Dragon Scale Shingles




Introduction: Dragon Scale Shingles

About: I have a compulsion to make stuff, all kinds of stuff. I'm glad to be here...

Years ago I saw a picture on the back of Fine Homebuilding of a backyard building that had a conical roof covered with shingles cut in an organic wavy pattern.  It looked almost thatched or as if it was covered in scales (Dragon Scales?!?).

 At the time I didn't need any roofs for circular buildings but I thought - I could make that and I definitely should if the opportunity arises.  I mentally filed the idea away for future coolness.  Fast forward 15+ years and what do you know?  I've got a circular building that needs a roof!

 The scaly shingle idea wasn't a winner in my wife's mind though.  She never saw the original picture and I guess I wasn't selling my version very well because I never got more than a lukewarm reception to it.  We pondered many ideas for roofing material including used tires or recycled highway signs cut into shingles.   I couldn't shake the vision of that back cover though and in the end the dragon scale idea prevailed.

Step 1: Ye Olde Materials and Tools Lists

First, you need to calculate the area that you are going to be covering.  If you want, you can be precise and follow the formula in the picture to calculate your roof's area...OR...you can be lazy like me and if there isn't much of a pitch to your roof figure it as a circle and add a bit for height.  (Actually, I just got started and kept buying material as I went)  Because the shingles overlap quite a bit you need to figure on enough material to cover your roof twice at least.  So if you found that you had a roof that was 100 sf you will need roughly 200 sf of roofing material. 

Next, the decision is yours go with real dragon scales or an alternative?  I didn't have any dragons that happened to be shedding available so I chose to go with the next best thing- rolled roofing.  It’s an asphalt material that comes in three foot wide rolls and is one of the cheapest roofing materials per square foot you can use to cover your roof with. You can get it at any big box store.

The only other thing you need is roofing nails.  They are short galvanized nails and you are going to be using a bunch of them.  How many is hard to estimate but you'll get a feel for it as you get into the project.

The tools I used are pretty simple - 

Sheetrock T-square 
Tape measure
Carpenter's pencils- several of these
Tin snips for cutting the roofing
Carpenter's tool belt to hold the nails 

Step 2: Cutting Shingles

My approach was to make 8' x 1' sections with a wavy edge as my starting pieces and then cut them down to fit once I was on the roof. The first thing I did was to cut a piece of roofing at 8' then I divided it with pencil lines into three 1' strips.  Next, I drew a wavy line down the middle of one of the lines and another one along the edge of the remaining strip.  (See the pictures)
I cut the pieces out and saved my favorite one to use as a template for the rest. Going forwards it was just a matter of laying the template down on each 8' section of roofing and tracing it.
Metal shears work the best for cutting the roofing.  Working at a table is a good idea as this will take many hours.  Your back will thank you.  Getting help here is a good idea too.  My wife and I worked it out so that she was cutting strips while I was up on the roof installing them.

Step 3: Installing

I had already covered the roof with an underlayment of Grace ice & water seal.  You could also use tar paper. The underlayment is an extra layer of protection in case any water gets through the shingles.

Installing the shingles is a matter of fitting the strips into concentric overlapping rings nailing down the shingles as you go.   It is a bit of an art to get the pattern of the wavy edges to look good.  There is a lot of fitting and trimming involved to get it right.  Be patient and take your time.  Nail along the top edge of each strip at 6" intervals.  Make sure that each overlapping layer covers the nails of the one below it.

In addition to cutting the 8′ strips smaller to fit, I found that I also needed to insert small sections of shingle in random spots to add to the pattern and hide wayward nails.  Where the ends of the shingles came together I trimmed them so that they were rounded and overlapped them so that the prevailing wind would not peel them off in a storm.

Step 4: Success!

It was many, many, many hours of work to put the shingles up.  Because of the summer heat I was only able to work on the roof early in the morning or the last couple hours of evening.  Working in spurts it took me several weeks to shingle a 600 sf building. At the base of the roof it took about an hour and a half to get one course of shingles up. 

Over time the covered part slowly grew until it was greater than the uncovered part and then suddenly it was done.  The final result looks great.  The patterning of the shingles looks really attractive and makes the building look unique.  Now my wife loves it too!



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    28 Discussions

    Nice looking roof! Good job!!
    How much material did you use and what was the total cost. Thanks for the instructable..

    3 replies

    so 40% of the material is waste? It looks to me like you could have cut a rectangle into two identical pieces w/wavy edge and eliminate most of that waste. Just looking at the pics I imagine the first windstorm sending the Dragon Scales sailing off to Middle Earth.

    No, that 40% is the overlap between layers. There was maybe 2% lost to trimming corners and fitting. The roof has held up in 50+ mph winds over the hast couple years.

    Love it...whether it's dragon scales or 'thatching' it definitely makes it unique and wondrous !

    Given my nickname, I am obligated to truly appreciate this fine work!

    Nice, it turned out really cool, and gives me some new ideas for the roof of my Hexa-house design

    Good Explanations and examples. As a builder I've shingled many houses and buildings. But I've yet to have a chance on a round roof though. Like you I'll file this away for a future time and hope my project turns out as kool as this one did!

    Oh man, now I want to see this as triangular little cuts, rather than the rolling hills cuts.

    Great job, and looks great!

    1 reply

    Yeah, triangular cuts could be cool too. I'd love to see other peoples take on this technique.

    Wouldn't a utility knife with a hook blade(shingle blade) work better than metal shears? I know that the asphalt on roofing would gum up the cutter after a while and hook blades are cheap... I really like the idea there, nice job.
    Another thing, what did you use to build the building out of, is that blocks that you made from adobe or is it something that you bought?

    1 reply

    I tried a utility knife with a straight blade at first but the gravel on the roofing dulled the blade very quickly. The building is made out of papercrete which you can see how I made the blocks here.

    "In addition to cutting the 8′ strips smaller to fit, I found that I also needed to insert small sections of shingle in random spots to add to the pattern and hide wayward nails. Where the ends of the shingles came together I trimmed them so that they were rounded and overlapped them so that the prevailing wind would not peel them off in a storm."

    Can you include some photographic representation of this?

    Thanks for the cool contribution!

    1 reply

    If you look at the detail pictures on the fourth step you can see that the right hand shingles are (generally)overlapping the left hand ones. That's because that is the direction the wind usually comes from.

    Some shingles have glue strips that, when it's hot, glue themselves down. Does roll roofing have these?

    1 reply

    No, I thought I would have to silicone some of the shingle ends down but the nails seem to be enough.

    I don't even know how you built a shallow conical roof!