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aging gracefully: cedar shingles

fluffy's picture

I've just finished reading the archives (more than 500 postings!) about red & white cedar shingles and the various stains that protect them. Lots of information, your name came up often. I'm hoping there are new products that can deliver what I want.

The house is on the coast of Maine with a full southern exposure, lots of dormers and porches, lots of opportunity for inconsistant weathering. I don't want to lose the texture of the shingles by using a solid stain or paint, but I REALLY don't want to end up with a black, streaked house that looks like the Munsters live there.

Is there anything I can do to red cedar shingles to make them age more uniformly? There seems to be agreement that bleaching oil will move white cedar to gray, but I prefer the darker, almost brown of red cedar. Any ideas?

(post #71207, reply #1 of 19)

definitely note you addressed this to Northeast Icon MS
and if my memory serves me well he is no fan of semi transparent type stains

but one that I've had much success w/ is the Flood oil semitransparent group of stains - think you go from natural or clear to cedar color to something deeper

the clear or natural gives a rich depth to cedar and the cedar the same richness but a bit of colorant to add to the mix

an example of how I've used it - a shingle home we did about 18 yrs ago western red left natural needed it's trim painted and a little bright work - my guys stained the north and east sides w/ clear and the south and upper reaches of the west side w/ cedartone mix - everyone was very pleased

(post #71207, reply #2 of 19)

Don't do it!. Fight the trend, especially if the WRC is clear grain ( no knots ). You have the most mantainence free siding. Stain or paint it once, plan on doing it again every few years. Bleach it, or pressure wash it... you might as well tear it of now. The only downside to letting it age naturally is that about a 100 years down the line ( give or take 20 ) you may have to replace a shingle or two.


(post #71207, reply #4 of 19)

So stain, paint, bleaching and power washing will all decrease the life of clear red cedar shingles? It sounds like you've had some painful experiences!
What about all the reports of uneven weathering? I dont want to live in a black house.

(post #71207, reply #5 of 19)

my experience is  if you want  longevity, use a factory stained R&R red cedar..

 pick a stain that APROXIMATES the color you like.. in about two years some of the finish will weather off and the natural red cedar  will be revealed

however... it will still not be uniform.. some areas will be blackened, some will be that nice new looking red cedar

but the shadow lines and the solar orientation  will slowly work their way

bleaching oils and power washing actually remove wood fibers , thinning the shingle down the same way wind and rain thin them down... only faster

the only way to get 100 years .. or 200 years out of a red cedar siding is to coat it with a weathering replaceable surface.... stain , or paint..

stain is easier to maintain than paint, as it doesn't require the same level of prep work that the modern stains do

also.. paint will gradually build up the film so that you have to eventually scrape or sand it off to get a good surface...

stain will weather and thin down

but hey, whadda i no ?

Mike Smith Rhode Island : Design / Build / Repair / Restore

Mike Smith Rhode Island : Design / Build / Repair / Restore


(post #71207, reply #6 of 19)

I watched silently as a neighbor had his WRC painted ( solid stain ). 8 years later I helped him and his family pull them all off. He had that pricey plastic shingle product put on instead. The backs of the old shingles were looked brand new, the fronts were pure "paint" failure.  WRC, being a softwood, would be destroyed by the pressure washing. Not only would the lignin get mangled, but the tanins which natural enhance the wood, would be prematurely removed. I understand differing tastes, but that dark coloring is what happens to such a superior siding. Your house doesn't look like the "Munsters" house in my eyes. It looks like a beautiful soul, aging gracefully, with no equal. Cedar has a natural ability to resist pests and to weather itself, personally, I love those characteristics. It is just my own opinion, and if it does sway you in any way, good. But you should love your home, and do with it whatever makes you happiest, you deserve it. Especially since you cared enough to ask around here.

I have done it before, and here is the formula an old codger gave me.

1. Hose down the siding ( really soak it down if it will let you )

2.) Hose down the siding some more

3.) Use a bleach based siding cleaner, apply small sections at a time ( if the wood isn't pre-wetted, you can practically hear it scream as the bleach quickly burns through tanin/patina ) Don't let the bleach/cleaner stay on longer than ten minutes at a time.

4.) Hose her down ( there will be sheets of orange/red water splashing on the ground, years of protective coating stripped away ). Repeat only if neccesary, but remember, when it's wet, the cedar will look darker than it really is. I would never suggest bleachin it out till it is white. Let it dry for a few days.

5.) Equal parts 1/1/1: Linseed oil (boiled), Turpentine ( pure gum ( to save on cost, you can blend or just use straight mineral spirits)), and the stain color or toner you are shooting for. Slather it on until it won't take anymore ( it is probably stripped of all natural water repellent oils so it should suck it up pretty well ).

Linseed Oil can get mildew specks, so wash the siding each year with a mild! bleach solution. This is a pretty elaborate way of doing it, but the guy that gave me the recipe said they used to dip the shingles in a 50/50, linseed/turpentine dip before they would hang'em. 

I made a 15+ gallon batch of this recipe and did a monstrous house with it, came out beautifully. 

Now that I think of it, Disregard what you just read, and ask Mike ( I'd probably go with his suggestion myself) 


(post #71207, reply #7 of 19)

yes fluffy ( who came up w/ that name? ) difference in stain was utilized to make up for different UV exposure

house on kind of a SW to NE axis - South receiving majority of exposure and west too - 1st story of west under porch roof

Coast of Maine - dormers & porches sounds interesting and Edward speaks of seeing your house? Am I missing something in the posts?

(post #71207, reply #8 of 19)

No pictures yet - the footings have just been poured. The builder is asking for a decision on the window color since they are to be factory painted (Kolbe & Kolbe k-kron finish), and I want to make the siding decision at the same time. Before I started asking questions, the decision was pre dipped (bleaching oil) Maibec white cedar with white windows and trim OR natural red cedar R & R #1 with charcoal windows and trim.

Magazine pictures are no help because they always show freshly sided houses - not the same house 10 years later. That's why I return to Breaktime.

As to "Fluffy", I was trying for a more serious name without success when the cat walked by.

(post #71207, reply #9 of 19)

Good advice. I do have one caution to add, though. Chlorine bleach, Clorox and the like, has the same effect on the lignins that hold together wood as does sunlight. That is, they destroy them and reduce the wood's ability to hold a finish. The Forest Products Lab suggests using an oxygen based bleach such as OxyClean instead.


"Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig." Robert A. Heinlein

"Get off your dead #### and on your dying feet." Mom


Senior Editor, Fine Homebuilding

(post #71207, reply #10 of 19)

That's a good point...Chlorine bleach, any type, is mostly caustic soda (sodium hydroxide solution)and when that stuff contacts cellulose(wood) is causes decompostition of the cellulose. Pour a little bleach on some paper towels and let it dry, you'll see how it effects paper fibers. Chlorine bleach is probably not a good choice for wood treatment at any time.

(post #71207, reply #11 of 19)

very good choice on windows and i happen to use the k kron color samples as my primary first choice color samples for int & ext walls, trim etc.

considering the siting of the house & your concern for durability I'd get those Maibecs and do another coating of stain on the southern exposure side and maybe the east because of salt & sun ( and if it aint costing you an arm & leg or too frustrating I'd second coat all of them )

never used Maibec but I have used a competitor up Toronto way and they used Cabot stains so easy to match

(post #71207, reply #13 of 19)

Hi Andy, I was hoping you'd turn up in this thread; your name was another that I found in my archive search.

Here's a dumb question: Does bleaching oil contain bleach? That means factory dipping of white cedar will begin eating lignins even before they're put on?

I've been trying to connect with the Forest Products Lab without success. Do you have a web site?

(post #71207, reply #15 of 19)


That's a good question, too. Some of them do, some just have pigments that produce a weathered look.

Between those three sites, you'll know more about cedar than any sane person should want to.


"Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig." Robert A. Heinlein

"Get off your dead #### and on your dying feet." Mom


Senior Editor, Fine Homebuilding

(post #71207, reply #19 of 19)

Thanks, Andy for the web addresses. They, and the technical department at Cabots have led me here: Anything you put on red cedar shingles that has uv protection or mold and mildew inhibitors has to be reapplied - the more transparent the product, the more often it must be applied. The value of the many and various stain/paint products is to offer temporary protection of the cedar and to slow down and even out the inconsistent weathering which is inevitable.

I can expect a very long life from untreated #1 perfection, vertical grain, R&R red cedar shingles, but I must expect tannins to rise unevenly on different house exposures. I can live with this and call it "graceful aging" (thank you Edward3!), or I can use two products made by Cabot: an oxalic acid brightener to remove tannins, and/or the problem solver wood cleaner which cleans dirt, mildew, and mold. Both of these products need to be applied with a pump style sprayer followed by a gentle garden hose washing.

So! Thank you all - it's natural red cedar for me!

(post #71207, reply #12 of 19)

So should I apply this same logic to my 10 year old red cedar shingle roof? The roof is in great shape. Depends on the light, sometimes it looks slightly dark and at other times has that beautiful gray look.

Front porch ( 5/12 pitch with a tree overhanging) on the north side has the beginnings of green moss or lichen. It's not the big mass of moss you see when there is a long term leak or that you typically see on shakes. More lichen than moss. Should I just leave it alone?

The house is 100 years old (12/12 pitch) and this is the 3rd roof, all previous roofs have been torn off and I laid this one just like the previous roof without tarpaper. We lived in the house for 5-7 years before replacing the roof. You could see light holes through the old roof but never a leak. The old shingles were paper thin and worn down to the sheathing. I love wood shingled roofs.

(post #71207, reply #14 of 19)

cargin.. from your description  and of course  IMNSHO....


Front porch ( 5/12 pitch with a tree overhanging) on the north side has the beginnings of green moss or lichen. It's not the big mass of moss you see when there is a long term leak or that you typically see on shakes. More lichen than moss. Should I just leave it alone? >>>

that portion of the roof is already toast..

 5/12 is a low pitch for areas that  have a moderate climate.. between the rain and the snow, they stay wet longer that they stay dry...

 with that pitch i would only install them over either skip sheathing, or cedar breather

and the 15# / 30# felt  is a good wicking surface to assist in drying to the backside

the contact of wood to wood ( on sheathing with no paper ) creates a layer that almost never drys.. so , a few  windborn spores, some rain.. no drying to the back.. good by roof

on the 12/12 pitch , you have a much better chance of longevity.. since you get faster run-off as opposed to the slower run off / soaking in of the 5/12

but hey, whadda i no ?

Mike Smith Rhode Island : Design / Build / Repair / Restore

Mike Smith Rhode Island : Design / Build / Repair / Restore


(post #71207, reply #16 of 19)

So would you advise just letting everything age naturally? Without any treatments?

I will leave that north roof alone, even if it is toast. I tore off the old one (wood) and there was no sheathing damage. It's only a couple of sq and seperated by a ridge so if need be,  in 10-20 years I can redo it. The old roof was probalby done in the 40's. I could tell by the nail lines that this house has only had 2 roofs, before the one I put on. House was orginally built between 1890- 1900 and the porch was probably added in the 1920's.

Thanks for the input. Not too many people around here know very much about wood shingles and sometimes it's more myth than good knowledge.

Around 1998 I tore off a 1920's house with 16/12 pitch.  The wood shingles had a green pigment on the back about 2/3's of the way up like they had been dipped in stain and then applied.

(post #71207, reply #17 of 19)

well.... the 5/12  ain't gonna get any better... you might think of a fungicde


 or even small strips of copper slipped under  the  ridge cap .. the copper will leach out and kill the moss  and lichens growing..

 same thing for the 12/12

just be careful, everytime you walk on an old wooden roof you risk breaking some of the shingles

Mike Smith Rhode Island : Design / Build / Repair / Restore

Mike Smith Rhode Island : Design / Build / Repair / Restore


(post #71207, reply #18 of 19)

Thank you

Rich Cargin

(post #71207, reply #3 of 19)

Thanks, John Harkins. I replied to your post earlier today but my reply isn't showing up in this thread. In any case, did you use two different Flood stains to compensate for the uneven weathering of the house? After 18 years what colors did the shingles turn?