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How To Turn Dead Cedar Trees Into Free Shingles

How To Turn Dead Cedar Trees Into Free Shingles

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If you’re looking to put up a roof from natural materials and you have dead cedar trees on your property or know someone who does, then you have an incredible resource.

While cedar shingles also can be purchased, making the shingles – also known as shakes – can save you a lot of money. It’s pretty easy to save $8,000, $10,000 or even $20,000 on your roof costs by doing it yourself.

There’s other benefits, too. One, you get to build your roof yourself. Two, you’re using natural materials. And three, you end up with a beautiful roof that you’re proud of.

First, How Big a Roof Do You Want to Shingle?

First, you need to figure out how big your roof is so you will know how much material is needed. There are complex formulas that you can use if you choose. However, the simple way is to just use the numbers below and they will get you on target.

A roof’s surface is measured in “squares.” One square is equal to 100 square feet of the roof. To determine the number of squares on the roof, divide the total square footage of your roof by 100. For example, if your roof is 10,000 square feet in size, you would divide 10,000 by 100 and learn you need 100 squares of shingles to cover the roof.

How many shingles do you need per square? One square equals four bundles. One bundle equals 36 shingles, if all of them are 12 inches wide. This presumes you’ll have 20-inch-long shingles with 10 inches of exposure (the part of the shingle that is visible once the roof is finished).

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Keep in mind that with hand-split shingles you won’t have the uniformity you get from composite or premade shingles.  So, if you have 24-inch shingles instead of 20 inchers then you’ll need just a few less shingles than the number referenced above. It is VERY important to realize that because these are hand split, you may need a few extra shingles per bundle. They are not all going to be a perfect, 12 inches wide. As a matter of fact, the ones that are perfect will be in the minority by far.

Find Your Cedar

When you come upon logs that have moss growing on them, are half sunk into the ground or maybe even have a sapling growing out of one end of them, don’t just walk on by. Those can be some of your best logs.

The only way you can know for sure is by taking your chainsaw and making a cut to see what you’ve got. Yes, you might have to trim off a bit of rot, but that’s normal. You are looking for a  good, solid core of quality wood.

If you’re doing 20-inch shingles, cut the log into 102-inch sections and use a chain or cable and a truck to pull it out. The reasoning is if the log is sunken into the ground a bit you don’t want to mess up your chainsaw by cutting through dirt. It’s better to roll it up on something with the 20 inches you want to cut off hanging over it. This keeps your saw from getting damaged and makes the cutting much easier. The reason for 102 inches is each chainsaw cut takes away a little bit too. This way your shingles will really be 20 inches each.

Make Your Splitter

Go to a junkyard and get a truck leaf spring. These springs are a high-quality piece of metal that you can usually buy cheap. They have the hardness to hold and the flex temper to take a beating. You’ll only need one layer.

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Cut a length of one layer to 40 inches. Roll one end so you have a 2- to 2 ½-inch “eye” roll. Make a hickory or vine maple handle and drive it into the hole. You want your handle to be about 24 inches long if you’re splitting 20-inch shakes.

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Now taper only one side of your splitting edge and make sure it’s the edge that will face you as you’re splitting. You’ll normally have the splitter handle in your left hand if you’re right-handed. The reason you don’t taper both sides like an axe is because you want the shingles to POP off and this will do that much better. You will see once you have done a few.

Now sharpen that edge you tapered to axe or machete-type sharp.

Make Your Mallet

Hickory, vine maple or other hardwoods that are tough work well. You want a branch five or so inches in diameter and cut to a 20- to 24-inch length. On the skinny end, whittle down a handle. Make sure the handle is about twice as wide as your hand. You can sand it down a bit if you like. You’ll be wearing gloves, so you should be protected from the roughness.

You’ll likely need several mallets for your project as they wear out and break.

Cut Your Splitting Stump

This is the stump or platform you’ll put the cedar lengths on to split your shingles. Take your shingle height and cut your stump so you will be able to stand tall and not have to bend over to split. This will help reduce back fatigue.

Other than that, your stump should be bigger than the cedar rounds you’re splitting so they fully fit on the stump.

How to Split Them

Use your saw and trim any excess rot and damp areas. Put a cedar round on the stump, take your splitter, and put it close to you on the top of your round. You just want to trim off the round edge and get it squared up so you can start shaking. Use your mallet and drive the splitter down and pop off that round edge. You should have a flat side toward you.

You want your shingles to be about an inch thick. Split your first shake. It may not taper from one inch down to almost nothing on the first shake. That’s OK. If it doesn’t taper well then that shake is scrap.

Flip your round so that you’re cutting from what was the bottom. Split the next shake. It should taper. Flip the round and split the next one. Yes, you flip the log each time. This is what will give you your taper.

Your mallet is, of course, what you’re using like a hammer to drive the splitter down. You’ll want to sharpen your splitter edge each day or perhaps even twice a day. It will just make your work easier.

Use a hand axe to trim any rot from your shingles. If you have a fat knot in a shingle, don’t use it. It will make the shingle on top of it stick up and not lay flat.

Felting Your Roof

The underlayment of your roof is called the felt and applying it is called felting. Depending on where you live, building codes can differ. You can contact your local municipality for the requirements in your area. Be sure to follow the building codes to the letter. If you don’t and you have a house fire or some other catastrophe strikes, you can run into serious liability and insurance issues.

Shingle Your Roof

Apply the shingles to your roof with approved roofing nails. Be sure to take care capping and near flashing.

Apply your flashing and you should be pretty close to done. Again, because of local regulations we can’t really recommend procedures on this part. But you should be able to find everything you need by contacting your local municipality or building inspector.

What advice would you add? Have you ever used a cedar tree to shingle a roof? Share your advice in the section below:

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