What’s the Difference Between Shingles and Shakes?

Wood Shakes/Shingles

First, wood roof systems can comprise either shakes or shingles. Generally, dimensions for wood shakes and shingles run from a half-inch to an inch thick at the exposed, or butt, end; from three to eight inches wide; and from 18 to 24 inches long. Each is a different product. Both, however, are made from either cedar, cypress, redwood or even pressure-treated pine. Timber from these species, except pine, tend to repel fungus, mold, mildew and insects with little or no chemical treatment.


Shakes are split along the grain from a block rather than sawn. They can be split straight up and down or at an angle. Shakes have a rustic, uneven and textured look.


Wood shingles are sawn on both broad sides from the wood, making smoother, more refined surfaces. Another method entails splitting shakes then sawing one broadside.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to all wood roofs as shakes.

Asphalt Shingles

The designs of many asphalt shingle products intend to imitate the look of shakes but they also replicate slate or tile. They are created with laminated layers starting with a mat of fiberglass surfaced with a coating of asphalt topped with mineral or plastic granules.

The common dimension of an asphalt shingle is one foot long and three feet wide.

Lifespan of Shakes vs. Shingles


A well-installed premium-grade shake roof can last 50 or more years. Lifespans for lesser grades run to about 30 years. Because hailstones up to two inches in diameter tend to simply bounce off the wood, insurance companies rate shake systems as impact resistant. Larger hail can damage shakes by splitting them lengthwise and chipping pieces off the edges.

Usually, the underlayment and flashings wear out sooner than the shakes themselves, although, when a large number appear curled, loose or broken from footfall, then it’s time to start planning a replacement.


Since asphalt shingles now come in such a wide variety of thicknesses and hail-resistant additives, their lifespans can be as low as 15 years and as long as 50, if not damaged.

Cost of Shakes vs. Shingles


Due to the relatively higher costs of lumber and the painstaking installation process, average shake roofs cost about twice as much as an average, 30-year shingle roof.


Although asphalt shingles consist of more pre-manufactured products than shakes, each element costs very little comparatively. The wider shingle lengths and soft nailing quality allow for rapid installations, granting huge cost savings just on labor alone.

While a very high-end shingle roof can approach the cost of shakes, none quite reach the same level of expense.

Maintenance of Shakes vs. Shingles


Replacement of individual broken shakes over the years will keep the roof looking great. Leaks usually occur from worn out pipe boots or shrunken caulking seals and can be repaired as needed. Although shakes can easily battle the weather, excessive walking of the roof will eventually take its toll on the shakes.

While some owners consider coating their shake roofs with an oil as it ages, doing so is something of a waste. The results will be too short-lived to make the danger and expense worthwhile and will not rejuvenate an old roof. Because shakes become slippery as ice when wet, homeowners should never take the chance of coating them.


Shingles and flashings on asphalt roofs can be replaced individually if damaged or worn out, as well. Shingles, though, can take a lot more foot traffic than shakes.

When budgets permit, the choice for shakes over shingles, most often, is little more than a style preference. Both provide excellent coverage for roofs.