The roofing tools, equipment and manpower required to complete your roof replacement project depends on the amount of money and effort you are willing to expend.  There is nothing better than having the right tool for the right job, and nothing worse than getting frustrated with a long drawn out job that could have taken much less time with better results, had you had the right tools.  A minimalist route can still give you a good end result but it will involve more physical effort.

What are your available resources in terms of manpower?  If you have a number of homes in your neighborhood or group of acquaintances that require roof replacement, you may be able to pool your equipment resources.

As a professional, I prefer to have at least three people on the job, one lead hand that has a good understanding of the process, and at least two helpers.  For safety reasons, never work alone.  With three people on the job, in the event someone needs to run the inevitable errand, there are still two people to look out for each other.  Four people works nice for working in teams on different parts of the roof.

It is possible to have too many helpers on a roof.  It depends on the size of the roof and how you’re able to divide up the labour.    At some point you will reach a level of diminishing returns in terms of work efficiency.  A crowd can start getting in each others way, which can be a safety factor as well.  It also makes it difficult to ensure a quality product, particularly when the labour is unskilled.

Safety always needs to be at the forefront when considering your choice of tools and equipment.  Broken tools are dangerous … period.   Inspect all your tools carefully before using every day.  Check for dull knife and saw blades, frayed electrical cords and broken tool handles.  Inspect safety ropes and harnesses for excessive wear and tear.

Obviously, a ladder is a necessity.  It must be able to stand up to the task.  Roofing is one of the most hazardous jobs in the workforce and ladders are one of the most frequent reasons roofers are injured.  Make sure your ladder is designed to handle the weight of both you and the items you are carrying.  Check to make sure there are no broken rungs and the feet are in good condition.  I like using fiberglass ladders because they don’t conduct electricity.  Also, make sure you have a method of securing the ladder from slipping.  I like to screw an anchor into solid wood (fascia) to tie the top of the ladder, and place a bundle of shingles against the feet at the base to keep it from moving.

Get yourself and your helpers fall protection equipment.  This involves either a guardrail system around your roof or a full body harness and rope system anchored to the roof to prevent you from going over the edge.  As an employer, I am required to have fall protection for my workers anywhere we work on heights greater than 10 feet.

Besides fall protection, everyone should wear hard toed work shoes with puncture resistant soles.  There will be a lot of nails lying around that can easily puncture casual shoes and the soles of feet.  Avoid big clumsy work boots.  They can damage new shingles quite badly and because of their bulk can contribute to clumsiness.

Other personal protective equipment that are a must include work gloves, safety glasses, high visibility clothing.   For anyone working below other workers, hard hats are absolutely essential.  Knees pads are not essential, but they sure do make your work day more comfortable.  I don’t like to work without them.  If you are working in hot weather, consider wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat for your head and 2’x2’x6” piece of foam to sit on. Small things but they make a big difference when struggling with heat exhaustion.


A square ended garden spade works well for tearing off shingles, but the red rippers are easier on the back if you’re doing a bigger job

You will need a ripping tool to strip the old shingles off.  (And yes, you should always tear off the old shingles.  Never shingle over top of the old roof.)  For years I used a square ended flat garden spade to lift the nails from under the old shingles. If you have one kicking around and this is your only roofing job, don’t bother buying any of the new ripping tools available.  They give you only marginal advantage.  The advantage being, that the angle between the handle and the blade is more acute, so that you don’t have to bend over as far to use it effectively.

A large garbage container or some means of roofing debris disposal is necessary.  Be aware that shingles are very heavy.  The debris you strip off of 1000 square feet of roof area will weigh well over 2000 lbs. Make every effort to throw your debris directly into your garbage container.  Avoid throwing it on a tarp on the ground.  This only means you’ll have to pick it up twice.  Having said that, lay out a few tarps to collect the debris that misses the dump.  A one-ton pick truck (or bigger) with a side rails is nice for its’ versatility and mobility.  If the box is capable of lifting and dumping … that’s even better.  There are heavy duty trailers available that many roofing companies use because of the ease of leaving them on the jobsite.  They are a little more awkward to maneuver but are available with a dumping utility.  One of the worst jobs about roof replacement is getting the shingles disposed of at the waste site.  It is back breaking work and seems to take forever.  If your disposal mechanism has the ability to lift and dump the debris, that is a huge plus in my books. There are lots of companies that rent garbage bins that they will place at your home underneath the edge of your roof for as long as you need it.  It is certainly the easiest route. It reduces a huge amount of workload and the cost is usually pretty reasonable.  If it’s your only option, a pick truck will work, but, depending on its capacity and the amount of material you need to dispose of, you will likely have to make a few trips to the waste site and you’ll have to expect the removal to take some time.

Once you have all the shingles stripped and thrown into the garbage bin, have a good broom on hand to sweep up all the loose granules and nails.  You want the surface of the roof deck to be as clean and as flat as possible before installing your new roofing materials.

Often, after removing the old shingles, you will find some rotted plywood. You will need a power circular saw to remove and replace the rotten decking with new plywood sheathing.  You will also need it to cut out holes for the installation of roof vents.

handtools 1

Metal shears, chalk line, utility knife with a hook blade, tape measure, roofing hatchet and caulking gun. These are basic essential roofing tools.

For cutting shingles, you will need to have a good utility knife with a replaceable blade.  Shingles are very coarse and blades dull very quickly.  It is not uncommon to go through 3 or 4 blades on single roof.  A sharp blade is also safer because it will not slip as easily while cutting.  There are special utility blades designed for shingling called ‘hook’ blades, designed with a curve.  Besides using ‘hook’ blades for cutting shingles, you will need straight blades for cutting paper.

Roofers typically use a roofing hatchet for installing shingles.  There are a couple reasons for this.  It serves as a hammer on one end while the hatchet end is able to split shingles when working with cedar shakes.  They also have a row of holes in the ‘blade’.  A small bolt can be placed in any hole for the purpose of gauging the width of rows of shingles.  This avoids the need for chalking lines but requires a certain skill to keep the rows straight.  For the do-it-yourselfer, a simple claw hammer works fine.  Just remember, your nails aren’t long, they don’t need to be driven far and you’ll be driving a lot of them.  A long framing hammer is probably excessive and will put a lot of wear on your elbow.  Get a smaller lighter hammer.  I prefer wooden handles because they seem to have a nicer balance to them.  I used to cut a couple inches off of my roofing hatchet and would ‘choke’ up on the handle to get a quicker swing, using more of my wrist to speed up nailing.  Having said all that, most roofers today don’t use roofing hatchets for installing shingles.  Except for some older roofers, hand-nailing is becoming somewhat of a lost art.  A hammer is still a must on the job.  If the job is small enough and you have lots of time, you may opt to forego the cost of renting air equipment and hand nail it all.

It is convenient to have a tool pouch but not entirely necessary, especially if you are using air tools rather than hand nailing.  Utility knives often have belt clips on them.

Working with metal flashing, you will require a pair of metal cutters or snips.

For keeping lines straight, especially when starting your first rows, you will need a chalk line.

Flashing around chimneys and any exposed nails heads will all require the application of caulking.  You will need to have a caulking gun to apply it where necessary.  They aren’t expensive to buy.

power tools

A circular saw and roofing air gun will speed things up greatly

Most equipment rental companies and some retail building outlets will rent air compressors and roofing guns for a very reasonable price.   Try to get an air compressor capable of receiving at least two air guns.  Be sure to get some air tool oil for the guns and place 2 or 3 drops into the air intake of the gun a couple of times a day to keep it properly lubricated.  Roofing guns require coils of roofing nails to operate.  Keep your coils in the box until you need them.  The coils will bend and misshapen easily.  Misshapen coils will cause the gun to jam.  For hose length, 50 feet for each gun is usually enough, but, it doesn’t hurt to have an extra length kicking around.  It is better to have more hose than to have your compressor plugged into an extension cord.  Using extension cords will often cause the electrical breakers to kick off.  If you have to use an electrical extension cord, make sure it’s a heavy industrial gauge and limit its’ length as much as possible.

hoist 1

A ladder hoist. The material is placed on the carriage. Step on the lower bar to lift it. Pull up on the long handle to release the brake. It moves material quickly.

ladder hoist

A ladder hoist set up for work

Hoisting materials onto your roof may be one of the more strenuous tasks you’ll encounter during your roofing project, depending on the kind of machinery or manpower you have available to you.  Many roofing supply companies have delivery trucks with cranes capable of placing your materials on the roof.  If your roof isn’t too tall and you have one available, forklifts are a great way to hoist materials.  Many roofing companies have portable ladder hoists that are easily assembled on the job.  The ladder acts as a rail on which a small carriage rides.  The carriage is attached to a cable and pulley system that runs up, over and down the ladder to a cable drum.  The cable drum contains a drive belt on one side that is powered by a small gas engine.  The brake is controlled by another lever and belt system on the other side of the cable drum.  In larger centers, you may be able to rent one.  They cost around $3000 to buy one but you can often find used ones for sale in the classified ads for much less.  Again, if there are a group of you involved, you might be able to share the cost and sell it again when you’re done with it.

Also, check out YouTube for ideas on hoisting materials.  There are some very ingenious contraptions out there that people have come up with that will amuse you if nothing else. Without any kind of mechanized approach, you are pretty much restricted to muscle power.  Sometimes, if the roof is low enough and the delivery truck’s deck is high enough, someone strong enough can lift the bundles up and over their head to workers on the roof who can receive them.  If you have to pack them up the ladder, it’s easiest if the person climbing the ladder can deliver it to a person waiting at the top of the ladder to take it off the climber’s shoulder.  Everyone will deserve a good break once loading the roof is finished.

Many of these tools are available through  Type in ‘roofing tools’ into the Amazon search bar to the right of this post and many of the tools I’ve mentioned can viewed and even bought.  I should let you know that I do receive a small commission from Amazon if you do purchase something from them when you use their search bar on my website.

Here is an itemized list of all the tools you’ll need:

  • Ladder
  • Fall protecton
  • Personal protective equipment (hi-vis vest, gloves, safety glasses, work shoes)
  • Ripping tool
  • Garbage bin / container for disposal of debris
  • Tarps
  • Broom
  • Circular saw
  • Utility knife with hook and straight blades
  • Hammer or air compressor with air gun
  • Tool pouch (optional)
  • Metal cutters
  • Chalk line
  • Caulking gun
  • Delivery vehicle
  • Hoisting equipment