Wood shingles are thin, tapered pieces of wood primarily used to cover roofs and walls of buildings to protect them from the weather. Historically shingles were split from straight grained, knot free bolts of wood. Today shingles are mostly made by being cut which distinguishes them from shakes which are made by being split out of a bolt.
Wooden shingle roofs were prevalent in the North American colonies (for example in the Cape-Cod-style house), while in central and southern Europe at the same time, thatch, slate and tile were the prevalent roofing materials. Wood shingles are susceptible to fire and cost more than other types of shingle so they are not as common today as in the past.
Distinctive shingle patterns exist in various regions created by the size, shape, and application method. Special treatments such as swept valleys, combed ridges, decorative butt ends, and decorative patterns impart a special character to each building.
A shake is a basic wooden shingle made from split logs. Shakes have traditionally been used for roofing and siding applications around the world. Higher-grade shakes are typically used for roofing purposes, while the lower grades are used for siding. In either situation, properly installed shakes provide long-lasting weather protection and a rustic aesthetic, though they require more maintenance than some other more modern weatherproofing systems.
The term shake is sometimes used as a colloquialism for all wood shingles, though shingles are sawn rather than split. In traditional usage, "shake" refers to the board to which the shingle is nailed, not the shingle. Split wooden shingles are referred to as shag shingles.
Modern wooden shingles, both sawn and split, continue to be made, but they differ from the historic ones. Modern commercially available shakes are generally thicker than the historic hand split counterpart and are usually left "undressed" with a rough, corrugated surface. The rough-surface shake is often considered to be more "rustic" and "historic", but in fact this is a modern fashion.
Some modern shingles are produced in pre-cut decorative patterns, sometimes called fancy-cut shingles, and are available pre-primed for later painting. The sides of rectangular shingles may be re-squared and re-butted, which means they have been reworked so the sides are parallel and the butt is square to the sides. These are more uniform and are installed more neatly as a result.
Shingles are less durable than shakes, particularly in wet climates; shakes are finished with a draw-knife or similar tool which leaves a smooth surface that resists water penetration, and this in turn slows the softening of wood by microorganisms. Also, the method of splitting shakes rather than sawing ensures only straight-grained pieces (which are much stronger and less likely to warp).
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