Cedar looks stunning on a roof. It has gorgeous colour and texture, is naturally waterproof and rot resistant, insulates well, is flexible in an earthquake, requires little maintenance, and of course is entirely biodegradable. It is also harvested responsibly here in British Columbia.
But what’s the difference between cedar shingles and cedar shakes? This can be a real point of confusion. Many homeowners don’t fully understand these materials, which can sometimes lead them to make the wrong choice for their roofs.
There are actually very clear distinctions between cedar shingles and cedar shakes.
Manufacturing and Appearance
- Cedar Shingles. Shingles are larger than shakes and more precisely cut. They are rectangular, generally anywhere from 16 to 24 inches long, about 3 to 4 inches wide, and up to 0.4 of an inch thick, sometimes 1/2 inch. Circular saws are used to cut rectangular slices from a block of cedar wood. Each pass of the saw creates a tapered cut of uniform thickness. Another saw is then used to trim the edges and remove any irregularities. This works to produce a shingle that is tapered on all sides. Because they are more precisely milled than shakes, shingles provide a more even, uniform appearance.
- Cedar Shakes. Shakes are smaller, thicker and less refined than shingles. They range from 1/2-inch thick to 3/4-inch thick and provide a more irregular, uneven, rustic look. Shakes are made by splitting chunks from a log and then shaping them into blocks. The shake blocks are then split by a hydraulic press, and the pieces are referred to as blanks. In the old days, they were split by hand. Shakes are smoother on the underside and more split and “worn” looking on the upper surface.
Because shakes are more irregular, compared with the precisely milled shingles, they don’t lay as flat when installed on a roof. This unevenness can provide a great textured look but can leave tiny gaps in the system, making it susceptible to penetration from wind-blown rain, snow, and debris. Installers will place a layer of felt paper between the shakes to protect against the weather. Shakes are generally installed in 2 layers.
Meanwhile, shingles sit flatter and even and thus never need felt paper. They are usually installed in a pattern that ensures there are three overlapping layers covering the entire roof.