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No Joanna, That’s Not Shiplap

No Joanna, That's Not Shiplap

My wife and I, like most all old home owners, are fans of a lot of the restoration themed DIY shows these days. Rehab Addict, Restored, and, of course, Fixer Upper.

Their designs and passion to keep original elements of old houses is so rare in the renovation game that I can’t help but root for them to succeed. I miss the show already!

One of my favorite shows is definitely Fixer Upper. Partly because I’m from Texas, and partly because Joanna and Chip are such a trip to watch. They even have a book, The Magnolia Story, telling all about their story. Her designs are almost always stunning, but she does have a real addiction to what she calls “shiplap.”

The only problem is that rarely is the wood she calls shiplap actually shiplap! Not that you can tell on the television screen. I’ve noticed my clients recently asking about shiplap, if their house has it, or can they incorporate it somehow. And I always have to ask “Do you watch Fixer Upper?”

If the answer comes back yes (which it usually does) then my next question is usually, “Do you want actual shiplap or do you just want wood paneling?” This query often brings a cock of the head and a quizzical look. “Aren’t they the same?”

Don’t get me wrong, Joanna, I love your show and really don’t think you need to change a thing. You do enough for historic preservation that all of us in the field should be grateful.

I don’t actually think that you aren’t aware of what shiplap is. I think it’s more of a generalization that is happening much like a lot of people do. Much like a lot of folks call any sparkling white wine champagne when it’s not really champagne unless it’s French.

That may sound snooty, but it’s not my intention. I just want to make sure people know what shiplap actually is and what it isn’t.

What is NOT Shiplap?

It’s Not Sheathing

This is usually what Joanna calls shiplap and where I start to yell at the TV.

It is not plain wooden boards nailed on a wall. Often in old houses, these boards can be found on the exterior of the framing just beneath the siding.

Today, we frame a house and then install plywood sheathing to tighten the frame and help square everything up prior to putting on the siding and interior wall coverings. In the days before plywood, we used 1×6 or 1×8 boards, sometimes installed on a diagonal or horizontally as both sheathing and subfloor.

These boards can be salvaged and reused as paneling or other creative design uses since they can add a lot of rich character, but they are not shiplap. They’re just plain old wood boards.

It’s Not Tongue & Groove

Sadly, it’s not this one either. Tongue and groove boards are used in all different places in old homes and most of us have heard the phrase at one time or another. Flooring is of course the most common tongue and groove you’ll encounter, but there is a lot of siding that is tongue and groove as well.

Tongue and groove (or T&G) is just what it sounds like. One side of the board has a groove and the other side has a tongue. When they are installed side by side, they fit together nice and snug, which strengthens the floor or siding.

What Is Shiplap?

what is shiplap
True shiplap

Shiplap is a 1x board that has a special rabbet or notch cut on the edges of the board in an alternating fashion.  These rabbets allow the boards, when installed horizontally, to self-space themselves and keep water from getting behind them because they fit so perfectly.

Shiplap is mostly found in siding designs because of the need for consistent spacing and water tightness, but it can be found in other places. The lapped joint is one of the simplest you can use to accomplish the spacing and prevent water intrusion, which is why shiplap was and is so popular.

Once installed, shiplap can look just like regular wood boards because the rabbets are hidden, so yes, it can be hard to tell it apart from regular sheathing boards to even a trained eye, but it is different.

There are various profiles of siding available in shiplap too. Sometimes it’s just flat shiplap boards and other times you can find profiles like Novelty Drop, Dolly Varden, or the poorly named but still attractive #117 lap siding.

For the purist, shiplap is the original flat profile with a rabbet on top and bottom. Chip explains it in the video below so we know they are on the level about shiplap even if a few random styles get thrown in with all that Texas shiplap.


As long as she doesn’t start proclaiming that they come from the shiplap tree, I’m still a fan.

If you are having trouble finding the real stuff in your area, you can easily make your own shiplap with this quick tutorial. If you’re one of the lucky ones to have true shiplap in your house and you just need help repairing it, read my post The 7 Best Products to Patch Wood.

Designing With Shiplap

There are so many ways to incorporate shiplap into your home projects and almost all of them are attractive. Whether you use weathered natural wood or want a more clean painted look, a wood covered wall makes any room feel warmer.

Here are some of my favorite designs using shiplap from Houzz to give you a little inspiration for your home.

Pittsboro Residence Farmhouse Entry

Classy Cottage

Bastrop County Plantation House Farmhouse Bedroom 

Traditional Bathroom Seattle

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322 thoughts on “No Joanna, That’s Not Shiplap

    1. Good question. Since I didn’t have cable tv, I seldom had the opportunity to watch Fixer Upper until lately. Of course, I’m not one to keep up with trends anyway, and I’m more of a “the house architecture determines the direction of style” since I live in a 115+ year old house. I still have no idea how they did the renovations for the prices they quote on those shows. There is not one thing in my house that I’ve redone that I could find for so little but it’s a labor of love so I fuss with it as necessary. I do have piles of “real ship lap” from two sheds we had to take down. They were built probably at the turn of the last century (1900) and post and beam construction from local wood. Quite the treasure really. We keep it for reclaimed wood projects and gifts since I love knowing it’s getting a new life as something useful.

  1. Scott,

    Thanks for publishing the primer on this. I work in a lumber yard and get SO many people looking for “shiplap”, and I get the glazed look when I try to figure out what they REALLY want. 🙂

    I am also restoring a 1902 Victorian. And this is where I have to disagree with one point. Our house is sheathed in shiplap. When we started restoring one of the exterior walls I was surprised to find a high tech wall assembly. 1×8 shiplap covered in builder paper (the old kind – 2 sheets of rosin paper sandwiching tar paper) with 4″ bevel cedar. Once we got the windows in proper order, the house has zero drafts!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. I found real shiplap on one wall inside my kitchen. I am thrilled, now I am not sure what to do with it. Should I paint it white, and if so what type of paint do I use? My husband said that I should use something oil based.

  3. I mean…I’ve had a few glasses of wine and understood this perfectly, so what is everyone here so confused about?

  4. Seems to me even the author does not know what ship lap is.
    Shiplap was originally used as a sub floor material and not a siding or sheathing at all. It was made from Douglas Fir and was run at 45’ to the raw open floor framing in homes built before plywood existed. Plywood came into use in the 1940’s ending the need for shiplap.

    1. Brian, yes it was used on floors but it was mainly used on walls as sheathing underneath the siding. Spent too many years in Texas working on old houses where that was all we saw on the walls.

  5. So, if it’s not shiplap and it’s not T&G, does it have a term other than 1×6 sheathing boards nailed to the inside of stud walls ?

  6. Thank you for the clarification. I was so confused about the tongue and groove vs. old homes interior walls. I certainly appreciate the vocabulary lesson!

  7. We have a master bath that practically matches the cover of a a Sunset Bathroom Remodeling paperback from 1975. Although our “shiplap” or whatever it is, has some water stains close to the floor that make it appear as if there was a flood in the bathroom at some point, it is otherwise in decent shape. We do not have a reason to suspect mildew or mold behind it, even though we do get it regularly on the shower curtain. (The shower surround is all tile, not wood).

    There’s nothing about the feel of this wood that makes it seem waterproofed, although who knows whether it was stained originally. There is a lot of variation in both grain and color, but the variation is evenly distributed enough that it seems natural, not contrived.

    There are LOTS of tiny holes which are obviously left from various owners’ adding and changing shelves, hooks, etc. We see them, but they do not bother us.

    We are interested in lightening up this bathroom and making it feel either more modern (like our furnishings) or more consistent with the actual age of the building, which was built in the 1860s. This is a stone row house on a city street, not a freestanding house. farmhouse.

    The question is, if we clean, stain, or paint this 40+ year old wood, will we be making anything worse? The boards are nicely alternated at the corners so there is a broken pattern of face then end grain then face, so whatever we do will have to work for the end grain as well.

  8. Would anyone have insight to modifying ship map that is already installed? For example, moving a light fixture location. Want to avoid removing as much as possible.

  9. Would “shiplap” work in a 1953 modest ranch? We have a plaster (type) on our walks, but much of it is in sad shape. Bad uneven repairs from large holes, and the such…. it wouldn’t be in every room, but the in the back utilities rooms, the hallway, and vestibule.
    We have original knotty pine in one of the rooms already. So I guess what I’m wondering is, will it look at home with the type off home I have or trendy?
    Also, is it a sin to paint real knotty pine?

  10. soooo….. what are some cheaper woods that can be used successfully as lateral planking and are accessible (ie Lowes/ Home depot) 1x7x8 ?? I am building a “shed” and would like to hang a “ship lap” look on my interior walls directly to studs. The exterior walls are 7″ German clap board to match the exterior of the house and tin where not seen from the front view.

  11. My previous home was built in the early ’20s. Someone put up drywall, at some point, over the wood walls. I absolutely adored not having to look for studs and being able to hang things where ever I wanted. After Fixer Upper, I always wondered if it was shiplap. I wasn’t ever brave enough to take any of the drywall off to see. My romantic imagination will always believe that it was!

    1. We recently bought a vacant house that we found behind the paneling tongue and groove in the ceiling and also on the walls. Some walls are multi color shiplap solid. I think the size is 1 x 6 I think. It is actually beautiful. To think this is probably around 80 years old is remarkable. The place is between Hearne and Marlin Texas. If anyone is interested or I could post pics…..my email is cwilliamson@hotmail.com.

  12. It might be that in some of the later episodes she resorted to using something other than shiplap and still referred to it as so since it had the same look, but she has used real shiplap many times. In the south most old homes have shiplap on the interior walls. She talked about “exposing the shiplap” on many episodes and she was right. We even used real shiplap on our last flip.
    I’m not so sure I like the picture being painted in your article. She’s definitely not naive or ignorant. Between Chip and Joanna both I’m sure they know the difference.

  13. I have a old house from the 1940s. I am taking off the wood paneling that a previous owner put up. I am wanting to leave the exposed original planks/shiplap. There are 1/4” spaces. What would anyone recommend to fill them with as I am going to paint them.

    1. Is it a board under or is there an air gap. If airgap this is the path for plaster. If there is a gap with other wood behind it is board and batten and I would leave as is

  14. Great post guys I live in Austin and the affect of the Gaines “shabby barn” look has been around longer than mrs Gaines has been alive! It’s kinda like what’s old is new again! She seems like a nice person but don’t think you need her to do a beautiful design, your instinct is the best compass! Mrs Gaines is just like everyone else, she has no training in her knowledge (sorry I’m not a hater just honest) so go with your gut! You’d be surprised!

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