The Roof That Shelter Us
iPhoneOgraphy – 15 May 2016 (Day 136/366)
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. In rural Scandinavia, wood shingle roofs were a common roofing material until the 1950s. 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.
Historically, wooden shingles were usually thin, relatively narrow (3 inches (7.6 cm) to 8 inches (20 cm)), of varying length (14 inches (36 cm) to 36 inches (91 cm)), and almost always planed or knifed smooth. The traditional method for making wooden shingles before the 19th century was to rive (hand split) them from straight grained, knot free, sections of logs pre-cut to the desired length known as bolts. These bolts were quartered or split into wedges. A mallet and froe (or axe) were used to split or rive out thin pieces of wood. The wood species varied according to available local woods, but only the more durable heartwood, or inner section, of the log was usually used. The softer sapwood generally was not used because it deteriorated quickly. Because hand-split shingles were somewhat irregular along the split surface, it was necessary to dress or plane the shingles on a shaving horse with a drawknife or draw-shave to make them fit evenly on the roof. This reworking was necessary to provide a tight-fitting roof over typically open shingle lath or sheathing boards. Dressing, or smoothing of shingles, was almost universal, no matter what wood was used or in what part of the world the building was located, except in those cases where a temporary or very utilitarian roof was needed.
Shingle fabrication was revolutionized in the early 19th century by steam-powered saw mills. Shingle mills made possible the production of uniform shingles in mass quantities. The sawn shingle of uniform taper and smooth surface eliminated the need to hand dress. The supply of wooden shingles was therefore no longer limited by local factors. These changes coincided with (and in turn increased) the popularity of architectural styles such as Carpenter Gothic, Queen Anne, and Shingle style architecture that used shingles to great effect.
Hand-split shingles continued to be used in many places well after the introduction of machine sawn shingles. There were, of course, other popular roofing materials, and some regions rich in slate had fewer examples of wooden shingle roofs. Some western “boom” towns used sheet metal because it was light and easily shipped. Slate, terneplate, and clay tile were used on ornate buildings and in cities that limited the use of flammable wooden shingles. Wooden shingles, however, were never abandoned. Even in the 20th century, architectural styles such as the Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival used wooden shingles.