Replacing Roof Wood Shingles on Your Historic House | Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

Replacing Roof Wood Shingles on Your Historic House

Replacing Roof Wood Shingles on Your Historic House | Wisconsin Historical Society

If your historic house has a wood-shingled roof, you should periodically check the condition of your shingles and replace any that are cracked, rotted or missing. By replacing damaged shingles, you could make your roof last for another 20 years. When properly installed and maintained, a wood-shingled roof can last as long as 50 to 75 years.

It is not necessary to replace a wood shingle simply because it has turned gray. This change in color is a natural process that results from sun exposure. If you want to install a new wood-shingled roof, you should consult a professional roofer.

Gather Your Tools and Supplies

To replace individual wood shingles on the roof of your historic house, you’ll need the following tools and supplies:

  • Flat pry bar with v-notch in the flat and hooked ends.
  • Bastard file
  • Pair of side cutters
  • Hammer
  • Utility knife
  • Tape measure
  • Adjustable tri-square
  • Pencil
  • #5 exterior grade, stainless steel, box nail
  • Duct tape
  • Cedar shingles to match your existing shingles

Prepare Your Tools and Supplies

You can create your own wood shingle removal tool with a standard flat pry bar. Flat pry bars have a straight end and a hooked end. Both ends have a small v-notch in the center. Use a bastard metal file to file both sides of the v-notch until the edges are sharp. This sharpened v-notch will easily cut through nails.

Wrap duct tape around the heel of the pry bar. The heel is the spot on the flat or hooked end where the prying pressure is applied. The duct tape will create a padded area that will cushion the good wood and prevent it from being dented or marred.

Remove and Replace a Wood Shingle

Follow these steps to remove and replace a damaged, cracked or missing wood shingle.

  1. Use a utility knife to score the damaged wood shingle across the grain and just under the good shingle or shingles above it. Keep scoring the shingle until you can cut through it. Discard the portion of the damaged shingle that is not still fastened to the roof.
  2. Insert the flat end of the pry bar under what's left of the old shingle until the v-notch on the end of the pry bar is stopped by the two hidden nails holding the shingle in place under the good shingle above. The idea is to have the sharpened v-notch go over both nails. Use a hammer to give the pry bar a couple of swift blows. This force should cut through the nails, freeing the rest of the damaged shingle. If any nails or pieces of nails remain, gently pry them out with the side cutters.
  3. Cut the new cedar shingle to the proper width and length with a straight edge and a utility knife. The new shingle must have a 3/8 to 5/8-inch side gap from the adjacent shingles, so subtract that amount from the width that you need to cut. Your side gaps should match the average gap width on the other shingles. Cut the shingle to a length that is approximately twice that of the reveal. For example, if you have a 5-inch reveal, you should cut your shingle to 10 inches; if you have a 6-inch reveal, cut the shingle to 12 inches.
  4. Slip the shingle into place so the butt edge of the shingle is even with the shingle butt edges on either side. Make a light pencil mark across the new shingle under the butt edge of the shingle above it and pull the shingle back out. Make two pencil marks on the shingle that are 1/2-inch up from your first pencil line and 3/4-inch in from each side.
  5. Use two #5 stainless steel box nails and lightly tap them into the pencil marks at a 45-degree upward angle. Slip the shingle back into place until the nails touch the butt edge of the good shingle above. Carefully drive the nails upward until the heads are just above the butt edge of the good shingle above. Take a nail set and drive the nails in and under the upper shingle until the nails just touch the new shingle. By driving the nails in at a 45-degree upward angle, you will make the nails disappear below the butt edge of the good shingle above. This is important so the nails will not be exposed to the weather.

The information presented here is not intended to provide comprehensive technical advice or instructions on solving historic preservation issues. Any information contained or referenced is meant to provide a basic understanding of historic preservation practices. Read full disclaimer.