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Roofing Tool Basics

Check out information on the benefits of these basic roofing tools and how to use them.

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nail another row of shingles on top of first row

Safety first — Always use a safety harness, rope an anchor point when working on the roof.

The basic tools used in roofing are: a utility knife, a tape measure, a hammer, and a chalk line.

  • A utility knife is used for cutting roofing material. A specialized roofer’s utility knife has a knob that turns to open the tool — eliminating the use of a screwdriver to open and close the tool. The blade — held in place with a magnet — is hooked for cutting shingles and felt more easily.

  • Hold a roofing nail with your palm facing up to get it started, rather than with your thumb and forefinger. This technique results in lessened injury if your hand is hit.

  • A plastic cap nail has a plastic sheath around it to hold the felt better. It has a broader surface than a regular roofing nail and the flexibility of the sheath makes it less likely that wind will pull up the felt. A pneumatic nail gun allows the nail and cap to be driven into the roof more quickly and with less manpower.

  • After nailing in the felt, make chalk lines as a reference to keep the rows of shingles straight. Lines should be six inches apart. Nail in the first row of shingles upside down. The first row should hang over the edge of the roof about 1-1/2 inch so that water will drip down the roof into the gutter.

  • Nail another row of shingles on top of the first row. This will be the first exposed course of shingles. The tabs of each course should be six inches off-center from one another. When that course is done, continue to nail the next course with a six-inch offset.

  • Shingles have a line of sticky material that makes them monolithic; they become like one piece so the wind can’t blow them off the roof.

  • Metal roofing is becoming popular, but a main drawback is that it is difficult to get into position to work on the roof. Suction cups solve this problem. Set the suction cup down on a flat surface and pump it up for a foothold to help you work safely.

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