American shakes are made from western redcedar, either handsplit or handsplit and then resawn. They are longer and thicker than shingles, so the exposure (the part that shows) of a shake is greater than that of a shingle. Thickness ranges from 3/8 inch to 1¼ inches. Widths may be random. Standard lengths are 18 inches and 24 inches, with a special 15-inch length for starter-finish courses and a very large 32-inch shake.
There are three styles of shake. Shake making begins by cutting a blank the length the shakes will be. Pieces are split off this blank using a mallet and a kind of wedge called a froe; it is the splitting that gives shakes their attractive texture. If the blank is turned end for end after a shake has been split off, the resulting shakes will be tapered. They are called “Taper-split.” If all the splitting is done from the same end of the blank, the shakes have no taper and are “Straight-split.” The taper of “Hand-split and Resawn” shakes comes from sawing straight-split shakes in half diagonally.
There is only a single grade of shake: #1. They must be 100% clear. Hand-split and Resawn shakes are graded from the split face; hand-split shakes are graded from the best face.
Like shingles, shakes are sold by the square, enough for 100 square feet of finished roof, but while a square of shingles consists of 4 bundles, a square of shakes may contain 5 and even, for the 32-inch length, 6 bundles. It's easy to see why; such a square weighs 450 pounds.
Advice from the Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau on installing shakes: their New Roof Construction Manual is available as a pdf file at
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Last revised: 15 October 2013.