Replace a Cap on a Wood Shingled Roof

There are two basic types of wood shingled roof - shingles, which are normally uniform in thickness, and wood shake shingles, which are thicker than wood shingles and are more irregular.  This type of installation is three to six times more expensive than a more normal asphalt or fiberglass roofing shingles.  Typical age until replacement is needed is at least 15 years. 

Wood roofs require good air circulation, both over and under the eaves.  You should replace the wooden shingle on a needed basis.  The biggest culprit of wooden shingles is decay, and the roof cap is the most susceptible to deterioration, through both splitting and warping.  As soon as any sign of warpage appears, the roof cap needs to be repaired.

Some roofers advise repairing the roof cap in a wooden shingle roof on an as-needed basis.  Their theory is that ripping up the entire roof cap damages the felt and shielding underneath, and leads to further problems down the road. They suggest that if a cap shingle is loose, it should be renailed, and if missing, replaced.  

If the roof cap does indeed need to be replaced, it is jobs well within the experience of an average do it yourselfer. Always plan to do this type of repair job on a warm sunny day when there is no moisture on the roof.  Wooden shingles are very slippery when wet, and the chance of a fall is greatly increased if the shingles are wet.  Always use the proper equipment when working on a pitched roof.  A safety harness can usually be rented from the local rent-a-center.  The extra expense is well worth it in terms of both safety and your peace of mind.  You can also use what is called a "chicken ladder", which is a ladder placed on the roof from eaves to peak and hooked securely over the peak.  A rope of at least V4 inch rope is fastened to the top of the ladder to provide a handhold or lifeline to ascend the ladder.  Now is not the time to be macho.

You will need this equipment:

  • Utility ladder that will extend at least four foot above the eaves.
  • A "chicken ladder" with all necessary equipment, including hand rope
  • Hammer and tool pouch   
  • Enough 30 pound felt or 8 inch metal flashing to cover the peak after removal.
  • Galvanized roofing nails.
  • A sharp utility knife, metal straight edge, and a block plane if installing shingles
  • Three inch galvanized roofing nails if installing roof board
  • A circular saw to trim roof boards if this is the method utilized.
  • #1 cedar shingles or 1 X 6 cedar boards.

Begin by removing the old roof cap, using a pry bar, being careful not to damage the underlying felt.  Pound in any protruding nails.  Roll out the felt or flashing along the roof, and fasten at the lower edges with roofing nails every few feet, attempting to hit roof joists if possible.

If installing shingles, insure that the size of the shingles are uniform.  They should be 3 to 5 inches in width.  Us the straight edge and utility knife to cut them, scoring with the knife and straight edge and snapping them at the score.  Bevel the edges with the block plane.  Begin at one end with a double course, insuring that the edges match evenly according to the pitch of the roof.  Adjust the angle with a block plan to insure a tight fit.  Alternate the leading edge along the roof line, overlapping each new set as you go.  Nail in with 3 inch galvanized nails, insuring that the nail reaches the sheathing.  Work your way to the middle, and then begin at the other end.

If installing roof boards, insure that the long edge of the board matches the pitch of the roof.  Test fit to insure, and match the angle precisely, using a circular saw to rip the long edge to the correct angle.  Using a scrap piece of 1 X 6 as a guide, position the board at the peak, using the scrap lumber as a guide to match the join.  Nail ever 16 to 24 inches to match the roof joists if possible.  If the board is not long enough to reach the entire length of the roof, join the matching ends with a miter joint to insure good coverage.  It is wise to have a helper in this situation.

Recapping a wood shingle roof is not hard to do.  Safety is the biggest concern.  Take time in this process, and your roof cap is good for another 15 years. 

Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.