made.
Shingles and shakes are used throughout Europe and North America, and in many other countries where split-able and durable woods are found. Traditionally they are riven (split) by hand along the grain – it’s easier to split wood this way, but also it means that none of the vessels in the wood are cut through (vessels are the vertical tubes within wood that sap travels up). Often, modern roofing shingles are sawn rather than split, which means the vessels are sawn through and exposed, allowing water to enter the shingle, thus starting decay earlier.
You can buy shingles, or you can make them yourself. On average you will need 50-70 shingles per square meter. It can be quite labor intensive to produce all shingles by hand so you might want to make some and buy the rest, or get some friends round to help you make the lot. You can attend a course to learn how to make and lay them, and get some practice.
Benefits of wood shingles
- they can be made locally, by hand – boosting the local economy, reducing the distance that resources have to be transported, and benefiting craftspeople rather than large corporations
- shingles have low embodied energy (all the energy required to produce and distribute them) compared to modern mass-produced alternatives (like concrete tiles)
- they create demand for forest products, and so encourage the planting of trees and the maintenance of woodland, which provides habitat for wildlife and improves air quality
- they contribute to keeping traditional crafts alive
- they’re biodegradable
- like all timber products, they lock up CO2 for their lifetime, so reducing the amount of carbon that would otherwise be in the atmosphere contributing to global warming
- they have a charm characteristic of natural materials, and give a unique look to buildings that can’t be matched by factory-produced building materials