In the world of residential construction, cedar shingles are commonly used as siding and have been for well over two hundred years, just in the United States. Cedar shingles offer the benefits of natural decay resistance, as well as a beautiful surface.

Cedar shingles are durable, fairly simple to install and give a home a unique appearance. Cedar shingles can be used on a roof, but today we will discuss using cedar shingles as siding and offer an overview of how to install them.

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Not to be confused with cedar shakes, cedar shingles are usually milled in a factory to provide a consistent look from shingle to shingle. This is in contrast to cedar shakes, which are typically split from a log, rather than sawn. As a result, the two materials will look visibly different over an entire house. 

What Is Cedar Shingle Siding and Why Would I Want It?

Cedar shingles, along with poplar and redwood, appear on homes because they offer a natural look. Some homeowners prefer not to live in a cookie cutter style home and long for an exterior totally unique to the home. Since no two trees are exactly the same, using cedar shingles as an exterior gives each home a one-of-a-kind look. 

However, cedar shingles are not perfect for everyone. Cedar, being a natural material, will always require some amount of sealing or the product will eventually rot. Although cedar is both rot and insect resistant, sealing the wood regularly can extend the life of the material indefinitely.

Cedar shingles also change color dramatically over time if left to the elements. Some owners prefer the natural color of newly minted shingles, while others prefer to let the material weather. Depending on the species, cedar shingles can begin life a deep burgundy color and finish it a light gray. 

How Long Does it Take to Install Wood Shake Siding?

Professionals can generally install a square (100 square feet) of cedar shingle siding in about 8 hours, but some designs take longer. A typical installation can take about two weeks, but several factors, such as the height of the house and the trim design will affect the total time required.

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Cedar shingle siding is usually sold 1 -2 squares to the box, with a “square” equalling 100 square feet. Cedar shingles can often be installed by an advanced do-it-yourselfer with carpentry tools. They are not particularly complicated to install, but care must be taken to follow the process carefully. Cedar shingles are quite thin and can be accidentally split by a fastener.

How to Get Started Installing Wood Shake Siding

To begin a wood shake siding installation, the first step is to measure how much siding you will need to cover the area. This is done by multiplying the width of the area by the length. To illustrate, if a wall is 8 feet high and the area to be sided is 20 feet long, the total area will be about 160 square feet. This process is then repeated everywhere siding will be installed. Once you know how much you need, the next step is to decide the details, like the profile shape and the wood species available. 

Pro Tip. Professional cedar shingle siding installers will often do one wall at a time. This helps speed up the project because it prevents moving the tools and ladders any more than necessary.

Step 1. Prepare the Surface

Cedar shingles require some form of underlayment to deflect rainwater from getting behind the siding. This is important because the main concern with natural materials is their propensity to rot. Cedar shingles will perform best when they not only stay dry on the backside, but can also dry out if they do.

Tar paper (used as roof underlayment) was used before the advent of house wrap and did an adequate job of shielding the home’s sheathing from water damage. House wrap improved upon this by upgrading the material’s resistance to moisture as well as making the product much larger to help eliminate any seams in the product.

These days, many installers use a rain screen/air barrier instead. This is essentially a large mat, which resembles a large scrubbing pad. This material is quite thick (¼” -½”) and will not crush. This allows air to circulate behind the shingles, evaporating any moisture. These mats are usually installed with roofing tacks or staples, but any fastener must be galvanized against corrosion.

Step 2. Laying Out the Area

Professionals will often begin a project by setting up their work area. In most cases, there will be one person who makes cuts and notches, while two others do the measuring and install the material.

Cedar shingle siding is unlike synthetically manufactured materials, in that it will not include some form of guide or lock to ease installation. Installers should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to determine the visible siding (known as the reveal) to determine how much material to purchase.

For instance, if the shingle is 12” long, and the plan calls for a 5” reveal, 7” of the shingle will be covered by the shingle above. If the reveal is larger, less material will be needed. By the way, it is a good idea to purchase an extra box of shakes from the same lot, as these will likely have come from the same logs. Having an extra box is handy when shingles break or must be carved to fit. 

In a normal installation, the first step is to make a level line at the bottom of the wall everywhere the siding will be installed on the house. This level line is then squared to the vertical corner of the wall, establishing what is known as a plumb line. This plumb line will represent the location of the outside corners (if the project will use them), which are often installed first.

Cedar shingles often do not incorporate trim unless the siding will be adjoining a dissimilar material. This is because the shingles are easily trimmed with just a sharp knife, giving the structure a very custom appearance. If the project will use trim, these plumb lines will become critical to keeping the project square. 

This level line is usually made with a chalk line and represents the location of the first course. Many professionals will then use this line as a reference for the bottom of each shingle. However, some installers use a different method as they find it easier.

Some installers will forgo the initial chalk line and simply nail a straight board to the bottom of the wall, about 2 inches below any masonry. This board then essentially becomes a temporary shelf that the entire course of shingles can rest upon while they are attached. This keeps the all-important first-course level and straight.

Step 3. Installing the First Course 

The starter strip is installed next, and usually lines up with the bottom of the wall, 2 inches from any masonry, depending on the project. The starter board is just a very straight, horizontal board used to hold the first course in place and arrange the sequence of the shingles.

Since each shingle is often tapered, the starter strip is usually cut on site, with a small bevel. This bevel causes the shingles to flare out on this first course, which improves the look and keeps rainwater away from the structure.

Cedar shingles are installed just like a roof shingle, from the bottom up. Just like a shingle, the first course is a starter course and will usually be entirely covered by overlapping it with another course. This is the course that will be seen when the project is finished.

This second layer is installed to cover the joints of the first layer, preventing water from penetrating the joint between the shingles. Most installers will begin the first-course using full-size, or half-size shingle and finish the course completely. Then, the first shingle of the second layer is just the opposite. This guarantees that no two joints will overlap vertically, and goes a long way in preventing future water damage. 

Cedar shingles are often installed by hand, as the forces imparted by pneumatic tools can easily split the shingle and make it unusable. Some cedar species even require drilling pilot holes before installing the fasteners. Cedar shingles must always be installed with corrosion and moisture resistant fasteners, which are usually galvanized finish nails. 

Step 4. Installing the Second Course

The second course of cedar shingles will require a guide to keep them straight and consistent. To do this, most pros will remove the starter board and reattach it above to align the second course of shakes.

The second course will be installed exactly like the first, however, the second course will need the reveal markings. To do this, the pros will also use another special tool called a storyboard, or sometimes called a story pole. A story pole is another straight board, but with course markings all along one edge, indicating the reveal of each course. This is often made by the installer and is specific to the project because the reveal can change from job to job. Along this story pole will be a series of marks indicating the exact reveal required by the plans.

These marks are then transferred to the wall, where chalk lines are then struck. Many professionals will use this starter board and story pole over and over, instead of striking chalk lines as the chalk may permanently stain the wood.

Step 5. Installing the Remaining Courses

Generally speaking, the remaining courses will be installed in the same way as the others. Exceptions will typically be where cedar shingles meet an obstacle and must be trimmed or notched to fit. 

Pro Tip. Professionals avoid notching cedar shingles as much as possible because they tend to crack and split. Although not all notching can be avoided, laying out the project carefully can often reduce the amount of notching required.

Step 6. Applying the Finish

As mentioned earlier, cedar shingles can be left to weather, or they can be sealed. In almost every situation, sealing is a smart move because it will greatly extend the life of the shingles.

To get the most return on investment from a cedar shingle installation, some homeowners simply seal the wood, allowing the natural color to come through. This was the most popular finishing technique during most of the 1970s and 1980s and could be accomplished with exterior grade polyurethane, shellac, or deck sealers.

As one might guess, modern sealers usually do the best job, last the longest, and require less clean-up hassles. These products are soaked into the wood fibers, creating a thick layer of protection, especially with multiple coats. This is a big advantage for paint, which for the most part, simply sits on the surface.

Is Wood Shake Siding For Me?

Cedar shingle siding is one of, if not the most attractive siding materials currently on the market. Although many synthetic materials such as fiber cement, vinyl, and aluminum attempt to replicate the look and feel of cedar shingles, none can achieve the natural beauty of natural wood. As home designs evolve, many homeowners have grown weary of the millions of virtually identical-looking homes. These homeowners are looking for a one-of-a-kind look that, with regular maintenance, will last for decades to come. 

Editorial Contributors
Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield is an experienced writer specializing in home improvement topics. He has a passion for educating and empowering homeowners to make informed decisions about their properties. Matt's writing focuses on a range of topics, including windows, flooring, HVAC, and construction materials. With a background in construction and home renovation, Matt is well-versed in the latest trends and techniques in the industry. His articles offer practical advice and expert insights that help readers tackle their home improvement projects with confidence. Whether you're a DIY enthusiast or a seasoned professional, Matt's writing is sure to provide valuable guidance and inspiration.

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