How to Install Siding Shingles

Upgrade your curb appeal with this siding option that's worth the hard work. With our step-by-step instructions, you can install siding shingles to gain a rich textured exterior.

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For curb appeal  that will make your house stand out in the neighborhood, consider installing shingles to the front and sides of your home. This textured look is not only unique and rustic, but it is extra protective with up to three layers of shingles. We can't deny that this project is a bit of work, but if you're determined and have a helping hand, it will be done before you know it! Check out our must-know guide to siding shingles below. 

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Before You Start

Cedar shingles take more time to install than most other types of siding, but they create a richly textured look. Shingles can be installed only if the sheathing is boards, plywood, or OSB.

Shingles should be installed to provide triple coverage, with three layers of shingles covering the wall. To achieve this, the exposures should be slightly less than one-third the length of the shingle. For example, in these pages 16-inch-long shingles are installed with 5-inch exposures.

You could first install outside corner trim made of 1X boards and then butt the shingles up to the trim, but a woven corner is more attractive. A woven inside corner is much more difficult to achieve, so the usual practice is to install inside corner trim prior to shingling.

Because shingles can swell slightly, it is sometimes recommended that you provide 1/8-inch gaps between the shingles. However, as long as the shingles are not completely dried out, they will shrink slightly after installation, so gapping is usually not needed. Check with your supplier to be sure.

If you decide to trim outside corners, you may choose to install corner trim pieces and simply butt the shingles up to the trim boards.

Cedar Siding Basics

Cutting Shingles

You can cut shingles using a table saw, chop saw, or radial-arm saw. In the example shown, the miter gauge is used to cut corner pieces at a slight angle, which eliminates the need to knife-trim (perhaps even planing smooth) the corner pieces. If you use a circular saw, clamp the shingle first to keep your fingers away from the blade. If the grain is straight and knot-free, use a utility knife to make simple cuts. Slice once or twice, then snap the shingle apart. You may need to touch up the split with a block plane (Step 7).

Use a Pneumatic Nailer or Stapler to Speed Up the Job

You can hand-nail shingles, but the job goes faster with a pneumatic nailer or stapler. A stapler is used most often because it is less likely to split the shingles. Even if you are shingling just a single wall, renting power equipment will be worth the cost.

Adjust the stapler so it drives the staples just flush and does not indent them. When you hit a stud, the staple may not sink in completely; drive the staple flush with a hammer.

Use galvanized nails or staples for most of the job. Stainless-steel nails are the best choice wherever the heads will show.

What You Need

  • Staple gun or hammer
  • Circular saw
  • Tape measure
  • Surform tool
  • Block plane
  • Chalk line
  • Drill
  • Flat pry bar
  • Level
  • Story pole
  • Caulking gun
  • Utility knife
  • T-bevel
  • Tin snips
  • Ladders and/or scaffolding
  • Wood shingles
  • Cedar wood trim
  • Stainless-steel or galvanized nails or staples
  • Caulk
  • Primer and paint or sealer

Step 1: Prep the Walls

Apply building wrap and prepare the walls. Apply self-stick flashing to corners and around windows and doors; apply flashings as needed. Take special care not to crease the wrap or flashings.

Step 2: Apply Trim

Apply trim around the windows and doors as needed. If you will weave the shingles at outside corners (see steps 6 and 7), you don't need outside corner trim.

Step 3: Lay Out Courses

Use a story pole to lay out courses and to avoid narrow pieces above or below windows and doors. You may choose to raise or lower the bottom course to achieve the desired layout (see Step 10) or use the swing-stick method. Mark the layout all around the house.

Step 4: Corner Trim

Install inside corner trim pieces. These should not be too visible but must be wide enough to provide room for caulking after the shingles are installed. A 1X1 board ripped from 5/4 cedar decking is often the ideal size. Hold up several layers of shingles to make sure the trim is thick enough.

Step 5: Begin Installation in Corner

Install the first starter-course piece at a corner. It should run past the corner by about 1 inch. Use a small level to hold it plumb and attach with two nails or staples. Less-expensive low-grade shingles can be used as the starter course.

Step 6: Continue Starter-Course

Install a piece on the other side of the corner butted against the first piece. Use a utility knife to roughly cut the first piece.

Step 7: Trim Shingle

Use a small plane or Surform tool to trim the shingle edge flush. When building a corner, trim and plane each piece before moving on to the next course.

Step 8: Set Up Jig

Make a jig (as shown) as a quick and failsafe way to keep the courses even. Use a straight 1X4 as the guide and 1X2s as the hangers. Check that it's level and fasten it with 3-inch screws.

Step 9: Attach Second Layer

The starter course is made of two layers of shingles. Attach the second layer so its joints are offset at least 1-1/2 inches from the joints of the underlying layer. You will likely need to cut the last pieces in each row.

Step 10: Continue Along Corners

Build up the corners. The bottom course (which is on top of the starter course) may be anywhere from 1 to 4 inches above the starter course, depending on your layout. To maintain correct exposures use a homemade exposure guide. Drive nails or staples about 1 inch above the exposure so they will be covered. Also check your layout marks every few courses. Trim and plane a corner board before you install the next course.

Step 11: Build Inside Corners

Build the inside corners in the same way; you will not need to plane any shingle edges.

Step 12: Mark Next Course

Once you have built up the corners by about 10 courses, snap a chalk line to mark the bottom of the next course. Attach vertical pieces to a long, straight guide and attach to the wall as shown. Place shingles on the guide board and fasten them, offsetting joints by at least 1-1/2 inches.

Step 13: Work Around Windows

At window and door corners, install wide notch-cut shingles. Avoid having a joint closer than 1 inch from the corner.

Step 14: Windows and Doorways

Above a window or door, you will need to cut and install strips of the correct thickness so that the full-thickness pieces installed over them will be correctly flared out from the wall.

Step 15: Work Around Hose

Turn off the water and remove a hose spigot. Use a drill and a hole saw to cut a neat hole in the shingle. The hole should be large enough that there is at least a 1/4-inch gap between the pipe and the shingle to avoid damage from condensation. Caulk the gap before replacing the spigot.

Step 16: Install Along Gable

Set a scrap of wood on the roof and use a T-bevel to capture the angle for cutting along a gable. Where possible, install the angled pieces first, then fill in with full-length pieces.

Step 17: Install Roof Flashing

Along a roof, install flashing. Then install shingles 1 or 2 inches above the flashing. To cut a series of shingles that follow a roofline, align four or five of them on a worktable and snap a chalk line across them all, using the T-bevel as a guide.

Step 18: Finish With Caulk

Once all the shingles are installed, apply caulk at all the trim joints. Apply two or more coats of sealer or two coats of primer before painting.

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