Learning to make shakes

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Forum topic by illusionfieldsfarm posted 04-17-2014 04:15 PM 802 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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7 posts in 1524 days

04-17-2014 04:15 PM

Topic tags/keywords: froe traditional

My son and I have been trying to figure out how to make shakes for the roof of our upcoming house project. We have a froe but no brake yet but that’s coming. We have some downed trees that we’re just getting to cutting up and decided to try our hand with this on a cherry tree. This tree has been down (pushed down with root ball intact) for about a year and a half but not cut. We cut some sections about 18 inches long and started working on them with the process shown here . Let me tell you, they make it look much easier on youtube.

Our first problem is thickness. I don’t have the thicknesses we tried handy as we burned the pieces. It seemed if we didn’t start the piece thick enough it tended to break as we worked down. It actually seemed like the fibers were breaking and the piece would taper down to nothing. I suspect the pieces that would break were about 1/4” to 3/8”. We did get some that split fine but they were somewhere around 1/2” or more. What would normally be a good thickness to expect or is that dependent too much on the wood?

They seemed harder to split than I would have thought. The surfaces weren’t very smooth at all. The grain wasn’t wavy but they didn’t sever in what I would call a clean plane at all. How smooth should we be expecting?

I feel the wood was wetter than it should have been. It wasn’t dripping or anything but it definitely wasn’t what I’d call ‘seasoned’ dry. How much does this matter? Can we just use green cut logs for this or should we season the wood first?

I think that’s all our questions for now but I’m sure we’ll end up with more.

5 replies so far

View bondogaposis's profile


4727 posts in 2349 days

#1 posted 04-17-2014 04:46 PM

I never heard cherry shakes, but I suppose you could do it if you have some very straight grain wood. I used western red cedar and western larch, they both split very easily. The key to making shakes is to use straight grained wood with no figure or knots.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View MalcolmLaurel's profile


298 posts in 1621 days

#2 posted 04-17-2014 06:49 PM

When you use a froe remember that you can ‘steer’ the split to some extent by twisting the handle one way or the other. You do need to use relatively straight and coarse grained wood.

-- Malcolm Laurel -

View Loren's profile (online now)


10390 posts in 3645 days

#3 posted 04-17-2014 07:11 PM

I have doubts as to whether cherry is appropriate. Hardwoods
like cherry tend to grow slowly and because tree twist as they
grow, the grain in hardwoods does not tend to be as
straight as in softwoods which grow quickly to larger
sizes. I’m generalizing of course.

View jdh122's profile


1009 posts in 2815 days

#4 posted 04-17-2014 08:34 PM

You need an easy-splitting wood. Cedars are the most popular choice, of course, because of their rot-resistance. Larch, I’ve heard eastern hemlock splits well, you could probably do it with oak too.
For splitting, green should definitely work if you have the right species. But with some species (I’ve tried maple, aspen) they’re hard to split and the resulting pieces have huge valleys and hills. Maybe cherry is like that.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View dawsonbob's profile


2854 posts in 1753 days

#5 posted 04-17-2014 08:42 PM

Well, first you get some ice cream and some flavoring…

I don’t know, but I’m interested in seeing how this go’s. I tried making some shakes when I was a kid, but they didn’t come out well.

-- Mistakes are what pave the road to perfection

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