Your Step-by-Step Guide to Installing Cedar Shake Siding

Nothing says "Cape Cod cottage" quite like a textured cedar exterior. With our step-by-step instructions, you'll be installing cedar shake siding in no time—not to mention, giving your home fresh curb appeal in spades.

Backyard of gray house with outdoor dining area
Photo: John Merkl
Project Overview
  • Total Time: 4 days
  • Skill Level: Advanced

Some of the charm of coastal towns has nothing to do with the ocean and everything to do with the architecture. Credit the shingle siding—those tapered, rustic-looking cedar pieces often applied to the exterior walls of seaside dwellings. Whether stained or painted, weathered or well-maintained, cedar siding is never short on curb appeal. We don’t blame you if you swoon every time you pass a cottage decked out in cedar.

If you love the look, follow our step-by-step guide to mimic this stunning coastal style—no matter if you’re hundreds of miles from the shore. Although cedar shingles are more time-consuming to install than most other types of siding, the extra effort is worth it for the rich, textured aesthetic they’ll give your home. Before you dive in, make sure your house’s sheathing—the exterior material covering the framing—is made from boards, plywood, or oriental strand board (OSB); otherwise, you won’t be able to install cedar shingle siding.

When you’re calculating how much material to buy, consider these factors: First, cedar shake siding should be installed to provide triple coverage, meaning three layers of shingles are covering the wall. To achieve this, the exposures—the part of each piece you can see—should be slightly less than one-third the length of the shingle. For example, 16-inch-long shingles should be installed with about five-inch exposures. Second, it’s sometimes recommended that you leave ⅛-inch gaps between shingles, since cedar shingles can swell slightly. However, as long as the shingles are not completely dried out, they’ll shrink slightly after installation, so gapping is usually unnecessary. Check with your supplier to be sure.

Although this project requires advanced DIY skills, the hard work will pay off with loads of curb appeal and an exterior look that only gets better with age. So grab an assistant and start installing cedar shake siding.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Staple gun or hammer
  • 1 Measuring tape
  • 1 Surform tool
  • 1 Block plane
  • 1 Chalk line
  • 1 Drill
  • 1 Flat pry bar
  • 1 Level
  • 1 Story pole
  • 1 Table saw or circular saw
  • 1 Caulking gun
  • 1 Utility knife
  • 1 T-bevel
  • 1 Tin snips
  • 1 Ladders or scaffolding
  • 1 Paintbrush

Materials

  • 1 Wood shingles
  • 1 Cedar wood trim
  • 1 Stainless-steel or galvanized nails or staples
  • 1 Caulk
  • 1 Primer and paint or sealer
  • 1 Roofing felt or building wrap
  • 1 Flashing
  • 1 Self-stick flashing tape
  • 1 3-inch screws
  • 1 1x4 boards
  • 1 1x2 boards
  • 1 Scrap wood

Instructions

  1. Prep the Walls

    Applying self-stick flashing to outside corner
    Dave Toht

    To prepare the exterior walls, apply building wrap over the sheathing for a water-resistant barrier beneath the shingles. Apply self-adhesive flashing tape ($25.42, homedepot.com) to corners and around windows and doors to block out moisture and air. Take special care not to crease the wrap or flashings.

  2. Apply Trim

    Installing wood trim around window
    Dave Toht

    Install exterior trim around the windows and doors as needed. Select a wood stain or material for the trim that will complement your new shingle siding. If you plan to weave the shingles at outside corners (see step 4), you don't need outside corner trim.

  3. Lay Out Courses

    Using story pole to mark house for layout courses of shingles
    Dave Toht

    Use a story pole—a narrow board marked with reference points to enable easy and consistent measuring—to lay out courses. First, pencil in the spacing of the shingle exposures (along with an arrow pointing to the bottom edge) on the story pole, which should be as long as the wall is tall. Then mark on the wall where each row of shingles should begin, making sure the edges don't align awkwardly with door or window frames. (You don't want narrow pieces above or below doors or windows.) You may choose to raise or lower the bottom course—the row of shingles just above the starter course—to achieve the desired layout.

    You can also use the swing-stick method to keep the layout consistent. To make a swing stick, select a narrow board that's several feet long, and mark out the spacing of the shingles. Select a window as your starting place, and snap a chalk line on the house, using the line created by the windowsill's bottom edge as your guide. Prop up the swing stick so that its bottom edge aligns with what will be the bottom edge of the starter course. Do any of the pencil marks on the swing stick align with the windowsill chalk line? If so, mark the wall to correspond with the rest of the swing stick's marks. If not, angle the swing stick toward the window; when one of its marks aligns with the chalk line, you can begin transferring the marks to the wall.

  4. Install Corner Trim

    Install inside corner trim piece
    Dave Toht

    Next, install inside corner trim pieces. Ideally, these shouldn't be too visible, but they also need to 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. (Hint: Hold up several layers of shingles to make sure the trim is thick enough.) An alternative approach is to install a woven corner, but since this is much more difficult to execute, installing inside corner trim prior to shingling is more typical.

  5. Begin Installation on Exterior Corner

    Attaching first starter course shingle at an outside corner
    Dave Toht

    Install the first starter-course piece at an exterior corner. It should overlap the corner by about one 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. If you prefer the look (or ease) of trim, you can also install corner trim pieces, then butt the shingles up to the trim boards.

  6. Continue Starter-Course

    Installing a piece on the other side of the corner butted against the first piece
    Dave Toht

    Install a piece around the corner from the first piece, making sure it's butted against the other shingle. Use a utility knife to roughly cut the excess from the first piece. Slice once or twice, then snap the shingle apart.

    Editor's tip: If needed, cut shingles with a table saw, chop saw, or radial-arm saw. Use a miter gauge to cut corner pieces at a slight angle, eliminating the need to knife-trim (perhaps even planing them smooth). 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.

  7. Trim Shingle

    Using a plane to trim the shingle edge flush with other corner piece
    Dave Toht

    You may need to touch up the corner for a smooth edge. Use a small block plane ($16, homedepot.com) or Surform plane ($12, homedepot.com) to trim the shingle edge flush. When building a corner, trim and plane each piece before moving on to the next course.

  8. Set Up Jig

    Fastening a jig made of a 1x4 and two 1x2s as hangers
    Dave Toht

    Make a jig (as shown) as a quick, 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 three-inch screws. This will hold the plank you're installing in place, ensuring accurate overlap.

  9. Attach Second Layer

    Starter course is made of two layers of shingles which are offset
    Dave Toht

    The starter course includes two layers of shingles—the first covering the top of the foundation by about an inch, and the second extending about ½-inch longer than the first. The joints of the second layer should be offset by at least 1-½ inches from the joints of the bottom layer. You will likely need to cut the last pieces in each row.

    Editor's tip: You can hand-nail shingles, but the job will go faster with a pneumatic nailer or stapler. A stapler is used most often since it's less likely to split the shingles. Even if you're only shingling a single wall, it's worth the expense to rent power equipment for the task.

    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. You can use galvanized nails or staples for most of the job, but switch to stainless-steel nails wherever the heads will show.

  10. Continue Along Corners

    Building up the outside corner, holding level vertically
    Dave Toht

    Now build up all of the exterior corners. The bottom course may be anywhere from one to four inches above the starter course, depending on your layout. To maintain correct exposures, use a homemade exposure guide (a board the same length as the exposed part of the shingle). Drive nails or staples about an inch above the exposure so they will be covered. Check your layout marks every few courses; complete 10 courses per corner. Trim and plane each corner board before you install the next course.

  11. Build Up Inside Corners

    Building up the inside corner, attaching shingles
    Dave Toht

    To build up the inside corners, follow the same steps you used for the exterior corners. (You will not need to plane any shingle edges for inside corners.)

  12. Mark Next Course

    Following horizontal chalk line and attach second course
    Dave Toht

    Once you've built up all of the interior and exterior corners, snap a chalk line to mark the bottom of the next course. As you work your way down the wall, place shingles so that the joints are offset from those in the row below by at least 1-½ inches. Repeat this process until you've covered your entire project space, building the corners up farther as needed.

  13. Work Around Windows

    Attaching wide notch cut shingle around window at bottom
    Dave Toht

    Continue installing your shingle siding around windows and doors. To accommodate corners, notch-cut the shingles to fit. Avoid placing a joint less than one inch from the corner.

  14. Add Shingles Above Windows and Doorways

    Attaching shingle above window
    Dave Toht

    The shingles above windows and doors require special attention since they're not layered on top of other shingles. To ensure a consistent look, cut and install strips of the same thickness underneath the row of shingles, as if this were part of a normal course and another row of shingles was beneath this one. That way, the full-thickness pieces installed over them will be correctly flared out from the wall.

  15. Work Around Spigot

    Replacing the spigot after the shingle has been installed and it has been caulked around
    Dave Toht

    To accommodate a spigot, turn off the water and remove the hose spigot. Use a drill and a hole saw to cut a neat hole in the shingle. The hole should be large enough to leave at least a ¼-inch gap between the pipe and the shingle to avoid damage from condensation. Caulk the gap before replacing the spigot.

  16. Install Along Gable

    Using scrap wood and T-bevel to measure angle to cut shingle
    Dave Toht

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

  17. Install Roof Flashing

    Attaching angle cut shingle along roofline, flashing installed beneath it
    Dave Toht

    Along the roof, install flashing—thin pieces of metal that keep water from seeping through the cracks. Then install shingles one or two inches above the flashing. To cut a series of shingles to follow a roofline, align four or five on a worktable and snap a chalk line across all of them, using the T-bevel as a guide.

  18. Finish with Caulk

    Caulking around window trim and along shingles
    Dave Toht

    Once all the shingles are installed, apply caulk at all of the trim joints. To finish your shingle siding, apply two or more coats of sealer or two coats of primer if you're planning to paint them.

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