Wood siding has been ubiquitous with home construction for thousands of years. From home as rustic as the log cabins built by earlier settlers to the grand Georgian Style mansions wood siding has played a pivotal role in its many shapes and forms.
In this post I’ll teach you a bit about the history and the designs that have been popular through the different historical time periods and commercial available historic wood siding patterns still available today.
Identifying the name of the siding on your house can help you immensely as you search for the inevitable replacements you’ll need over the years due to repairs and rot.
One of the simplest forms of wood siding, clapboard are essentially just solid dimensioned lumber that are installed horizontally in a shingling effect from the bottom to the top of the wall.
Clapboard do not have rabbets or other patterns milled into them. They are historically around 3/4″ thick and come in varying widths. Some of the most popular are 6″ and 8″ widths.
Historically, clapboard was face nailed through both boards at the overlap, but unless the board are vertical grain old-growth wood it’s wisest to nail through only on board with each nail to allow for movement of the wood.
Similar in appearance to clapboard siding, bevel siding is a flat board cut into an isosceles triangle and attached horizontally to the wall with the thicker side toward the bottom.
Bevel siding uses lumber more efficiently than clapboards since you can usually get two beveled siding boards out of one clapboard during the milling process.
Bevel siding overlaps the course below it by an inch or more and is face nailed just like clapboards. Bevel siding is most often found is widths of 6″ and 8″ though it is not uncommon to find examples with 10″ or 12″ wide boards.
Dolly Varden Siding
With Dolly Varden siding you get the appearance of bevel and clapboard siding, but the convenience of self-spacing thanks to the rabbet at the bottom to accept the top of the preceding course.
When installed it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between Dolly Varden and Bevel or Clapboard siding. Dating to the 1930s Dolly Varden was not extremely widespread, possibly because of its similarity to the much more popular bevel siding.
Novelty Drop Siding
There are several types of drop siding similar to this design, but historically, novelty drop was the most popular. Created in the 19th century with the advent of the industrial revolution and the vastly improved mechanization of lumber mills novelty drop siding hit its stride in the 1870s and was immensely popular until the 1930s and is still used today.
Novelty drop siding is characterized by the Dutch inspired swoop at the top and a hidden rabbet at the bottom like shiplap to allow it to be self-spacing unlike clapboard and bevel siding.
Novelty drop patterns became standardized in the 1910s as lumber manufacturers began talking more and choosing standard profiles. Homes built before this period may have slight regional differences in the size and shape of the swoop.
Board & Batten Siding
Unlike the horizontal siding options we’ve discussed above, board and batten siding is a vertical wood siding made by installing vertical boards (usually 8″+ wide) along horizontal nailing strips let into the wall framing. The boards are installed with edges butt against each other with a slight gap for expansion and the joint is covered with a smaller vertical “batten” that is usually between 1″ and 2″ wide.
Common as an accent in gable ends of styles like the American Bungalow, Gothic Revival houses as well as other vernacular cottage style houses. It was one of the first types of milled siding available in the mid-19th century due to the simplicity of the milling process.
The picture above shows the siding from the top view rather than from the side like the other illustrations in this post since board and batten siding is one of the few wood sidings that is installed vertically.
The early settler’s made log cabins and while these were extremely popular they were a terribly inefficient use of wood since builders would use the whole log as the siding and structure. That log could have been milled into more siding boards and as America grew up and technology improved, home construction improved as well.
In the 1920s and 1930s the rustic style of the log cabin saw a resurgence in some architecture especially with the WPA projects during the Great Depression and this resurgence led to a popular way to mill wood siding to create the appearance of a log cabin without actually building with logs.
Typically face nailed like other horizontal wood siding, rustic siding contains a shiplap inspired rabbet in the bottom and a flat section at the top of each piece that mates to the rabbet of the piece above.
Shingle style architecture gets its name from this amazingly popular wood siding. Shingles were historically used to cover the entire exterior of Shingle style houses and other styles like the Cape Cod style.
Commonly shingles were sized 16″, 18″, and 24″ long and came in widths from 6″ to 13″ with a thickness of between 3/8″ and 3/4″.
Wood shingles are created by re-sawing lumber at a sawmill compared to wood shakes that are created by splitting wood along the grain rather than sawing.
Shingle siding was immensely popular on Victorian and Queen Anne style homes as a decorative element in gable ends where a vast array of patterns were created. In addition to the standard rectangles, you could find fish-scaled, diamond, half-cove, rounded, and arrow patterns on shingles.
Builders could create new and unique patterns by alternating shingle styles between courses, or even creating custom patterns for their clients who demanded ornate woodwork common to the painted Victorian ladies.
A more rustic and simple version of shingle siding is the shake. Wood shakes have a rough texture and appearance, having be hand-rived rather than sawn smoothly like a wood shingle.
Shakes were installed much the same as their dressier cousins by blind nailing towards the top of the shake and covering a significant portion of the shake with the proceeding courses laid atop it.
Wood shakes were commonly used for siding and wood roofs early in colonial America since they did not rely on manufacturing and milling to create. They would be hand-rived out of local lumber.
Double Ogee Siding
Popular in the late 19th and early 20th century especially on American Bungalow architecture a single piece of double ogee siding gives the appearance of two smaller pieces of siding. Sometimes even triple ogee patterns were used fitting was appeared to be three courses of siding on one piece of wood.
This design allowed for tighter horizontal lines and more detail on the body of houses with only half the actually pieces of siding to attach to the wall, speeding up installation and keeping costs down.
Double ogee wood siding has various forms just like the novelty drop siding that vary from region to region as does its popularity.
Installation was very similar to the other rabbeted siding we have discussed above in that double ogee siding was self spacing to maintain a consistent reveal and face nailed toward the bottom of the board.
Popular in early and mid-20th century houses V-groove wood siding was a simple design common in 6″, 8″, and 10″ widths that were installed horizontally with a rabbeted bottom to self space each proceeding course.
What sets V-groove siding apart from basic shiplap is the slight chamfer cut into the top and bottom of each piece so that when installed there is a slight “V” pattern between each course.
V-groove siding was often nailed through the tongue to hide the fasteners but it can also be face nailed like the rest of the self-spacing siding options above.
With this siding guide you should be able to tackle most any exterior wood siding project and match the historical patterns as closely as possible. Keep in mind that many styles have changed ever so slightly over the years so there may be slight differences between different generations. Other than these small issues you can replace with confidence.
Founder & Senior Editor
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.