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From kitchens to bathrooms to bedrooms, shiplap is a hot trend of today, and it’s not only in farmhouses. When clubbed with the right furniture and accessories, it makes a good fit a variety of interiors, adding subtle rustic charm and delicate texture. Here’s everything you need to know about shiplap, plus a handful of dazzling projects to get you inspired.
Shiplap is a type of building material traditionally used for constructing sheds and barns. It is usually made from pine or other inexpensive wood but could be created from any sort of wood or even from synthetic planks. Each board or panel has a rabbeted edge that will fit over or under a similar rabbeted edge on the next piece.
You can buy shiplap cut lumber from almost any lumber supplier. It can be used as an exterior siding or it can be used on the interior of your house as a wall underlayment or as décor. It can even be used as decking or flooring.
First off, shiplap boards are not customarily used in boat construction. The rabbeting for the overlapping edges would weaken the lumber too much. However, with that said, a type of boat construction called lapstrake or clinker was used by the Scandinavians and Norwegians at least as long ago as 320 BC. The Nydam Boat, on display at Gottorf Castle, was excavated from the Nydam Bog and dentro dated to 310 – 320. It is the oldest known example of this type of boat building (not shipbuilding – that is something different) that we have on hand.
Lapstrake or clinker construction relies on tightly overlapping whole boards, then allowing the natural tendency of seasoned wood to swell when wet to hold the seams tightly together. The boards are attached with rivets, screws or nails installed at either end of each board. The lumber is carefully curved to fit together tightly even when dry. Lapstrake was possibly used as home siding by the same builders who made the boats.
Siding that works on ships also works on houses, and so clapboard siding was born. Like lapstrake, clapboard is not shiplap because the boards overlap without the use of the rabbeted edging that allows shiplap to fit closely together. Clapboard siding is usually applied horizontally because that prevents moisture from getting in between the boards. Over time, clapboard siding becomes very warn.
Board and Batten Siding
Board and batten is another “not shiplap” siding but closely resembles it. Board and batten siding is applied vertically. Wide boards are applied to a post and beam frame, then narrower boards – the batten – are applied over the seams. The battens are fastened to a board on one side of the crack to allow structural movement, in much the same way that lapstrake construction of a boat hull allows movement while still keeping out moisture.
Now for Shiplap
Shiplap is either rough sawn or milled lumber that has a left-handed and right-handed lip on either side of the board. This lip allows the board to fit easily and smoothly together. Depending upon the width of the lip, the boards can fit tightly together for a seamless look or they can leave a tiny space, creating the well-known shadow that makes shiplap the darling of home builders and decorators. Notice that this siding, although it resembles clapboard, has a beveled, recessed edge that allows it to fit more closely. Even though it is also distressed, it shows less weathering than the clapboard. This is because the overlap helps support and protect the edges of the wood.
There are five major advantages to using shiplap, either as an exterior siding or decking or as an interior accent.
Shiplap can be installed vertically, like board and batten, or horizontally, like clapboard. With a little planning, it can also be installed slantwise for a little creative designing with your siding. As a general rule of thumb, the rough-cut shiplap is installed vertically for the rough-hewn country look, whereas milled shiplap is installed horizontally for the more sophisticated look associated with clapboard. Because of its rigid nature, shiplap can be used to stabilize a building that is just being built or that is being repaired. It is often used on buildings that might need to remain untended a good part of the year. It can also be used on outbuildings that will not be heated or insulated. With that said, it works quite well when installed over vapor protection and rigid insulation.
The steps for installing shiplap siding are similar to any other sort of siding. However, there is a little planning involved for ease of construction and good appearance of the finished product.
Determine whether the siding will be applied vertically or horizontally. This will determine the type of support necessary for the siding boards. Vertical slats are usually used with post and beam construction because of the added beams in the central part of the wall. Standard frame construction will work well for horizontal application of the boards.
Order your siding so that it will arrive about one week before installation. This is so that it can acclimate to your local weather before being installed. To properly store your siding, place a pallet or two by fours on the ground. Stack one layer of siding across the two by four pieces. Add two by four cross pieces, just three or four, across the siding pieces. Stack another layer of siding pieces. Repeat until all the siding is stacked. Top with a marine quality plywood piece to keep the stack dry. Allow the siding to sit for seven days to adjust to your local climate.
Apply a vapor barrier to your wall where the siding will be installed. If added rigid insulation is desired, add it at this time.
Add furring strips over the vapor barrier and insulation. Orient the strips according to the direction you wish to install the siding. Keep in mind that the siding will go across the furring strips. For horizontal siding application, use vertical furring strips. For vertical siding application, use horizontal furring strips.
Start your installation at the bottom or the extreme edge of the wall.
Predrill holes in the siding for the mounting screws – you can drill them into the furring strips, as well.
Make sure the screws go in all the way so that they won’t cause lift when you install the next board. Don’t worry about covering them up the lap will do that. Keep repeating the steps until the wall space is covered.
Some Added Notes
Shiplap siding is a natural substance. Wood, by its very nature, interacts with its environment. It absorbs moisture, it dries out, it responds to heat and cold. These things cause it to expand and to shrink. Some of the “old timers” even say that, like shingles, it will respond to the phases of the moon. This last might or might not be true, but if you follow such things, pick up a copy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac and use the information in it that goes with applying wood shingles.
Shiplap is sent out from the manufacturer with the cut ends treated with a stuff called end-grain sealant. You’ll want some of this to treat any new cuts you make in the boards as you work with your installation. Do not, however, apply this sealant to the surface of the boards. If any gets on the surface, wipe it off right away.
Do not use water-based paints or sealers on your shiplap. Due to the nature of the stuff, the paint will not set well. Instead, use a boiled linseed oil sealer, such as Ipe Oil. Ipe is recommended by some manufacturers. It isn’t exactly cheap but will do a lovely job of preserving the original color of your shiplap boards. Even if you decide to allow the boards to weather into that lovely gray patina that is only possible with real wood, be sure to apply an initial coat of linseed oil sealer. It will help preserve the wood. If you wish to keep the original wood coloring, add a new coat of sealer every two years.
Bonus Exterior Application
Shiplap isn’t just for siding. It can also be used to create a durable and beautiful deck. The construction constraints are much the same as they are for any deck – good underneath framework, vapor shield and similar items.
Creating a shiplap wall is one of those venerable building techniques that has modern designers raving. As an interior wall application, it has several advantages over ordinary sheetrock or paneling. Customarily, milled shiplap, rather than rough cut, is used for interior walls.
Shiplap can be installed vertically, horizontally or at an angle to create interesting effects. It can be used to stabilize a wall, to create a smooth surface for added applications such as paneling, wallpaper or even plaster. But in our modern times where wood has become almost a luxury item, it is simply beautiful for its own sake. The subtle joins where the boards come together create shadows that lend authenticity to the word “rustic”.
Shiplap for interior design was originally used to create a smooth surface for wallpaper. Thanks to the overlapping lip that gives it its name, in the days before wallboard, it could be used to create a smooth interior surface that helped keep out the wind that loved to blow through every chink and cranny in historical log or stone structures.
Once the shiplap wood surface was installed, it could then be covered with muslin or cheesecloth to create a smooth surface over which to apply the wallpaper. The result was a smooth wall surface that also helped to act as both sealer and as insulation.
Modern designers are not as interested in covering up that interesting, character-giving shiplap wall. A whole room of shiplap could be a bit overwhelming, but as an accent wall to showcase a rustic display of plants or vintage ware of one sort or another, it is absolutely perfect.
Milled shiplap can be made from ordinary lumber, but it is even more beautiful when it can be created from cherry, cedar or even mahogany. With today’s dwindling forests and the need to husband resources, these woods are treasures, indeed.
The places where you can put shiplap to good effect are almost endless. Here are a few ideas:
The limit is your imagination and your budget. The good news is that shiplap is relatively inexpensive when compared to other interior design options. You can use it in the traditional manner, installed vertically or horizontally, or you can use it to create a textural design by varying the directions of installation. This latter option will require some creative use of furring strips, so keep that in mind as you plan.
You will want a miter box and miter saw to properly install shiplap or some modern technological equivalent. The reason for this is because interiors involve fitting boards around corners and into oddly shaped spaces. If you are making a creative design with shiplap, you will be even more obliged to use a miter box. A table saw would also be an asset.
Every job goes better with the right tools and materials. Here is a suggested list, and why each item is good to have on hand.
Square Cut Nails - Lends historical authenticity to your work. Rounded nails such as are readily available in most hardware stores are a modern resource.
Adhesive - Applied to the backs of boards, can help hold a project wall in place.
Stud Finder - Whether you are applying your accent wall over rigid insulation or wallboard, it is a good idea to know where those studs are. It cuts down on nails that miss and go into the hollow of the wall.
Wire Finder - Absolutely essential when planning to nail into a wall where utility items might be located. Nothing ruins your day like nailing into an electrical wire, water pipe or gas line.
Hammer - To pound the nails in, of course. If you want to be super fancy, you can use a nail gun, but those don’t always seat the nails perfectly. You’ll want a hammer on hand.
Miter Box - A guide for cutting angles. You can manage without it, but you’ll make fewer mistakes and be more frugal with your materials if you have one. Think of it as an investment.
Tape Measure - Needed to first measure the space so you can estimate materials, then for measuring the materials to fit before cutting.
Pencil - For marking measurements and maybe even drawing diagrams on the target wall. You are going to cover it up, after all.
Level - Can be used to draw lines, and also to help make sure the work is staying, well, level. Nothing says “amateur” like crooked or sloped construction when you didn’t mean for it to slope.
Speed Square - A small square that goes great with that miter box and those saws. It is perfect for making sure that corners are square and for helping to figure angles. If you can’t afford a miter box, a speed square can help with marking angles. Think of it as the carpenter’s protractor.
Calk Gun - To use in dispensing the adhesive, if you decide to use it.
Wood - Your shiplap boards and some added boards, such as one-inch by three-inch boards to use as trim.
You have several options when it comes to selecting wood for your shiplap project. You can use prefinished boards that are intended to simulate authentic exterior boards. For example, Lowes lumber company lists several prefinished rustic board colors including woodshed, cottage, rough sawn, barn wood, and silo. The idea is that these are colors that might have been the result of real weathering.
You can use genuine salvaged shiplap from buildings that are being demolished. You need to be super on top of these projects, however, as construction companies will usually treat them as waste. Keep an eye on ads about buildings to be torn down or about new building projects. It is amazing what some companies throw away. With that said, be sure to get permission before salvaging from a worksite.
If you have a table saw, you can make your own shiplap. Set your saw depth to ½ the width of the board. With the board on its back (you can determine what side that is) make a cut down one edge of the board, then turn it over and on the opposite side make another cut. Next, turn the board on its edge to cutaway the waste material on each edge. If you have done your work correctly, you should have a board that looks somewhat like a Z when you look at the end of it. If you happen to have a dado, you can do the cutting in one pass instead of having to make two cuts on each edge.
Bonus Tip: Save your cutaway pieces to use in making odd bits of trim. You never know what you might need.
You can select almost any wood from your local hardware or lumber yard to use in making shiplap. For a most authentic look, select boards in the six inch or eight-inch size range. For your first projects, you might choose a less important area of your home such as the back of a closet and a relatively inexpensive wood. That will give you some experience with how the process works.
You can make shiplap from plywood. First, saw the plywood sheet into planks, then treat it as you would any plank, cutting the laps into each edge. Plywood comes in several grades and thicknesses. The thicker sheets are going to be better for this project than the thinner ones.
Thanks to recycling, there are several types of faux wood items on the market, including pre-molded flooring pieces that are very much like shiplap. While far from genuine, you can create some interesting effects from these modern building supplies.
Shiplap is great stuff, but over time, even great stuff can become worn or damaged. Some distressing just makes it look authentic, but when the distressing gets beyond cosmetic it might be time to act. Fortunately, shiplap is reasonably easy to repair.
Assess the damage. Look carefully at the wood, checking to see how far back from the obvious area of need you must repair.
Draw a square around the damage and measure the area. This will help you determine the materials needed for repairs.
Make a list of materials, including dimensions. You will get more respect at your local hardware if you have a good idea of what you need. With that said, it is all right to ask questions. An experienced woodworker is a valuable asset to your project.
Purchase the materials and have them on hand. It is too easy to say, “I’ll get the stuff when I know what I need.” You might have to go back for more, so hold some funds in reserve but it will go much better if you have your supplies on hand.
Use a hammer and chisel to tap a line into the damaged wood. This will help serve as a guide for your saw.
Set your circular saw at a depth that will reach only through the shiplap cladding. Use the saw to make the long cuts along the side.
Use your hammer and chisel to tap out the corners. This gives you a clean space to repair and helps keep from cutting into the wrong areas.
Repair the sheathing or insulation as needed.
Replace the damaged shiplap.
Stain the new wood to match the old as nearly as possible.
Shiplap is wonderful stuff. Since it was first used by people who might have had moderate carpentry skills, it is an ideal DIY project for the modern weekend carpenter. It can be done using pre-cut or DIY shiplap boards and can be used inside or outside your home. Shiplap makes a weather-tight seal when properly applied but can be set to create those interesting décor shadows when working inside. You could go traditional and apply wallpaper over it, but most modern interior designers prefer to retain that marvelous look that can only be obtained with natural wood.