How to Keep Shingles Straight Without Using Chalk Lines?

I have seen mentioned on this site before that when racking three tab asphalt shingles chalk lines are a waste of time. I have started installing my shingles and they seem to be coming out straight with the gun gauge. I’m putting on the first 7 rows from the ladder then going to my chicken ladder from there. I rack 7 up then move over all the way around the roof.

I literally just started at the end of the day before it rained so I don’t have many on. They seem to be coming out straight. I have the first 9 feet on 7 rows up on one side. I was frustrated more than anything trying to use a chalk line by myself on a 40 foot run. I worry that if I gauge the second row off of the drip edge on the eave all the way down that I may get wavy in some areas. Can I measure up 17 inches from the drip every 6 feet and use a straight edge and draw a line? Will this keep all the rows all the way up to the top straight after the second row?

My first row against the rake wasn’t straight so I spotted that and am going to adjust accordingly. Somehow I put them on crooked, but it was just the top 3 thankfully. It was getting dark and I was in a hurry. The rest look straight and good. So how do you guys manage to keep them straight with no chalk lines at all? Any advice for a first timer?

Is this a new construction?.,Just wondering because you have a fairly long run and you barely have any on when rain and darkness is on the way.

I still nail when I get the chance but I popped my own lines myself on new construction.Some think its a waste of time or that some how I am inexperienced.

On a 40’ run you can split your lines in half.,meaning instead of popping the entire 40’.,you go about 20’ then pop them vertical.Then once you get to the 20’ half.,pop the remainder.

A chalk line has a clip that hooks onto nails etc.I mark my lines then set some nails on the marks then set the line on the nail head then proceed.

If you are working off a ladder then its safe to assume your working steep.I would make sure the ladders are tied off and I was harnessed up and walk boards were set along the gutter line and about every 6’ the entire height of the roof.

Some people eyeball or gauge.I use a line for every other shingle.

If this project was a tear off.,and with you being pretty new to the game.,I would limit the amount of times you expose yourself to interior damage.In other words don’t take off more you can put back.Until you are 100% sure of your dry in abilities.

And watch the weather and plan your projects accordingly.,the customer would much rather you take an extra day being smart.,than dumb and causing damage.

what do you have against chalk lines?

and if you get your felt straight… you can just use the lines there. lol

Well I wouldnt trust felt to much. but truly it is close enough for shingle work. Long as the felt itself is straight. Just pop some chalk lines down and Shoot away! I wouldnt stress about being super critical on the straightness. long as they down wave where its clearly noticable your good.

Thanks for the advice and encouragement so far. This is my first job and I’m doing it all alone here and there. The roof is about a 9/12 and was two layers of asphalt three tabs. The original layer was about 60 years old and the second layer about 30. There was no underlayment at all or any drip edges. The chimney had no flashing it was just tarred.

The houses are close together so I used plywood and leaned it up against the houses so the shingles would hit the plywood and not the houses. One side is grass and I laid down tarps. The other side is concrete so I just pushed the shingles off and dumped the tarps there. I bagged all the shingles up in contractor bags and set them out for heavy trash. Around 70 bags. I’m sure they hated me but thankfully they took them.

The ceilings are plaster and have already been damaged a lot. The insulation doesn’t seem to be damaged from the leaks. I’ve already replaced all the wood and laid down the synthetic underlayment and drip edges. I used Grace Tri Flex. The roof only leaks in two spots and I’m afraid that its due to the fact I have the chimney and roof anchor tarped. The roof anchor is on the rafter next to the chimney. So I plan on finishing that area last, taking out the anchor and tying off around the chimney to finish it, just the same way i started it when I installed the anchor.

Sadly the plaster has been falling off into my bedrooms for about a year now. The back bedroom doesn’t leak at all since the underlay and it was the worst spot. Sadly right over my bed is one of the only spots leaking. I have a chimney flashing kit on order but I don’t know if I can deal with a leaky roof for another two weeks. Maybe I could use Through The Roof and say to hell with the flashing for the chimney? Or will a chimney always leak without flashing?

I hear the rain outside right now…FML…And let me say this I respect all you roofers a ton because I’ve been in way over my head. But off my rant and back to the point. I just wasn’t having good luck with the chalk line. It even got tangled inside the reel and broke on me. Plus I could snap a line three different times and it would be slightly off all times no matter how tight I pulled. The underlayment isn’t 100 percent straight either but it’s a decent guide. I went up and measured today and the first 9 feet were exactly where they were supposed to be. Well except the three shingles I have to correct.

So if I gauge off of the drip I should be fine even though there might be like a quarter inch variation at most in some places? Every roof in sight of me is a hack job and me gauging and eying is already just as straight or straighter as the houses next to me. I guess I’m just ranting because tomorrow the shingles go on. I’ll put up some pics and you guys can laugh at my rows haha. Oh and my dumbass didn’t get the shingles delivered to the roof. I’ve been packing them up a little at a time. However much I feel up to. Right now I’m taking 7 because that’s how far up I’m working up the ladder. My graduate to half bundles when I start racking straight up from here on.

"I bagged all the shingles up in contractor bags and set them out for heavy trash. Around 70 bags. I’m sure they hated me but thankfully they took them. "

That part made me laugh. :lol:

" Plus I could snap a line three different times and it would be slightly off all times no matter how tight I pulled."

The issue with this is that you MUST lift the chalk line perfectly perpendicular to the roof deck. If you angle is slightly ‘upward’, the line will hit low. “Downward’ and it hits high.
I’ve seen ‘experienced’ roofers??? be 2” off by not paying attention to their lift.

Just pay attention to your lift.

BTW, I work alone and mark my lines and tap nails in on each mark at one end, hook the line on the lowest and loop the line past all the other nails. I just walk back, and flip the line from nail to nail.

At the last 6’ to the ridge, ‘turn the rule’ so the last 5" mark is 2"-3" from the ridge and just mark them normally. This will keep your last course from being completely buried under the cap and the exposure of shingles and cap will match.

man…we just use are eyes…straight everytime…only time we use chalk is over a dormer or whatever is in the way…then again we dont use 3-tabs anymore unless its a low pitch…

I too am a DIYer and not a professional roofer. I snap chalk lines solo by wrapping the free end of the string on a brick and pulling tight on the other end. This saved on nail holes. But then I work on a 4/12 roof, so you may have to use nails to hold the free end on your 9/12 roof.

I snap a line for every other course.

As far as throwing away the shingles, it took me some twenty weeks to dispose of the pile from my garage roof by putting a little bit in the garbage cans every week, making sure each can wasn’t too heavy. When I did my house (14 squares, 3 layers removed), I needed a 20 cu yd dumpster.

I’ve always popped lines because:

  1. I like everything pins straight.
  2. It sure helps if you need to start cheating an exposure for some reason. Which is very helpful on slate unless you’re one of those bums that winds up with a short course right before their saddle ridge…
  3. While lines may not be needed if you’re nailing solo keep in mind that everyone sets their shingle a bit differently. So if someone jumps over to nail on your deck it’s better to have taken 5-6 mins to pop a line every 4 shingles (20ish inches?) than to have to fight trying to keep your work straight the whole time.

It’s just good practice imo. The more organized you work the easier it is to adjust on the fly, which happens a lot in this business.

lol at everyone throwing shingles in the trash. I wish we could just set it all out in bags at the curbs. no dump trailer would be nice!

calling it “your first job” is deceiving since you are doing your own home. But you and I have been down that road already, so I’ll skip it…

Now that you have shingles in the way and crooked, try popping lines from the ridge down, use them as guide lines to keep straight. On the other side start from the bottom by marking three rows. When you pull from the sides to the middle, pull slightly pass the middle so you can blend the middle in case your eve is slightly off.

To pop your lines alone, as a couple people said use the clip at the end of the line. I usually angle my nails a bit away from the direction I’m pulling so the hook is pulled tight to the bottom of the nail and against the roof.

Make sure you pull perpendicular to the roof, as I too have seen idiots pull the line off as much as 2". Also when pulling the line its easier to wrap it around a your finger once or twice so you can really pull tight. Don’t let the line touch the roof before you are ready to “snap it”. I seen an idiot set the caulk line down before pulling, it made a crooked line and then the jacka$$ followed it…

You bought a chimney flashing kit? :lol: some alternatives you can try.
Make a chimney counterflash from coil stock and bend it over a piece of wood… use good caulk, not tar.
Depending on your area, some suppliers have breaks you can use to bend the metal.
Take measurements (and pictures) drive around till you find a siding guy and give him a 6-pack to bend it for you.

I giggled when you said your lines are straighter than most the roofs in your area… maybe now you can understand why the “all the roofs in my neighborhood” argument doesn’t work for roofing and especially for venting a roof.

[quote=“tinner666”]" Plus I could snap a line three different times and it would be slightly off all times no matter how tight I pulled."

The issue with this is that you MUST lift the chalk line perfectly perpendicular to the roof deck. If you angle is slightly ‘upward’, the line will hit low. “Downward’ and it hits high.
I’ve seen ‘experienced’ roofers??? be 2” off by not paying attention to their lift.

Just pay attention to your lift.[/quote]

Roofed some boathouses (built on pilings) and the guys moving around caused the roof to “rack” and put an S curve in the chalklines. Took awhile to figure out the problem. :roll:

Been moving on without the chalk line. Almost off of the ladder then I’m up on the roof from here out! Well except to change my gutters in the spring. Only got four hours in today but made progress for a noob. Drew my lines to stagger on the north side rake and put on the starter roll on the north side rake and got a few bundles on from the ladder.

So the east side of my roof the rows stayed straight all the way down according to my underlayment. I see some slight variations along the lines. Could be the decking or the shingles not laid all the way down yet or the drip was slightly off or I was like an 8th of inch off or a number of things. Nothing too drastic. The other side I’m running really straight. I guess practice makes perfect. I really don’t think the other side is anything to spazz about. I’m just being really picky.

They seem more crooked from the ladder then from on the roof so it might be they just need to lay down better. I still think they are straighter than both of my neighbors who had “pros” do theirs. Keeping my fingers crossed and giving all the glory to God!

Use a quality shingle, like GAF Timberline. I would say CertainTeed but the saw teeth and un-square ends make it a sh*#show. Remind me of the old IKO’s needing course lines.

CT has not always been like this, I hear it is just this year since the Metric Conversion.

Three tabs? Almost forgot what those were. Not worth the few buck savings.

I’m also A DIY-er and also hate snapping chalk lines. They never come out right and seem to involve a lot of effort for something that might not be necessary. If there’s an alternative I’d like to know about it. Here’s a page that claims they’re not needed with architectural shingles, although I’m not following his logic on how to be sure you’re staying straight:Architectural Shingles Installation.

Another DIY here. I did a roof last year and thought the chalk lines were the absolute worst part of the job. You have to roll the thing up every line or so to get chalk on it, so a lot of walking back and forth messing with strings. Then if it rains on the felt it washes off.

I agree with some others that it’s essential. It’s too easy to get far enough off to show when you’re done and standing away from the house, but not show while you’re sitting up close on the roof. Plus angles get larger over a longer distance, so being off 1/4" at one end becomes much more at the other end. Then you’re following that line on the next course.

I wish someone would invent some kind of laser device you could place at one side of the roof that would project a line across the roof. You would either use the laser line itself for shingle placement or make some marks along the line with a Sharpie and use those after you remove the laser.