Historic Metal Roof – From Scratch!

By: Bill Kibbel , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Construction, Home Improvement Tips

I wanted to install a standing seam metal roof on my porch. I’ve repaired and restored them, but I’ve never installed one.  From inspections, I had a pretty good understanding of installation practices that work. I also study and research historic building materials and methods as part of my career - and for fun.  I have a nice collection of old books, some with great illustrations.

Looking at prefabricated, pre-finished roof systems, I found that the material cost would significantly exceed $1200.00.  I also didn’t like the look of the seam profiles or the surface finish of the factory applied coatings.  I couldn’t find anything that would closely resemble historic standing seam roofs.

Then I got an idea – I’ll make my own.  How hard can it be?  I’ve seen illustrations of guys over 120 years ago, fabricating entire standing seam roofs with nothing but cast-iron seaming tongs.

Now, I have to admit that I’m the type that has to figure stuff out AFTER diving into a project.

The first step was to get materials and tools.  My goal was to see just how little I could spend.  I bought 2 rolls of 20″ terne-plated steel on Craigslist for $50.00.  I had to drive about 25 miles each way to pick it up.

Then, I had to make a bending brake.  You can rent one, or borrow one from a contractor friend, but they’re now mostly all for bending thin gauge aluminum.  I found some very detailed plans posted by Dave Clay of Texas at www.ch601.org/tools/bendbrake/brakes.pdf.  Mine came out to be a basic, disposable version made out of 1 piece of angle iron, 2 heavy duty hinges, some nuts and bolts and some 3″ thick oak boards.  I needed 6′ long pans, so I made the brake just a little longer.

I then purchased a 9″ hand-seamer (for around $30.00 on Ebay).

With tools and materials collected, I was able to rather quickly form the 14 pans, eave/drip edge, rake trim and cleats.  Here are some links that illustrate important details:





I laid out all the panels and accessories to be sure everything would fit.  I then took it all up and proceeded to secure each pan with 4 cleats.  Using the seamer, I crimped each standing seam and the lower edge of each pan to the eave/drip edge.

I finished the roof by applying 2 coats of Tin-O-Lin, a linseed oil based paint with iron oxide pigment.  This is not only historically accurate, it’s the manufacturer’s required primer for raw terne-plated steel.


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  1. 1 Response  to “Historic Metal Roof – From Scratch!”

  2. Paul
    Jan 7, 2015
    I am looking to replace a hand split shake roof on a German style farm house in Southern Pa. The house is over 150 years old and the exterior is stone. Although wood shake looks good, it is high maintenance and the accelerated decline due to sun, rain and surrounding trees and squirrels is costly. The house is kept historic so I would like to get a standing seam roof metal roof. Slate is out because we need access due to 6 fireplaces. Does anyone know of roofers in the PA region who can do this type of roof?