Q. Which is better for attaching sidewall shingles, nails or staples?

A. Chris Yerkes, a cedar-shingle installer certified by the Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau (CSSB), and owner of Cedar­works, in Brewster, Mass., responds: When I started in the sidewall-shingling business, I was taught the old-school hand-nail method for attaching shingles. Now I’m the ripe old age of 47—and I was probably one of the last to be taught this bygone method.

In my experience, staples have much better holding power than nails. They are an accepted fastener by shingle manufacturers such as SBC and Maibec. When properly installed, a staple grabs and holds more material than the small-head nail could ever hope to.

The installation manual for the CSSB says that staples for attaching sidewall shingles must be stainless steel. Much of the work I do is on Cape Cod within 15 miles of saltwater, so I use Type 316 stainless steel. (Type 316 is a higher grade than Type 304, which is acceptable in many other locations.) The staples should also have a minimum crown width of 7/16 inch and should be long enough to penetrate the sheathing 3/4 inch (or all the way through). The same fastener-location guidelines should be followed for staples as for nails: 2 inches above the butt line and 3/4 inch in from each edge.

Pneumatic guns are used to drive staples, and it is important to keep the air pressure adjusted so that the staples are driven to the correct depth. As with nails, overdriven staples break the surface of the shingle, which weakens their holding power. Proper stapling also means keeping the staple crowns horizontal (or level). The farther off horizontal the staple is driven, the closer together the staple points are and the less wood is captured between the points. An experienced installer always keeps the staple gun as close to vertical as possible, so the crown is as close to horizontal as possible.

That said, staples aren’t a good option for face-nailing. For areas such as on the courses directly below a window or in other places where the fastener will be exposed, there is no substitute for the look of good old-fashioned nails.