Learn to season lumber and make shakes or shingles

July 29, 2015

Making lumber is simpler than most people realize. We'll teach you how to choose the right axe, how to season your wood, and everything else you need to know to craft your own shakes and shingles.

Learn to season lumber and make shakes or shingles

Use the right tools

  • A chainsaw and lumber-making adaptor are indispensable accessories to have if you plan to make boards. The chainsaw can also be used to make beams and heavy building lumber, but you may wish to hew these by hand instead.
  • A broadaxe is the traditional tool for hand-hewing, but ordinary utility axes costs less, are more widely available, and will perform almost as well.
  • Always use extreme caution when using an axe or chainsaw.
  • To split shakes and shingles, you'll need a special tool called a froe. Froes are available from specialty hardware suppliers or can be made by a blacksmith.
  • The key to making shingles is in the wood you use. Choose only straight-grained wood that splits cleanly.

Split shakes properly

  • Billets are log sections from which shakes are split. Use straight-grained logs 60 centimetres (25 inches) or more in diameter, with no knots.
  • Cut logs into 45 to 60-centimetre (18 to 25-inch) lengths for shingles, or 0.75 to 2 metre (2.5 to 6.5-foot) lengths for shakes. (Longer boards can be split as well, but only from very well-grained lumber.)
  • To make billets, split off the outside edges of a log section to form a squared block. Split the block in half, then halve each piece again. Continue until all pieces are of the desired thickness. Cypress and pine are quartered, then split along the grain at a tangent to the growth rings.

Don't skip seasoning

Last but not least, seasoning is probably the most important step in making your own lumber. During this stage the wood is slowly air-dried until ready for use.

  • Freshly cut lumber must be stacked carefully to permit plenty of air circulation between boards, while still offering protection from moisture, strong sunlight, and physical stresses that can cause warping.
  • When done properly, air drying produces boards that are superior in many ways to the kiln-dried stock sold at most lumber yards.  Additionally, sap and natural oils will remain in the wood for longer periods of time, aiding the curing process.
  • Air-dried lumber is strong, durable, attractive, resistant to moisture damage, and well conditioned against seasonal shrinkage and swelling.

Making your own shakes or shingles is an effective way to save money on roofing and grow as a handyman or craftsman. Plus, sawing and chopping wood is great exercise and stress relief! So follow these guidelines and enjoy the process; you'll have a stronger, more attractive roof in no time.

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