Learn the difference between shakes and shingles by looking very closely

Master builder
Published1/5/2008 10:37 PM

Q. My older house has wood siding and an asphalt shingle roof which need replacing. I like the natural look of cedar for the siding and the roofing. What exactly is the difference between shakes and shingles?

Glenda P.


A. If you prefer a natural appearance for your home, cedar is difficult to beat. Western red cedar is most common, but Alaskan yellow cedar is often used for homes. With proper care, cedar, with its natural insect resistant compounds, will last very many years.

It can be difficult to distinguish between cedar shakes and shingles because many people, even professional builders, used the term interchangeably. When you study it, which you must do when selecting cedar for siding and roofing, you will find there are significant differences between shakes and shingles.

In general, shakes are more rough cut and are not as uniform as shingles. Shakes are commonly available in thicknesses from about ½ inch to one inch, but thicker ones are available for special order. Shakes give the house a more rustic appearance than shingles. Both are equally durable so the desired appearance should determine which you select.

Shakes are available in two basic grades -- premium or No. 1. Premium shakes have 100 percent edge grain and No. 1 shakes can have up to 20 percent flat grains in each bundle. With either grade, since they are not uniform, roofing felt should be woven between the courses of shakes to avoid leaks.

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The four common styles of shakes are tapersawn, straight-split, hand-split/resawn, and tapersplit. Tapersawn shakes are sawn on both sides creating a semitextured surface. When installed, they create a more defined shadowline than shingles. They are available in both grades and are the least expensive cedar shake.

Straight-split shakes have no taper and give the home a barn-type appearance. These can be made by hand or with a machine and are available only in premium grade. Hand-split/resawn shakes have a rustic exterior face with a smoother sawn and tapered back. Tapersplit shakes are hand split on both sides for a very nonuniform rustic look. They are available in only premium grade.

All cedar shingles are tapersawn to create their uniformity. The sawn surface is fairly smooth, but sanded smooth ones are also available. They can also be grooved to simulate a split shake. Shingles are generally thinner than shakes and are seldom greater than ½ inch thick.

The length of cedar shingles used can impact the appearance of your house. FiveX shingles are 16 inches long and slightly less than ½ inch thick. Perfection shingles are 18 inches long and slightly thicker. Royal shingles are two feet long and ½ inch thick.


No. 1 blue label is the highest quality grade of cedar shingles. This grade has no knots and is 100 percent edge grain heartwood. No. 2 red label shingles are still acceptable quality for most applications. They contain some flat grain and sapwood, but their cost is significantly less than blue label shingles. No. 3 black label shingles are least expensive and have knots.

For the longest lasting roof, consider installing an aluminum roof formed to simulate cedar shakes. From the ground, it looks authentic. The large panels make installation quicker than real shakes or shingles. The aluminum roof can keep your house cooler during the summer and it is fireproof so your insurance premiums may be lower.

Starcott Media Services

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