Shiplap wood, with its sharp modern lines and touch of the traditional, lends itself well to nearly any part of the home. Shiplap can be painted, stained, or left natural, and its lines add an orderly rhythm to the wall. Shiplap wood is an economical interior wall option that complements a variety of styles and is easy to install.
What Shiplap Wood Is
Shiplap wood is a long, narrow board with grooves rabbeted (or cut) into the top and bottom of its long sides. Traditionally, shiplap wood has been used as exterior siding but increasingly is found in homes as a wall treatment.
Shiplap's rabbeted grooves are the key feature that defines the board. The grooves give the product its distinctive lines. The grooves allow the boards to be self-spacing, which makes for fast, consistent installation.
Shiplap's grooves alternate between top and bottom. At the top, the groove is hidden and faces the wall. At the bottom, the groove faces outward or toward the room. When boards are placed alongside each other, opposing grooves form a tight, weatherproof bond.
History of Shiplap Wood
As its evocative name indicates, shiplap wood evolved from the laying of planks on ships in early nautical history. Actual ship planks were butted edge-to-edge or they were entirely lapped in a style called clinker building. This was far stronger than the shiplap of today to withstand the immense pressures exerted on a ship's hull but was laid in a similar overlapping style. Since then, it has been mainly an architectural element, not necessarily nautical—and a relatively newer innovation in terms of interior design.
Shiplap evolved as a marketing term in the 19th and 20th centuries for exterior siding on barns, sheds, outbuildings, and homes. In the U.S., shiplap rose in popularity in the 1930s, but World War II momentarily put the brakes on production. Right after the war, though, interest in shiplap wood exploded. Shiplap was easy to mill, transport, and install. Best of all, it was cheap.
By 1960, as midcentury modern and ranch styles gained in popularity, interest in shiplap wood waned. By 1970, lower maintenance materials like vinyl and aluminum dominated the siding market. Shiplap wood siding sales flattened.
After a dormant period, shiplap wood returned as an element to add unique visual interest to interior spaces. During the farmhouse trend of the 2010s, HGTV hosts Joanna and Chip Gaines brought shiplap back to attention as a great way to add punch to a wall or room.
How Shiplap Wood Is Used
Shiplap wood can be used on fireplaces, islands, built-in benches, kitchen hoods, accent walls, hallways, and bedrooms. Shiplap is sometimes installed on the ceiling as an alternative to drywall ceilings.
A room with one-by-eight shiplap has a grand, imposing feel, while one-by-four shiplap imparts a more intimate feel. Designers sometimes like to vary the sizes of shiplap boards, mixing 4-, 6-, and 8-inch shiplap, all in the same installation.
Usually, shiplap is mounted horizontally, though sometimes the boards are placed vertically. Creating diamond patterns, chevrons, or squares from shiplap creates texture and interest.
Wood Used to Make Shiplap
Initially, hemlock, cedar, fir, and spruce were used to make shiplap in lumber-producing areas of the Pacific Northwest. Southern yellow pine was the basis for shiplap sold in Texas and the U.S. Southeast.
Shiplap Wood Sizes
Shiplap's thickness in most cases is nominally 1/2-inch or 1-inch. Shiplap boards are usually 8 feet long or more. Widths range from 4 to 8 inches. Typical shiplap wood sizes include one-by-four, one-by-six, and one-by-eight.
Shiplap Wood Colors and Finishes
Shiplap has transcended the farmhouse phase and now fits with many spaces and styles, including modern, contemporary, or industrial.
- White: Shiplap is often pre-finished or primed in white. White is the classic color for shiplap, for the feel of an ocean-side cottage or a farmhouse.
- Dark colors: Black, gray, or green give shiplap a contemporary look.
- Charred wood: Charring the shiplap is similar to the Japanese shou sugi ban, or yakisugi, method of preserving and distressing wood.
- Driftwood: Along with white, aged, gray wood is another type of beach cottage look for shiplap.
- Natural: Natural wood is a perennial look, though it must be sealed if the shiplap will be used in bathrooms, kitchens, or other areas of moisture.
How Shiplap Wood Is Installed
Shiplap wood can be installed by most do-it-yourselfers with just a circular saw, nail gun, stud finder, level, pry bar, and measuring tape. Materials include the shiplap and paint or other surface finish.
- Remove baseboards, trim, wall plates, and other obstructions.
- Mark the location of each stud on the wall.
- Make a level, horizontal line to indicate the bottom of the top shiplap row.
- Face nail the first row into place directly into the studs. Position the board so that the open, room-facing groove is at the bottom.
- Nail the second row below the first row. Nail the board on the open groove to conceal the fasteners.
- If the boards do not span the width of the wall, use multiple boards and stagger the joints.
McGrail, Sean. Early Ships and Seafaring: Water Transport Within Europe. Penn & Sword Books, 2014.