Wood Species Useful for Shingles

      A discussion of the wood varieties that work for use as exterior shingles. November 25, 2008

I've been building a barn with lumber from the sawmill I just got and I am to the point at which I would like to start roofing it. I am wondering if wood shingles can be made out of something other than cedar, say oak? I only have a little cedar available to saw but I have plenty of oak. I also have some locust - would that work? I realize they will rot eventually, but is there a way to treat them so they will last longer? Just trying to save some money on roofing.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor J:
Red oak is not a good choice. If you are going to do all the labor to build a barn, protect it with the best possible roof. Use tin, for example. When the roof fails the building will fail.

From contributor A:
Wood shingles were put on many an old barn and house in the 1800s and some are still standing. White oak, black locust, honey locust, redwood, cedar, rock elm, yellow poplar and osage orange all are good shingle or shake wood. There is a shingle oil for treating them, or just plain will work.

On wood shingles or shakes, most of the time a third of the wood is exposed, so it takes lots of wood to cover a roof. I have also seen something like lap or clapboard siding on roofs, and board and batten. The more pitch you have, the better the water runs off.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I suggest that today's yellow poplar is not a good choice, but all the other species are great.

From contributor B:
Is yellow poplar getting like cypress and not enough old growth characteristics to it?

From contributor S:
If you are using white oak or chestnut oak, you need clear wood to make the shingles. Green FAS/1F white oak is bringing about $1.30-$1.50 around here. In my opinion, you would be better off selling your white oak lumber and using the money for a metal roof.

From the original questioner:
Yeah, most of the oak I have is red, and I realize that I could get more for it if I sold it than it would cost to put shingles or a steel roof, on but I have the oak available and I don't know how I would go about selling it.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Red oak will not work.

From the original questioner:
What is wrong with red oak? Is it too prone to split?

From contributor B:
It will rot fast. I put red oak in the bed of an old pickup truck and in less than 2 years it had holes rotted in it big enough to put your fist through. White oak is what I should have used.

From the original questioner:
Oh, well what about locust or hedge apple?

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Black locust and Osage orange (hedge apple) are good choices as well. In fact, a good number of colonial fences were Osage orange.

From contributor J:
The osage orange home range is along the Red River, where the Osage tribe lived. I doubt that the wood was used for anything in the Colonial era, as the country had not expanded far enough West by the time of independence.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Contributor J is correct about the natural range of Osage orange, but it was my understanding that the French settlers in Louisiana were using it for fences at the time of the American Colonial period. Certainly, it was not used east of the Appalachians at this time.

From contributor S:
There is one variety of red oak, Quercus imbricaria, or shingle oak, that would be good for shingles. This is kind of an oddball red oak - the leaves don't even look like the standard oak leaves. Maybe the questioner has shingle oak on his property?

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Shingle oak (more often called northern laurel oak) does not have the natural decay resistance of white oak. I wonder if this is another species that has some decay resistance in old growth, but today's growth no longer has such benefits. As it is not considered a commercial species (large volumes), it is hard to find good information about properties. I did see some information that it has some decay resistance, but I was unable to find any original information or tests about this from the US Forest Products Lab, which is the primary source of info of this sort.

Its common name would make one think that it was used for shingles, and I found one document that said it was used for shingles in Colonial times in the east and another stating it was used in the west.

I did find several comments that it checks readily when dried, which would seem to make it a poor choice for exterior shingles, as the checks would hold dirt and accelerate decay. All in all, I think I would be very careful when using this species for exterior shingles.

From the original questioner:
Most of the oak I have is pin oak, which I assume is in the red oak family.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
A great timber for shingles which has been used for roofing on greenheart homes is wallaba. It is a timber of constructional strength midway between oak and greenheart. This is termite resistant as a result of a gummy resin which also contributes to its water resistance and durability.

Comment from contributor A:
Here in NC in the Appalachian Mountains we have used red oak for shakes for hundreds of years. It is actually a very long lasting wood for shingles or shakes. The reason is that they dry out quickly after each rain. Actually truth be known they wear from the rain water running over them more than they rot, in less they are on a roof in a very shady location.

I have roofed buildings with plain red oak shakes and they are holding up very well. Iíve also seen barns with red oak shakes where the shakes had been on the roof for close to 100 years. Many people think they wonít last too well because they have seen how regular thickness framing has rotted when left out in the weather, but it is thick enough to hold lots of moisture, whereas the shake will dry out rather quickly after a rain storm due to thickness. It is kind of like the difference in cooking a pancake, or baking a cake. The thinner one gets done much faster because the moisture leaves quicker.

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