Ask the Builder

Paint Those Shakes Before Putting Them Up

By Tim Carter
Saturday, August 25, 2007

Q: DEAR TIM: My husband and I have a home covered with cedar shakes. We are building an addition soon and will match the outside shakes. To save money, I plan to paint the new shakes. I am dreading this job, as I have painted the existing house and know what a nightmare it can be to get the paint between the shakes. How would you tackle this painting job? There have to be some tricks pros use. -- Anne R.

A: DEAR ANNE: I know exactly how you feel. Many years ago, a friend and I painted houses in the summer to pay our way through college. One of the houses we bid on had cedar shakes. It took us forever to paint. We ruined lots of brushes trying to dab the paint into all those gaps between the shakes. Drips were a constant headache, as excess paint in the gaps would regularly run down the face of the cedar shakes.

You are lucky to have thought about this problem before the shakes were installed. Painting bare cedar shakes that are installed is hard and can lead to other pesky problems down the road.

One major problem with painting cedar shakes after they are installed is that you cannot cover the whole shake. The gap between the shakes acts like a miniature funnel in a driving rainstorm. Water can go only down or sideways, and it often penetrates under the cedar. When this happens, parts of the shakes that are covered with other shakes -- i.e., the parts you couldn't paint -- get wet. Really wet.

When the water soaks into the bare cedar, it dissolves chemicals in the cedar. This colored water often runs down out of the shakes after the storm, staining your beautiful shakes. The moisture can also cause the paint to bubble and flake off.

Your best bet is to paint the cedar shakes before they are installed. There are many ways to do this, but you may find that spraying or dipping the shakes is the most productive.

There are some good airless paint sprayers that will do this job quickly. The challenge is to create a spray-paint booth to minimize overspray. This can be done in a garage with a few large cardboard boxes or with sheets of plastic draped to create a small room.

The other method is to dip the shakes. Take a clean five-gallon bucket, and fill it with four gallons of paint. Then take each shake, holding it at the thin top edge, and dip it into the paint to within 2 inches of the top of the shake. Using a paintbrush, remove the excess paint from the shake as you hold it above the bucket.

It is important that the front, back and all edges of each shake get painted. Complete coverage solves the issue of trying to paint the edges once the shakes are installed, and it seals each shake against water penetration.

The biggest challenge in painting the shakes this way is getting the paint to dry without the shakes touching one another or something else. I have solved this problem with a scrap piece of plywood. Using a circular saw or a table saw, I cut grooves in the plywood that are a quarter-inch wide by six feet long. The grooves are 1 1/2 inches apart. I set the plywood up off the ground about three inches on each end.

After a shake is painted, insert the thin end into the groove. The shake sticks up in the air and can dry rapidly. You can place many shakes in a single piece of plywood. By the time you fill one piece of plywood, the shakes that were painted first will probably be dry to the touch and can be moved to another location, where they can be tilted against a wall.

Tim Carter can be contacted via his Web site,

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