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

  1. We’re renovating an old bank that was built in 1912. The subfloor is shiplap (lapped, not T&G, just like your “true shiplap” image) installed diagonally, and the the ceiling above the tin tile is also lapped diagonal shiplap. Maybe it’s a generational thing, and they did use shiplap for those things at one time. Maybe it’s an geographical thing (although you are from Texas), but it obviously has been used for things besides just siding, although I know that was its main purpose. Just because she finds it in obscure places, doesn’t mean what she finds isn’t shiplap. I can’t say ever time it’s shiplap, but it can’t be dismissed because of the location she found it.

  2. funny but when I watched that show, I also said uh that is not shiplap it’s what we call Barn siding or barn board..

  3. Thanks for the correction/clarification. We are reviving a house built in 1910, I enjoyed reading this post and the comments.

  4. Thanks for the explanation of the difference. I got curious because I have never heard of Shiplap until just recent and I ran into your article. Your article is so funny. And I still love the show Fixer Upper.

  5. Hi Scott,

    We just bought a 1920’s Craftsman Bungalow in very rural town. Question: With indoor plumbing and kitchen cabinets that weren’t added until the 1950’s, how do we restore to the original? The cabinets aren’t in bad shape so would hate to have to replace them. There is a sunroom addition also, with cedar planks under the wallpapered drywall. Is that shiplap? Can I just leave it and paint or stain it, or will I have to plaster the walls like the rest of the house so it’s insulated?

    1. You can do either. My house was built in 1921 and has shiplap everywhere EXCEPT under the hardwoods! Crazy I know. When I’ve remodeled, I’ve put dry wall up – but that was before Fixer Upper. My guess is that your house is like mine and has shiplap on both sides of the studs. In my kitchen, there was cheesecloth over the original shiplap followed by 14 different layers of wall paper! What a hoot!

      1. So how can the cheesecloth be removed from the wood? We’ve removed the 1/4″ sheetrock from the wood, but there’s still stringy cheesecloth. UGHHHHHHHHHH HELP please. I wanna remove it so I can paint.
        Debby (you can also reply to my email at [email protected] OR this site…. I’ll stay online in case you reply to this site. Thanks ever so much……………………….

        1. Apr 15th…….Decided to NOT paint……. To get rid of the strings left from the cheese cloth and original wallpaper, we simple and carefully burned them off… Also decided to leave the natural wood and not paint …. We are luvin it !!!!!

  6. Hi Scott, just found your blog today while doing research and I hope you can help.
    Our home was built in 1950 ( Texas). The original inside walls/ceilings are either T&G or ship lap but not sure which yet as we’d have to pull the boards off to see ?. They are covered with Sheetrock and old thin paneling and in closets wallpaper/cheesecloth. The boards behind the wallpaper are fairly smooth but the boards behind some old paneling looks to also have had cheescloth nailed on it. Once I removed some of the paneling and decayed cheescloth the boards are very dark and rough. Not dark from stain but dark from some sort of black staining from age. Our house is pier and beam with old asbestos shingles covered over by a brick surround at some point. Not sure but I’m concerned that these boards are the only thing between the interior and the asbestos shingles. But how do you suggest j remove the blackish stain from the boards in order to paint them ? There are TONS of these boards throughout the house and I’m thinking I should just have new Sheetrock hung but leave a few ” focal” walls. Do you suggest we sand them then paint ? Thanks and do sorry for the long post. I’m just overwhelmed ?

    1. Remove the asbestos by a professional obviously. I would avoid painting this wood as it is likely hardwood. If anything use deft or stain the wood.

  7. My husband and I are trying to cover a brick, floor to ceiling fireplace with wood. We are told that we can go right over the brick – but I don’t understand how the wood would attach to the brick? I have seen ceramic put over brick on tv shows, but never wood. We want to do this project as inexpensive as possible and the type of wood doesn’t matter. We want a variety of colors (stain)

    1. Vertically screw into the brick 1×4’s with tap con screws on 16” centers. Then you have something to attach the shiplap or any other sheathing.

      1. With this construction the tap con screws provide a good path to transfer the heat of the fireplace to the wood furging (1x4s). Standard construction would require an air gap and fire stopping between a fireplace, it’s chimney and any wood consruction. Better check with local code officials, or an arcitect. This is building tech 101.

  8. We purchased a house that was finished construction about 1935 and I have a question. The whole house with the exception of the kitchen, baths and added room have original hardwood floors. We just removed two bookcases that were added years ago from the top of the stairs and found what I think is shiplap but not sure. I know it’s old because the wallpaper on top of it was the old type with the cheesecloth under it. Any suggestions?

  9. I realize this post in older but I need help. I have a new build home [finished in early 2016] with real painted shiplap. My builder primed and spray painted with Latex paint. Within 6 mos. I had knot holes and resin [yellow streaks] bleed. I hired another contractor to prime and paint using oil based paint. Now 3 – 4 mos. after it was painted with a brush by 2nd contractor knot hole and resin bleed showing up again. Also I have places on the boards that look dull while others look shinier. It was painted with satin both times. What do I need to do? I can’t afford to rip out. This was to be my dream home … farmhouse with real shiplap painted white.

    1. Tsa, that resin is tough to fight off. Try spot priming the knot holes or other trouble areas with a Shellac -based primer for max stain blocking. Then give give it all one more coat of oil primer and paint the whole thing again. I know this is a lot of additional painting, but your contractor should have stain blocked those knots before doing anything.

      1. Thanks for the reply. What do you think is causing the dull spots on the boards? It appears that the paint dried to different sheen in spots … some shiny and others dull. The entire boards were primed initially and during the do over. Do you think going back with a flat would eliminate any spots? I am leaning towards a flat because there are more imperfections in the pine than I realized.

        1. I just wanted to encourage you with that shellac! I used tinted shellac on my ancient trim to block out the orange bleeding through my white paint. It worked absolutely wonderful and has held up for a few years going strong.

        2. Go on HGTV in your computer and look for the “Fixer Upper” section. Look for a place where you can send her e-mail or ask her questions right on the site.
          Also, contact Chip Harper. He is the wood worker who creates her wood pieces on the “Fixer Upper” show. I have seen him working with painting and staining shiplap. Have also seen him the dumpster at the current house that Joanna is working. He is looking in that dumpster to find shiplap that has been discarded.
          As a quick reference, try calling Joanna’s Magnolia Silos or Magnolia Bakery or Magnolia Design and see if you can speak with her or leave a message or even obtain her home phone #. Maybe you could get a # for Chip through the same process. He is a real estate agent. Good Luck

          1. Deborah, isn’t it “Clint Harp”and not “Chip Harper”? Just trying to clarify.

    2. Your painter was very remiss in not using KILLS. This product should have been put on all knots in the wood before he started painting new wood.

  10. I want to use genuine ship lap with the rabbets in my new construction home at the lake. I’m confused on which wood species to use. Knotty pine? My cabinets and trim poplar is going to be smooth and painted white. My wood floorining is wire brushed drift wood oak. I am painting the ship lap, so would poplar, oak or pine species be best?

    1. Greta, poplar is the best for paint grade. Pine would be alright but oak is a terrible option if you plan to paint. Oak has an open grain that shows through on paint and looks rough. I’d stick with poplar.

    2. I tend to agree with the others who have shared their thoughts on this enigma. Popular is my choice.. Pine is a soft wood and oak Is grainy. Oak can be beautiful, but you have to deal with those grains. We took our daughters beautiful oak cabinets off the wall in the kitchen, sanded them down with a very fine sandpaper, put a sealer on them, painted them with a couple coats of semi-gloss paint, put them back up, put on new handles, and WOW! They look fantastic. They actually look like brand new cabinets. I tell you this because, if for some reason you want to use oak, it can be done. It takes a lot of work. I would still go with poplar. Good Luck

  11. I would say that she has effectively redefined the term. The way a “Coke” might mean any soda or a “Xerox” might mean any copier. Whatever it technically may be or have been, it’s now #shiplap. Joanna shoots and scores.

        1. I couldn’t agree more. Calling things (or people) by names that they are not is becoming very common these days, especially in the political sphere. I think it’s important to call a thing by its rightful name. But who knows, maybe Joanna’s 1x8s “identified” as shiplap that day.

          Sorry to start down this road. I couldn’t help it. This comment was juvenile, unwanted, and out of place. But our country needs it.

  12. Hi!
    We just purchased a 1950s cape cod in CT. What time frame was ship lap typically used? How would I tell if there was shiplap (or wood planks of any kind) beneath the dry walled ceiling or behind any walls? I’m hoping there’s a better way to know besides knocking out dry wall lol

  13. She does use shiplap. If you pay close attention, you can actually catch a glimpse of the notches during the renos. Not to say she always uses actual “shiplap”, but there’s no reason to attack her on social media.

  14. Thanks very much for the tips on doing a shiplap ‘type’ wall. So, do I start at the top of the wall with a full width board, or from the bottom up? (I”m anticipating that I’ll need to rip one board down.)

  15. We are restoring a 1914 rural Alabama farmhouse. We removed paneling, layers of wallpaper, and cheesecloth to reveal some walls with tongue and groove, and others with boards nailed side by side (not shiplap), and some that could be shiplap- we haven’t taken any boards down to check, yet. We want to keep the original wood, but need advice on filling the cracks between most of the boards. The gaps between the boards on the ceiling and floors are larger than on the walls. We have A LOT of cracks to fill! Your advice? LOVE your blog!

    1. If you are talking about the gaps between the boards I would usually leave those open for expansion joints it if there are other unsightly gaps then try using Abatron WoodEpox.

      1. Yes, I am talking about gaps between the boards. My boards, however, are not shiplap, so that makes for a drafty house with access for little critters to get in. Would Sheetrock mud work?

  16. This is awesome info. I want to move to the southwest and build a dogtrot house. I had seen their show where she talked about shiplap, but it just looked like boards- figured there HAD to be a lap (like there actually is). Thanks for the information and the picture. (I’m probably crazy for thinking I can do this)

  17. I wanted to get the “shiplap” look. Would using plywood be fine?? Could you please tell me advantages and disadvantages with plywood. I really just wanted to do one wall.

  18. We are doing a kitchen and bathroom remodel. I’d like to have an accent wall that has the shiplap look to it on one of the interior wall in the bathroom. My husband has to remove all the 1×8 old floor boards that are in the kitchen. Most of them are still in good shape but he said they have to be planed down so they are all the same thickness. Can we just use that wood for the accent wall? I’d like to paint it white. Do I have to treat the wood before I paint it?

  19. I just exposed the sheathing of a previous exterior wall in my 1892 Farmhouse. I want to keep it as the wall and the raw lumber mill look to it, but has some large gaps between some and a couple large knots missing. Do you have any suggestions for filling the gaps without loosing the raw wood look?

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