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What You Need to Know About Shiplap

by Jody Scully
4 min. read

You’ve seen it in kitchens and bathrooms, on accent walls and on your favorite home renovation shows. Once used mainly as exterior siding, shiplap has recently become an interior decorating staple. If you’re wondering about the wood wall covering that seems to be everywhere, we’ve got your answers. 

Whether you’re looking to add texture, personality or make a high-traffic area more family-friendly, shiplap is a versatile and easy-to-use solution. Here’s everything you need to know if you’re planning to DIY your own shiplap wall.

What is Shiplap?

Shiplap paneling is made of horizontal planks with notches along the top and bottom.  The notches on each board fit together to create a water-tight surface. The notches (called “rabbets”) leave a small gap that allows you to see the line between boards.

Because of their water-tight seal, the horizontal planks were originally used to build boats. They were later adapted for use as exterior sheathing on houses, but the material was eventually replaced by plywood. Now, shiplap is mainly used as a decorative finish to add texture and interest to an otherwise plain wall.

Where Can I Use Shiplap?

Shiplap is most commonly found in the kitchen, but don’t let that limit you. It’s an extremely versatile wall covering, and with a little creativity, you can find places for it all over the house. Shiplap is an excellent choice for areas such as hallways and stairways that see a lot of traffic. It’s tougher than drywall and easy to clean, so it also works well in the entryway. It’s also popular in bathrooms since it adds warmth and texture but can withstand the humid environment better than wallpaper.

If you just want to test the waters with shiplap, try the kitchen island or fireplace mantle for a small application with a big impact. Or, take your shiplap to the next level and install it on the ceiling to draw the eye up and create a cozy space.

Shiplap for Every Style

Shiplap isn’t just for farmhouses anymore. Whether your home is coastal, rustic, contemporary or somewhere in between, there’s a shiplap that will work with your style.  You can create a natural, vintage or high-end look just by altering the style, color and finish of the boards.

The traditional farmhouse look features wide boards with a white finish, running horizontally. To use shiplap in a contemporary home, choose a medium-width board and switch to a vertical installation. However, if you want a more modern look, opt for thinner panels with a smooth finish and paint them a rich color. Creating a rustic feel implies going for rough-hewn boards and leaving them au natural, while for the industrial aesthetic, it’s common to paint the boards black or charcoal gray or choose a dark wood stain.

How to Install Shiplap

Another great feature of shiplap is that it’s surprisingly easy to install if you have some basic carpentry skills. Start by measuring your wall and determining how many boards you’ll need. Next, you’ll have to cut the panels the right size. If you don’t own a miter saw, you can rent one or have your boards pre-cut at the hardware or lumber store. Take the time to sand and paint your boards before installation. It’s difficult to paint between all the gaps when the panels are on the wall.

Once the boards are ready, locate your wall studs and mark them with a pencil. Use chalk line or pencil and level to draw a vertical line from floor to ceiling down each stud. Place the first board and use the level to ensure it’s perfectly straight. Then use a nail gun along the stud lines to secure the panel to the wall. Repeat the process with each board until the area is complete.

For best results, always use spacers between the boards to keep the gaps consistent. You can use anything you want as a spacer, but tile spacers, spare change and straight edges are all popular choices. To finish the job, use a wood filler to fill any nail holes and sand lightly before applying a final coat of paint.

Now that you’ve got all the background info, how will you use shiplap in your home?  

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