They can be made of various materials from birch veneer, cedar or asphalt. They can also come in strips or as individuals in a bag.
The most common miniature shingles are made of two types of wood, birch veneer or cedar. Birch veneer is thin and smooth and is usually used on tab and slot dollhouses. Cedar is thicker and has a "ribbed" surface. These are usually used on cabinet grade dollhouses. Both are applied in the same way.
You can view the Standard Shingling Guide, courtesy of Greenleaf Dollhouses, to get an overview of the shingling process.
If you plan on shingling your roof without templates, always paint your roof in the same color as you plan on painting or staining your shingles, so that you do not see raw wood between them.
If your roof has a lot of angles, you will benefit from applying your shingles using templates. Templates allow for you to cut the shingles for your roof angles easily, quickly and smoothly.
You first need to make the shingle templates from your roof panels. You can make the templates from any type of paper you want but I recommend postal paper because it's inexpensive, it's dark colored and it comes in large rolls, so its long lasting.
You can trace your unassembled roof panels, onto paper, before you begin your dollhouse. This is the easiest method but your traced templates will never match up exactly with your assembled roof panels. This is because some panels overlap others entirely and/or their edges may sit on top of other panels. Chimneys, skylights and other architectural features may also be in the way. This will end up in you having to trim or modify your pre-cut paper templates for the perfect fit, just when you thought you had completed them. I find that there is less confusion, if you just wait and make your templates after the dollhouse roof is assembled.
When you make your templates, make sure you carefully mark their front and backs and what panel they are for. That way you do not accidentally shingle the wrong side.
Creating A Paper Template
Lay a piece of paper down on the roof panel and crease it with your fingertips around the edges. Cut with scissors and then dry fit the template, so you're sure you have the perfect fit.
If your paper rolls up on you, roll it in the opposite direction and hold it that way for awhile, until it lays flat. Your paper does not have to be perfect because it will be hidden underneath shingles, so don't be afraid of wrinkles or slight damage.
Label each template, so you know what panel it belongs to and which side is the front.
Draw shingle lines on your templates with a pencil. These will be the guide marks on where to position your row of shingles. Shingles are applied staggered and each row overlaps the bottom row. The width of the shingle lines are completely up to you and your preferred look. The general rule of thumb is that your guidelines should be no less than one half the length of one shingle or approximately 3/4" of an inch, for birch veneer shingles. A great "ruler" guide is a birch veneer siding strip.
Draw your lines from the bottom of your template to the top. Make sure they are straight and that all of your templates have identical, matching lines, so that your shingles meet evenly at gable joints.
Use hot melt glue to begin applying your shingles from the bottom of the template working your way up, following your guidelines. If you made your guidelines correctly, your first row of shingles overhang the bottom edge of your template.
After the first row is laid down, hot glue the second row of shingles using the pencil lines as a guide. This will make each row of shingles slightly overlap the row underneath, as you move upwards on your panel. You also want to alternately stagger your shingles with each row.
Hot melt glue is the best way to glue down shingles. You can use wood, tacky or white glue as well but it will make the process take unnecessarily longer and water based glues will warp your shingles. This will make drying times long and there's a possibility that your shingles will shift out of place. Shingles are not holding up any structural parts of your dollhouse, so there is no reason to not use hot melt glue for this process.
Once your panel is complete, rub all the glue "spiderwebs" off of your shingles. I recommend you use a stiff bristle brush for this because you want to make sure your shingled templates are thoroughly clear of these "webs". They will interfere with the application of stain or paint, so be meticulous in the removal process.
Turn your template over, so the backside is visible and you can see the shingles that are hanging off the edges of your template. Use sharp shears, scissors or a utility knife to cut them flush to the template. You are now left with a perfectly shingled replica of your roof panel. Make sure you don't cut off the first rows, bottom overhanging edge.
Using the template method will make shingling your roof come out perfect every time, no matter how many angles your roof may have.
Staining Or Painting
You can leave your shingles as is, for a natural effect. If you do, I suggest you brush them lightly with a matte varnish, to bring out the natural grain designs and protect them. You can paint your shingles, any color you want, using any latex or acrylic craft paint.
You can also stain your shingles with any wood stain you prefer or make your own stain color using acrylic paint mixed with varnish or a gel stain medium. I prefer to mix matte, acrylic varnish and acrylic paint, to achieve the perfect stain color. This mixture is fume free and has great results. The mixtures ratio depends on how dark or light you want the color to be. Mix the paint slowly into the varnish and test the hue on a scrap shingle. Continue adding more paint for a richer, deeper color. Remember, add the paint little by little, because you can always add more but you can't take any away.
There is a product called Shingle Dye and it's sold by many miniature dealers. It comes in a brown or gray wash. Many people use it instead of stain because it has no fumes and claims to be non-toxic. It comes in a powdered form and you mix it with water, to make the stain. You choose the intensity of color by applying more or less water to the powder. Because it is mixed with water, this stain is very runny once done.
You have to be extremely careful when using this product because it can not be removed, once it's applied. If you get drips of this stain on your dollhouse paint, you will have to sand off all of the paint, in order to remove it. If you try to paint over it, the dye will just seep right back up, through the paint, no matter how many coats you apply. I suggest you use this product away from your dollhouse and wear gloves.
It is imperative that you seal this product. Apply a clear coat sealant or matte varnish to the finished shingles, once dry, so this stain does not rub off on your fingers when touched.
There is no wrong or right way to apply stain to your shingles. There are only easier or harder ways. The choice is up to you. I prefer to stain or paint my shingle templates while they are off the dollhouse, before installation. You can do it after they are glued on but you run the risk of getting drips all over your newly painted dollhouse. You might also have issues trying to stain the nooks and crannies of the templates because of the roof angles.
Another method of staining shingles before applying them to the templates, that some people like to use, is putting them all into a big bowl of stain, at once. After the shingles covered in stain, scoop them out with a strainer and lay them out to dry on top of parchment or wax paper. It is not a difficult process and it ensures that all of your shingles are stained evenly and thoroughly. Make sure you use a disposable bowl, strainer and latex gloves for this process.
The only downside to this process is the potential warping of the shingles and the interference stain can cause with glue adhesion. Remember, if you cover the shingles in stain, front and back, your covering the side that glue will be applied to, as well. Depending on your stain choice, this can be a problem.
You can paint each shingle individually, if you'd like. It's really up to you and what you find to be easiest to do.
Shingled Template Application
Once you're finished shingling and staining your shingled templates, glue them to their corresponding roof panel, using tacky glue. Clamp with tape and binder clips for a flat fit.
Just like with wallpaper, you must apply front panels first and then side, angled, gable panels. This will allow for no joints to be visible. If your roof is mansard, apply sides first and then the fronts and backs.
If your dollhouse does not come with top roof trim, you can hide the gap between the adjoining roof panels, with dowels or shingles, laid across the top ridge, overlapping each other.
You can also buy L shaped trim that will fit right over your roof ridge or fancy roof ridge trim, available through your miniature dealer.
Some roof angles make it impossible for you to make templates, in order to shingle your roof. This is rare but it does happen on occasion. The Lily Dollhouse mansard roof, with its very angled slope, is a perfect example. If you try to make templates of this roof line, your template will not fit after its done because the slope is so extreme that your shingles will not bend far enough to allow the template to sit flat against the panel. You must apply shingles right to the roof to avoid this.
Dollhouses like The Brimbles Mercantile Dollhouse, which have long corner joints, are best done without templates, so you can get the shingles as close together as possible.
Application Without Templates
First, assemble your roof completely and then paint it, in the same or similar color, as the stain or paint of your shingles. The object is to hide all of the raw wood of your panels, so it doesn't show through, between each shingle, later on.
Apply your shingles with hot glue, in the same manner as you would a template. Make sure you draw your lines and measure correctly as stated above.
When the roof is complete, stain or paint your shingles, being very careful to not get drips on your dollhouse.
Patterned Shingle Designs
You can use a combination of different shingle shapes, stains and lap widths, on one roof, for visual interest.
Check out these two great tutorials on making patterned shingle roofs:
You can also view examples of Victorian shingle patterns here.
Keep In Mind
If you have minor gaps in your shingling, they can easily be hidden with stainable wood filler. The only stainable wood filler that is an exact color match, to unfinished birch veneer shingles, is Minwax Stainable Wood Filler.
I find that applying shingles before dormer windows gives the roof a neater finish. Chimneys are also better to apply after shingling, if your roof doesn't have slots for them. I suggest you leave these components for last, only if you're using birch veneer shingles. Cedar shakes, are much too thick to put any components over them. You will have to cut them around your finished dormers or chimneys.
Because shingles are small, unlike long siding strips, they usually do not warp but when they do it's because the wrong glue was used. Save yourself the aggravation and always glue on your shingles with hot melt glue. This is the easiest and most effective way to achieve a professional look, without the hassles.
Light Color Between Shingles
This usually happens when a dark stain or paint is used and the roof panel underneath, was not painted in a matching dark color. Always paint your roof if you are using a very dark paint or stain on your shingles.
Even if you use the above precaution, you can sometimes see light lines between shingles, when taking a picture of your dollhouse. If this effect is happening, when you are taking a picture, turn off your camera's flash and only take pictures in natural light, so that this effect does not occur.
This problem does not occur if you stain your shingles using the bowl method, described above, because all of your shingles will be stained in their entirety. You will just to take a risk with the issues of possible warping of shingles and glue adhesion. It is up to you to decide what is more important.
Using a very fine tipped paint brush, you can paint or stain the areas that appear light, to match the rest of your shingles. The best way to find all of these areas is to use a flashlight.
You can re-shingle any dollhouse by simply prying off the old shingles from the roof panels and applying new ones.
If the shingles were applied with templates, this can be an easy thing to do but if they were applied without, it might be a little harder. Use a plastic putty knife and hammer, to chisel the old shingles off. Do this gently and slowly. Do not worry about splintering the roof panels with the removal process because the new shingles will go right over any damage. Sand your panels and fill any excessive damage with spackle, before applying your new shingles.