All You Need to Know about Shiplap

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Don’t you hate it when friends talk about something and you stand there ignorant and alone like a fish out of water? If that something is shiplap, don’t worry. I am here to tell you all about it.

What is shiplap?

It’s a building material. Up until a few decades ago, it was used in the construction of exterior sidings – cottages, barns, sheds…And then came the big bang in the interior décor world! It suddenly became the number one architectural element for wall paneling. And then people started using it to clad ceilings and kitchen cabinets and floors. It became a must-have in the dining room and must-install in the home office.

But wait a minute! I still haven’t told you what shiplap is!

Shiplap is wooden boards similar to tongue & groove, but different. What’s special about shiplap? The upper edge of each board is rabbeted (that is grooved, cut, recessed) and so is the lower and opposite edge of the same board. And so when these boards are put together, the rabbeted parts are connected leaving a gap between them.

Does this sound familiar now? Are you still confused because some shiplap walls you’ve come across had wider and some had nearly no gap between boards? Yes, that’s possible. It’s actually up to you whether the space between the boards will be narrow or wide.

So, let me guess. You are probably wondering: if the boards have nearly no gap between them, what’s the difference between shiplap and tongue and groove? Glad to oblige.

Shiplap vs Tongue & Groove

It has to do with how shiplap boards are cut. Let’s start the other way around.

Tongue & groove boards are milled with a little slot, which allows the planks to interlock.

Shiplap boards don’t interlock. The upper edge of one board overlaps the lower edge of the adjacent board.

Ok, I know exactly what you are thinking right now. You think shiplap is overlap. Sorry to disappoint you. Overlapping is an entirely different method too. In this case, the upper board overlaps the board beneath it to keep water (and elements in general) to get in. For this reason, overlap is used mainly for exterior walls.

Speaking about watertight boards. Shiplap is more resistant than tongue and groove. You most likely thought that tongue & groove would be more water resistant and that’s true, this technique is great. But shiplap is better. Why? Because the little gaps between the boards let the water run and so it won’t find its way behind the boards.

The big news? Shiplap is resistant although it is made of wood.

Ok, it has to do with its maintenance and coatings too but wood is durable. Shiplap is made of either hardwood or softwood with classic examples being pine, oak, cedar, and poplar. And one more thing, don’t think softwood is soft. Some species can be as durable and dense as hardwood. What makes hardwood particularly dense and strong? Hardwood is usually tropical and thus learns to adapt to temp fluctuations. Since these trees take years to grow, they become extremely dense and durable.

And now, the big question:

Why is it called shiplap?

Yes, you guessed right. It has to do with ships and how boards lap. And if you already understand the latter, I just need to explain the former.

What do the wooden boards used in the exterior and interior decoration have to do with ships? Everything. This method of connecting the wooden boards together to make them watertight was first used for shipbuilding. It makes sense! Doesn’t it? And that was a very long time ago but that’s how it got its name.

Now, the interesting part is how these special boards found their way into the construction business! That’s where the history of shiplap gets fascinating. Why? Because its step into the construction industry is veiled in mystery. And people tell two different stories.

  • The first story? People started using shiplap in the construction of exterior sidings when they realized how durable and resistant this method is. Shiplap became particularly useful in harsh climates where they had to find methods to protect the exterior walls without spending much.
  • The second story? Shiplap boards of shipwrecks were washed up on coasts where people found and used them as exterior sidings.

But let us get down to business: how did shiplap which started as a shipbuilding material and became the preferred material for exterior sidings is now a must in interior design?

The short version? Shiplap had too many advantages to be ignored by interior designers.

Want the long version?

Advantages of Shiplap

  • Shiplap is durable, resistant to water, and thus excellent for all applications – exterior and interior design. When it comes to the exterior, it is not only used for siding but to clad all walls of homes or sheds. Since it’s made of wood and can be stained and painted, it can be matched with any exterior style and blends like no other material in the natural environment.
  • It brings texture to all interiors whether your home style is eclectic, traditional or modern. This highly depends on the color you choose. You can add some rustic charm by simply opting for its natural hue or paint shiplap white and get a crisp and modern look. It would even fit nicely in an industrial home since it works well with brick and metal. It can stand side-by-side with concrete walls, make kitchen walls interesting, or add a flair to county homes. You get the picture – it goes everywhere.
  • Since it’s durable, it is the perfect fit for the kitchen, bathroom, and mudroom.

If you like to get bathroom renovation ideas, check out our article:

  • The good news for all DIY enthusiasts is that shiplap is easy to install. If you have carpentry skills, it won’t be hard for you to install. If not, prefer to hire a pro. Don’t take chances, especially if you install shiplap to the ceiling.

When you are trying to figure out how to install shiplap, remember that it is usually fitted horizontally but will look equally great vertically. Let me share a tiny secret with you: install shiplap vertically to make the room visually taller & horizontally if you want to make the room look bigger. Don’t forget that you decide how big or small the gap between the boards will be. Keep a rather big distance to create an airy feeling.

  • You will also be happy to read that the shiplap cost won’t break the bank. The price starts as low as $2,5/sq. ft. and is definitely affected by the wood species. But don’t be surprised if you find the same wood cheaper in another zip code.

What affects the shiplap cost?

Prices fluctuate from one geographical area to another but also among vendors. Our advice? Do some research before you buy shiplap!

News flash: it’s usually cheaper to buy shiplap late fall, early winter – in other words, when construction work slows down.

Don’t forget that the final price depends on wood species and square feet. Naturally, if you buy more, you pay more. But it’s not just that. You will also be burdened with the cost of additional materials (nails, underlayment, primer etc.) and the installation labor.

Renovate with Shiplap!

How to use Shiplap in the home

One of the reasons why shiplap is so popular in the interior design world is its versatile character. It can actually be used anywhere: walls, flooring, & ceiling. It can cover doors, kitchen islands, & cabinets, or be used as a backsplash. It will make the laundry room interesting, protect the mudroom walls, and add charm to the kitchen.

Check Out Wood Flooring!

It goes well with exposed wood beams. It will bring charm and make the space friendly. What NOT to do? Don’t install raw wood along with wooden beams. It will suck out all the light and will be too rustic. Prefer to paint shiplap white and pair it with wood beams. Alternatively, you can opt for the warmth of raw wood shiplap and pair it with white trims.

To wrap things up…

Shiplap is old value dressed in a modern outfit. It’s hard to resist its charm simply because it unties your hands when you are searching smart, affordable, and easy to install solutions during home improvements. It is ideal for modern decorations, informal family rooms, but also formal spaces thanks to its versatility, timeless elegance, and clean looks. It adds warmth to austere environments and a fresh feeling in traditional homes. So why not check it out!


Alexia studied sociology at Essex University and did postgraduate studies at Sussex University in the media field. In Greece she worked for many years in printed and electronic media. She has written and illustrated the children's book "Little Bobby Steps Into the World", which is available on Amazon. Today she is spending endless hours with, regularly writes articles for websites in America and Europe, and is a top rated content writer on Upwork. Alexia has always been interested in interior design and has written relative content over the years.

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