As much an art as a science, proper slate installation blends the mechanics of waterproofing with the aesthetic and creativity of an artist.

installationMaster Slaters in Europe train for years to earn their credentials, much like a Master Electician or Master Plumber would here in the US. American roofers don't have access to "slate schools" like you'd find in Europe, but most US roofers proficient in slate have decades of experience and learned from their fathers or grandfathers. An experienced and adventurous do-it-yourselfer can certainly tackle many types of slate installation, but it will take plenty of forethought and patience. There are no "instruction booklets" or directions printed on the label. The US slate industry operates on years of tradition and experience, it is a welcoming community eager to share knowledge and bring new people into the fold.

Below are a few introductory thoughts on slate installation, but please feel free to call our office with questions. While we are not professional slate installers we are happy to share what we do know, and if we can't help we'll put you in touch with someone who can.

If you are interested in learning more about slate installation, we recommend The Slate Roof Bible by Joseph Jenkins and The Slate Book by Brian Stearns, Alan Stearns and John Meyer. More information about these books can be found in our Resources section.

Additionally, the National Slate Association (NSA) has recently completed a thorough re-write of their 1926 book, Slate Roofs: Design & Installation Manual.  The 2010 edition is a great resource for the entire industry. Thank you to all the folks at the NSA for their work on this important project.

Installation Basics:

Be sure to shuffle and mix slate from several pallets, and on large jobs, from different truckloads prior to installation. Even when produced from the same quarry, and at the same time, there can be subtle differences in color, thickness or texture among pallets or truckloads. By comingling slate from several pallets, any subtle variations in the slate get distributed throughout the roof creating the beautiful natural stone look that slate is famous for.

Roofing slates are typically fastened to a roof deck with nails and we recommend #10 gauge smooth-shank copper nails on a wooden deck for a number of reasons. Copper nails are in keeping with the longevity of a slate roof and the smooth shank is forgiving in those inevitable moments when you need to pull a nail or use the slate ripper. If the roof deck is a harder surface (concrete for example) stainless steel nails may be required. In all cases the slates should hang from the nails such that they have some freedom of movement and the head of the nails should not stick up above the surface of the slate. Sometimes slates are installed with slate hooks – certainly this is the most common method when making repairs.

Tools specific to the task of installing slate include a slate hammer, a slate ripper and a slate cutter.

A regular claw hammer will work, but lacks some of the features of the slate hammer, most notably, the "pick" or pointed end that is handy for punching holes in slate when needed. There are other ways to put holes in slate: drill them with a 3/16" masonry drill bit, or punch them with a nail or punch. A mason's hammer can approximate a slate hammer, but the "pick" should be ground finer to facilitate clean punching.

The slate ripper, used for repairs, is absolutely necessary, even on a new installation. You WILL need one. If you don't know how to use a ripper, then read "Slate Roof Repairs" by Les Gove .

The slate cutter is the handiest way to trim slate. It's fast, accurate and leaves the same chamfered edge as the quarry slate trimmers. Again, there are other ways to cut slate, but most rely on the skillful use of hand tools by an experienced slater. Trimming thick slates present a challenge and often requires the use of a power saw to score a line to initiate the cut.

For a more detailed discussion about installing roofing slates see the articles, books and videos available in the Resources section. If you can't find what you need, give us a call, we are here to help. If we can't answer your question, we can certainly put you in touch with someone who can.



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