pictures are thumbnails. You can click
on any picture, and get a full sized
link to National Park Service
Preservation Brief on
If a house or building was
built before the mid 19th
Century in the South, or
Southeastern part of the
United States, it almost
certainly had wooden
shingles on the roof, and
they were most likely
Cypress shingles, and for
The first three pictures to the
left are of a Cypress shingle
roof we found on a house
built in 1850, located in
Halifax, NC. Obvious clues
showed us that it had been
the only roof on the house
from 1850 until 1982, when
a tin roof was applied over
the wooden shingles.
The second, and third pictures above show closeups of the original fantail, or fanned,
hips. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, hip roofs were considered "more elegant", but not
if the hip ridges had an extra layer of applied shingles coveringthe hips "like a cabin".
In order to avoid the objectionable layer of extra cap shingles, the hip cap shingles
ridge, so the more clean lines of the hip roof are not interrupted. This detailing, like
fanned hips or swept valleys, is a carryover from Eastern European countries where
very elaborately designed, old shingle roofs still exist.
One amazing feature of these fanned hip shingles on 1850 Glen Ivey house is that
some of the tapered shingles have exposed hand forged nails that were still not letting
water under the roof after 132 years!
For the new Cypress shingle roof we installed on Glen Ivey, we
installed fanned hips, like the originals, but by using longer
shingles, we were able to avoid having any exposed fasteners.
Just as on the main part of the shingle roof, shingles end up
being three layers thick, and gaps between shingles cannot be
directly over gaps on rows below. This requires that each
shingle be marked in place, and individually cut.
As evidenced from the original shingles that lasted 132 years
on this 4-1/2 in 12, low pitched roof, Cypress shingles made
from the heartwood of Cypress (Taxodium Dintichum) trees
have great longevity. This wood goes by a lot of different
names, or "types" of Cypress, but is really all the same tree.
The sapwood is as close to pure white as wood gets. This
sapwood has to be cut away, and not used in shingles to get
the most longevity.
The original shingles were a combination of hand split, sawn,
and shaped with a drawknife. All wooden shingles were hand
split until sometime around 1840 (in this part of the country)
when steam power spurred the manufacture of powered
woodworking machines, including shingle mills. Cypress
shingle production was major industry in parts of the South,
and South East along waterways where Cypress trees grew,
and still grow. This shingle production played an important
part of the early development of some towns from Texas
through the Carolinas.
The term "shake" is a fairly modern term. They were all called
shingles, whether from the time they were all hand split, and
including probably the first hundred years when shingles were
sawn by shingle mills. Charts in books through the latter part
of the 19th Century show the number of wooden"shingles"
required by width and length of coverage, to cover a "square"
of roof. There was no mention of "shakes", and shingles were
commonly hand split well into the 20th Century .
A Cypress shingle hip roof with
fanned hips we did on a mid
19th Century work building.
These shingles can be nailed on the old way, by hand with
hand forged nails. If the owner prefers to save money, and
since the nails won't be seen, we use stainless steel fasteners.
If you read the NPS treatise on applying wooden shingles, you
may have noticed it says not to use staples because the
staples can shoot all the way through a shingle. This is true IF
you use the pneumatic stapler as it comes, and with
commercially available shingles which are usually quite thin.
The two nailgun staplers to the left were purchased new in the
early 1970s. They come made to set the head of the staple
about 1/4" below the surface. Before they ever drove the first
staple in a shingle (Cedar Shakes back then) the guns were
disassembled, and the driver (the long piece in the second
picture attached to the piston) shortened to the length where
the staple head is driven only to the point that leaves the head
right on the surface, and not penetrating the wood at all.
No staple has ever been driven into, much less through, any
wooden shingle with either gun, no matter how thin the shingle.
The larger gun to the left shoots 1/2" crown width 15 gauge
staples up to 2-1/2" long. The one to the right shoots a slightly
thinner 16 gauge staple up to 2" long. Both have their place
on a shingle roof. Not only has neither put a staple head into a
shingle, but neither has ever split a shingle thanks to the small
diameter of the staple legs.
A shingle cannot be pulled off easily by hand fastened with
these staples, as can be done with one nailed on with hand