Shiplap and its Wood Paneling Cousins, and When to Use Them

Catie L. Quanrud June 19, 2019 0

Thanks to HGTV’s show Fixer Upper, the old woodworking term shiplap has become as common in our lexicon as brunch and yaas. I get calls about it all the time, but true shiplap is not always the most appropriate style of wood paneling for a home.  Shiplap’s cousins wainscot, tongue and groove, beadboard, or board and batten, may be better suited to your style.  Let’s get into it, shall we?

Legit Shiplap

Rebranding Cartoon

The Clever Rebranding of Your Dinner: the Uncouth Toothfish becomes a sexy Chilean Seabass

First for my little rant.  Did you know that Chilean Sea Bass ($$$) is just the rebranding of a fish we used to call the Toothfish?  I mean, well done, fishery marketing team, well done.  A Chilean Sea Bass has sex appeal.  It wears a fedora, enjoys smooth cigars and tangoes well into the night.  A Toothfish sports a mullet and drinks Milwaukee’s Best on the first date.

The design industry is attempting to Sea Bass the term nickel joint, wood planks with a nickel-sized gap between them, as the more romantic (and expensive) term shiplap. You know, and I get it.  Nickel joint sounds like a math equation, whereas shiplap calls to mind seafaring adventures and fresh lobster.  The problem is, shiplap is a real thing, a real method of joinery, and woodworkers everywhere roll their eyes at the idea of installing it on a focal wall.

I’ll make it really simple.  If you love the look of horizontal wood planks, the cottagey, slightly rough texture, the strict lines, and you’d like to make a feature wall with it, you want nickel joint siding.  Or for a more modern take, try dime joint siding.  Your carpenter will simply install squared off planks of wood, spaced out using the coin of your choosing.

If you love that look and you need a weathertight seal, perhaps on the exterior of a building, shiplap is a wonderful solution.  A millwright will notch each plank so that when installed, each piece overlaps the next, and driving winds or rain will be blocked from penetrating your siding.

Speak Easy Interiors Shiplap

For decorative purposes, Nickel or Dime Joint Siding is a cost effective way to replicate the look of Shiplap, a style of joinery meant to keep out driving wind and rain.

When is Nickel/Dime Joint Siding, or the Shiplap Look, Appropriate?

This type of application is decidedly informal, even rustic.  Anyone gunning for a farmhouse or cottage feeling in their space, is the perfect contender for this application.  Be warned though, it will not transition well into other styles.

Shiplap’s Cousin, Tongue and Groove

If shiplap is the country bumpkin, tongue and groove is its townie cousin.  Like legit shiplap, tongue and groove planks are milled in a way that allows each plank to overlap the next.  However, T&G (for short) creates a decorative knuckle at each joint.  That knuckle can be a v-groove, a square notch, a bead, or some combination of those details.

The detail at its joints make this application more stylistically versatile.  Knotty Pine T&G screams lake cabin, but Cypress T&G is used to clad oceanfront mansion ceilings, and painted T&G is a staple of refined coastal interiors.

T&G Speak Easy Interiors Millwork Profiles

Just three of the countless Tongue and Groove profiles available.

Beadboard, the Quick & Dirty T&G

Beadboard is nothing but big sheets, milled to look like pre-joined T&G.  It makes a nice, cost effective alternative to wallpaper or plain drywall.  You can use it anywhere T&G would be appropriate.

Board and Batten

If anything was due for a rebanding by the Chilean Sea Bass team, board and batten is it.  For my money, board and batten adds far more interest than nickel joint siding, though both originated as ways to keep inclement weather outside.

Imagine that you’ve installed wood planks as siding, and to prevent wind and rain from permeating through the joints, you slap smaller strips of wood over top each joint.  You batten down the hatches, as it were.

This application is particularly well suited to Arts & Crafts and Cottage styling.  It’s informal, sometimes rustic, and calls to mind a farmhouse.  It’s more three dimensional than T&G or nickel joint siding, and strikes a stronger geometric design.

Board and Batten Profile

Traditional board and batten siding, from a Swedish Cabin (© AirBnB) and a Victorian charmer (© peggydavis66 / Flickr)


Wainscot, raised or recessed paneling, is a little black dress.  Dress it up or dress it down, it’s classic and always appropriate.

Custom Wainscot Paneling

Wainscot is always timeless and rich, and can be adapted to almost any aesthetic.

Wainscoting, thought to have originated in England, originally looked like vertical siding (T&G or nickel joint) with a baseboard and a chair rail.  Georgian architects gussied that up by introducing raised floating panels, captured between horizontal rails and vertical stiles.  Later the Shaker designers would edit the application, using floating recessed panels rather than raised.  Today most woodworkers use the term wainscot to signify the Georgian or Shaker application, though I’ve seen designers and architects be pretty loose with their use of the term.

Wainscoting requires more attention paid in the planning stages to get its panel spacing just right.  Many people attempt to make each floating panel the same dimension, but wainscoting shines brightest when panel sizes are spaced asymmetrically or according to the golden ratio.

Raised panel wainscoting is traditional, leaning formal.  It’s classic and looks rich to any eye.  Recessed panel wainscoting is fantastic for a contemporary or eclectic space.  This is an application which never fails to lend a finished, designer’s touch to any room.

Wood paneling got a bad rap in the 1970’s, but Fixer Upper is certainly right about one thing – wood paneling, done right, can be absolutely fabulous.  Whether your home wants something rustic and reminiscent of a farmhouse or you need a warm, classical touch in your downtown apartment, millwrights, carpenters and joiners have a solution just right for you.

Have you tried any of these in your home?  How’d they turn out?

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