Shiplap Wood: Everything You Need to Know

White wood shiplap wall in home

Rebeca Carpenter/Twenty20

From feature walls to furniture, shiplap has become the must-have decorating material for fans of modern farmhouse style (and beyond). But what exactly is this material? Below we answer that burning question and so much more.

Shiplap History

"Genuine shiplap is a specific type of wood plank used to create exterior siding for barns, sheds, and historic house," says John Mochelle, a New York City architect.

"What makes shiplap, shiplap is how each plank is prepped for installation. The cut pieces, which are typically installed horizontally, have grooves that allow each plank to overlap and neatly fit together. The overlapping effect creates an interlocking system called tongue and groove, which serves two purposes. First, it creates a seal that offers weather protection. Second, it allows the lumber to contract and expand throughout the seasons as humidity changes, so the wood is less prone to buckling and cracking."

"In fact," adds Mochelle, "shiplap got its start as a shipbuilding material during the Viking age."

The process is referred to as Clinker construction. It is a method of building boats where the overlapping wood boards covering the hull keep water.

Unfortunately, any type of protective exterior made of natural wood require lots of upkeep. Eventually, shiplap fell out of favor as siding made of more weather resistant materials became available.

But back in the day shiplap was not only used as an exterior material.

"Before Sheetrock was a thing, shiplap boards were also used to create a solid flat surface between a home's frame and interior wall," says Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza, the brand editor at House Method. "Chances are if you remove the plaster walls in any house built before the early 20th century, you will discover shiplap."

The Best Wood for Shiplap

"It depends on use," says interior designer Tara Polony, based in Dallas Texas. "When it comes to water resistance (think bathroom walls), cedar works best. But if moisture is not an issue, you can make shiplap planks out of cheap, pine wood."

Decorating With Shiplap

What makes shiplap, so incredibly popular these days is the rise of modern farmhouse style, which is driving demand for reclaimed wood interiors. Walls like these add character to homes — particularly to newly constructed spaces that lack decorative flourishes like crown molding found in much older houses.

"Many homeowners are willing to spend a small fortune for a feature wall made of authentic, reclaimed shiplap. For some people, the more weathered, the better," adds Mochelle.

"The thing is," he continues, "many of the spanking new shiplap clad interiors you see on TV or Pinterest are shiplap inspired and not the real thing. Whether a wall is covered with new or old wood, if the boards do not have that groove for overlapping, it is technically not shiplap. But at the end of the day, who really cares if your walls look great?"

In addition to just looking good, shiplap can make up for a room's shortcoming according to Calista Munnell from Calista Interiors based in Seattle, Washington.

"Shiplap is a beautiful material that has a variety of appealing uses in a home. In addition to general aesthetic applications, it can be used to counteract awkward spatial relationships. For example, in a space with low ceiling height, shiplap boards installed vertically on a wall will draw the eye upward, giving the illusion of a higher ceiling. Similarly, shiplap can be mounted horizontally to visually widen a space."

DIY Shiplap

"You do not need years of carpentry experience to panel a wall in shiplap," says Polony. If you have basic do-it-yourself skills, it is a fairly doable project especially if you skip making the grooves and just line up straight planks together either horizontally or vertically."

Even better, you can use any kind of lumber you wish. Nikki Stephens, the crafty blogger behind Mommy My Way reaches for run-of-the-mill-plywood from her local home improvement store.

She offers the following advice.

"If you want to avoid removing baseboard to cover an entire wall, you can use 1/4" inch plywood boards that you can cut into planks. It's a great material to use that will keep costs down."

But what about pre-cut shiplap or reclaimed wood options made for quick installation?

Mochelle cautions that products that products like these can get really pricey.

"You can find precut shiplap at big box stores like Home Depot but a package of six boards measuring eight feet wide costs more than $120. Also, boards like these do not offer much room for error because they can be difficult to trim."

Peel and Stick Shiplap Products

However, if you are willing to pay more for a shiplap solution that is reasonably simple to self install, there are plenty of peel and stick options available.

Stikwood, Vintawood, Timber Chic, and Wall Planks are companies that sell genuine lightweight wood panels that easily attach to any clean, flat surface. The best part? A few of these options are insanely easy to cut to size using a handsaw instead of a power tool because the planks are very thin, the average thickness is 3/16.

A representative from Vintawood says if you do not have a saw handy, a sharp box knife, and a straight edge will get the job done. To do, you will need to score the plank by running the blade across the wood several times. Then you will be able to snap the board along the scored line.

How to Avoid a DIY Shiplap Fail

What's the biggest rookie mistake you can make when building your own shiplap wall using real wood?

Whether you use peel and stick panels, precut shiplap siding, or plan to cut planks from sheets of wood, do not forget to let the lumber to rest.

"Wood needs time to acclimate to its new environment before installing. The process should last at the very least 48 to 72 hours," says Mochelle. 

If you live in a dry climate, wood needs up to 108 hours.

During the period of acclimation, lumber must be kept in a room with normal indoor living conditions relating to both temperature and humidity.

For the best results, keep the lumber in the same place where you plan to install.

"A common mistake many unseasoned DIYers make is to allow the wood to acclimate in the wrong space where temperatures are not regulated like an unfinished basement, garage, or porch," adds Mochelle.

Also, it is a good idea to check with the manufacturer's recommendations for acclimation if you are working with precut planks.

Lumber should be kept flat, not upright, on an even clean surface during the acclimation period. Some manufacturers may also suggest keeping the wood in its packaging.

Lastly, before installing your shiplap wall, prepare the surface you are covering with a good cleaning. In most cases, a damp rag will do the trick. After wiping away dust and debris allow the wall to completely dry.