Sometimes finding a match for original siding is easier said than done. Given the scarcity of old-growth wood, sourcing lumber of the same cut and quality as the clapboards on an 18th-century dwelling can be an exercise in frustration. And no one would want to re-side a 1950s Ranch house with asbestos-cement siding, even if it were still available.
Fortunately, mills still exist that cut clapboards the old-fashioned way, out of tightly grained wood; and believe it or not, you can still find fiber-cement shingles—minus the asbestos—that are dead ringers for the ridge-textured ones found on mid-century Ranch houses. Some materials are sold in both traditional squares and as preassembled systems that make them quicker and easier to install.
Lap siding is likely the oldest form of wood cladding in our history. It’s most commonly produced by flat-sawing lumber at an angle, splitting the wood into two pieces. Each finished board tapers from thick on one side to thin at the other. (The profile produces the characteristic clapboard edge.) Better grades of lap siding are cut radially from the tree with growth rings perpendicular to the board. This yields a more consistent, vertical grain that’s superior to other forms of siding.
If you’re unable to find either flat-sawn or radially sawn lumber to match the depth and profile of clapboards on your house, it’s possible to have new boards milled to spec, or to field-cut the wood to size. It’s more expensive, but custom milling eliminates some potential problems with field cutting. Not all carpenters are experienced in cutting lumber on site, and field cutting also may also leave unfinished raw cuts on seasoned or factory-finished wood. (A raw end grain absorbs water exponentially faster than a finished surface.)
Novelty siding covers an extensive range of butt and tongue-and-groove jointed profiles, including shiplap, V-groove, cove, channel, and a host of others familiar from early-20th-century houses. Most are still available from lumberyards and building-supply houses. If you need something unique—say, a log-face profile for your summer cabin—you may be able to talk a mill operator into fabricating it if you bring a sample. Other forms of novelty siding include bark sheathing and shingles, real wood products made from logging waste, which recall the Great Camps era.
Shingles are among the easiest forms of siding to replace when damaged. Tapered and cut to be thinner at the top and thicker at the bottom, vertical-grain cedar shingles are traditionally installed in overlapping rows, one by one. Using individual shingles still makes sense for smaller projects or when doing smaller repairs. When it comes to large expanses of exterior wall or a complete resheathing, however, a shingle system is worth a look.
These systems not only link individual shingles together in rows for faster installation, but also are marked with self-aligning features that indicate the correct amount of overlap and staggering between successive rows. They’re available in even- and staggered-butt coursing plus half a dozen or more fancy cuts, the latter making replacing damaged or missing historic shingles in the gable of a two-storey Queen Anne more affordable. Manufacturers offer prefabricated systems for corners, arches, and other areas of architectural dimension. (Cedar Valley, for instance, offers prefab 90-degree flush corners, extended return corners, and three-piece radius corners as well as custom flared systems.) You can order shingles prestained or in dozens of solid colors.
Fiber-cement siding now mimics just about any siding material, including those 1950s-era shingles with waves and ridges. GAF’s WeatherSide fiber-cement line, for example, includes three patterns originally produced by Supradur. (The asbestos-free lookalikes use an aggregate reinforced with fiberglass or other fibers.) Other similar options resembling traditional siding or shingles come as systems with coordinating trim and soffit boards. James Hardie expanded its offerings to include deeper lap and beaded lap reveals, as well as beveled, square, V-groove, and shiplap channel patterns in its Aspyre collection. Nichiha’s wall-panel line offers high-end wood and stone lookalikes, some with a Retro vibe.
Looking for true vertical-grain clapboards cut from a single log? Ward Clapboard Mill has been cutting radially sawn boards since 1864. Unlike flat-grain siding cut from stock lumber, Ward’s clapboards are produced using a unique radial sawing process similar to traditional rift sawing.
The white-pine or red-spruce log is first debarked and rounded into a perfect cylinder. Positioned on a lathe in a carriage that moves back and forth, the log passes over the saw, which makes full-length cuts set to the desired clapboard depth. After each cut, the log is rotated exactly /" for the next pass, a process that continues until it has rotated a full 360 degrees.
The precise cut gives each clapboard its taper and true vertical grain, qualities that produce a sharp shadow line and superb drip edge. Vertical-grain siding is especially well suited for exterior siding. It wears extremely well, and cups, shrinks, and swells less than flat-sawn wood. While the boards accept paint and stain well, they also can be left unfinished to weather to a silvery grey.