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Tips and Lessons Learned with Repairing Dutch Lap Wood Siding


You can find many American homes still clad in authentic Dutch Lap Wood Siding. This style of wood siding is easily identified by its distinct shadow lines. By name, it is called Dutch Lap, German Lap, or even Novelty Siding. While this may cause confusion, it is clear, however, that its unique look inspired one of its numerous successors’ most popular profiles. (See: “Dutch Lap” & Vinyl Siding.)

Dutch Lap, especially in pine and cedar, remains readily available and is still installed today. Know though that when we talk about patching or replacing this type of siding, we are often referring to the patch and repair of antique Dutch Lap Wood Siding (as I am here).

Below are tips I learned myself during repairs on a Victorian-era farmhouse. In this article, I have also included some lessons learned, i.e. notable mistakes I know I made. You’ll see Amazon Affiliate linking to products I recommend for the job. (More on all of this at the bottom, and I hope it all helps.)

Do I Patch or Do I Remove and Replace My Dutch Lap Wood Siding?

Wood siding is subject to the elements, and some damage over time is, well, almost expected. For any number of smaller repairs – a hole, a gouge, etc, an epoxy-based wood filler (like Abatron) or even a polyester-reinforced repair product (like Bondo) can do the trick. That said, though, there are many other situations where removal and replacement is, well, I’m sorry – just the best approach.

Rot, for one, appears and is often due to extreme, repeated exposure to moisture. Rot is especially prevalent at locations where water splashes back from an adjoining surface. Wood siding near the ground and/or near a roof or porch transition is the most prone to this malady. In some cases, a quality wood hardener can help retard or even “reverse” this type of damage. With many more rotted boards, however, removal and replacement remains, again, the only viable option.

I’ve often seen antique Dutch Lap Wood Siding painted (our Victorian was no exception). If well maintained, paint encapsulates, helping to preserve and protect. Paint, however, introduces a new point of failure. In my case, southern sun exposure brutalized rear parts of the house accelerating paint deterioration (before my time of course). Poorly maintained paint fosters a situation where wood siding can not only capture but also trap and hold moisture. This usually leads to cracking, splitting, and in a lot of cases, hmm, irreparable damage to boards.

It’s a Little Like Surgery

Reader, Don V., wrote in and asked, “Is this a job within the capability of an average DIY guy?” (My answer at the bottom.) He had questions regarding both “matching material” and “dissection.” I responded and told him, “It’s a little like surgery.”

There is no question that targeted removal of a few damaged boards is one of the most challenging aspects of this job. For this, I’d recommend arming yourself with (among other things) a couple of quality flat bars, a compact circular saw, and an oscillating multi-tool.  (More on that too in a bit.)

If you decide to address larger sections of siding, consider it a new install. While not covered explicitly here – moisture and airflow management should be central in your mind as you proceed.

Start By Identifying Your Existing Dutch Lap Wood Siding

Another big challenge is matching the existing, antique Dutch Lap Wood Siding. As with naming, there was frequently a regional, local, or even a neighborhood vernacular at the time of install. What I mean – slight variations often appeared, installation to installation, in the material’s stock, thickness, height, profile, cove cut, rabbet cut, etc.

You should attempt to match your existing siding as closely as possible; this will not only make re-installation far easier, but it will produce a far better job. For matching purposes, harvest a sample (or two) from the home. (See the section – Surgical Removal for more tips on this.)

Then Identify Your Replacement Dutch Lap Wood Siding (Common Options)

Salvage – With sample in hand, it is best to start with a local salvage yard.

Lumber Yard – Dutch Lap Wood Siding is still available, too, at most lumber yards, in a stock profile. The problem, of course – today’s profile almost certainly will not match your antique profile. (Be warned again here, my own Victorian farmhouse had not one, but three separate (though only slightly different) profiles present around the house).

Mill – Almost any mill (sometimes affiliated with your lumber yard) can reproduce an exact match on your Dutch Lap (using that harvested sample). The cost however can be, well, a little intimidating.

In checking with friends National Lumber, my contact Kevin F. says:

The price on the 1 x 6 German siding yellow pine is $1.40 per lineal/running foot. This is the standard 105 profile. Please see the enclosed snipped image.
If we have to do a custom profile to match, the cost is approx. $350.00 for the knife. It is conceivable and possible that our vendor does have the knife and if so, then the price of the knife would be absorbed. Ultimately, we would need to see a sample if our vendor has the knife.
Additionally, the set up and break down fee which is $85.00 to set up and $85.00 to break down.
The cost of the 1 x 6 lumber-clear yellow pine is .95 per foot and the cost to push it through the machine is .45 per running foot.

Summary – Choose clear siding — a premium grade free of knots and other imperfections. This grade is very stable and is the best choice if you can afford it.

As Kevin mentioned, a local mill receiving other requests for the same profile may already have the knife on hand. Assuming you can skirt this custom knife cost, you start, still, at around $200 for set up. Then, add the $1.40/ a foot for the run. All totaled – custom milling costs can climb pretty quickly into the range of $3 to $4/a linear foot on clear pine (depending of course on how much you will need). In his words, “To sum it up in a nutshell, custom can be exorbitant, but at times necessary to match the existing product.”

For me, and while, no, not exactly perfect, the $1.40/lf of the 105 profile was a far more palatable option. At the time, it seemed close enough. Important! The more economical stock profile option will, however, still require a minimum buy that should be considered in your costing. In my case, the minimum order was a bundle of (8) eight-foot boards, but sixteens were ultimately what I purchased.

Prep Your “New” Dutch Lap Wood Siding for Installation

When you receive your order, un-bundle, and allow your new siding to acclimate (for me – in my garage) for about a week. (Better of course outside if the forecast is clear.) Store material elevated and separated if possible with stickers – short sticks of scrap wood. This entire job is best approached, of course, when the weather is temperate, i.e. in the spring or fall.

If your siding was previously painted, plan now to paint your repair. While there is some distention regarding this, I would suggest at minimum to prime/seal all sides of your material – the back as well as all cuts, if possible.

If time and budget allows, treat the entire board first (front, back, ends, and edges) with a wood preservative and allow two days for drying – before you prime. Sealers and preservatives are brushed or rolled on, while a spray primer can make quicker work of cut ends, just before install.

Surgically Removing Antique Dutch Lap Wood Siding

Again, think of this as surgery. But unlike surgery, it is okay and even expected that you might lose a board or two in the early stages. Be mindful too that with antique painted surface, there is likely lead paint present. Plan to control this.

Start by locating nails – these will of course also reveal stud locations. A five-in-one tool is helpful in removing paint build-up or caulk and will create a space for slipping a flat bar or other removal tool up behind the siding.  The goal here is to remove, and only remove, what needs to be replaced – unless flashing behind also needs some attention. If you can neatly remove the siding, then any portion of the boards you are removing will remain re-usable later if needed.

The couple of tips here can help greatly: Slowly work across the length of the board being removed. Persuade the board out by working the long leg of a flat bar up behind the wood siding at an identified stud location. Important! Being too aggressive with the bottom edge, and not getting enough of the meat the board, can be costly. This will tempt a split at the board’s rabbet.

I found that working with a pair flat bars is best. While I used a couple 12-inch Stanley flat bars, 15-inchers, like this one on Amazon, or 21-inch bars would have been way more handy.

When removing a board, you want to reach up behind not only the board you are addressing, but also the board immediately above it. By loosening the board above,  you can work your target board away from the house. Pulling it out, and then whacking it back in with a hammer can help free nails for easy pulling.

Alternatively, and as you create space for yourself by removing boards, a hacksaw blade held in a gloved hand and/or a sawzall or a multi-tool fitted with a bi-metal blade can cut through nails, freeing the board just as easily.

Making Surgical Cuts on Antique Dutch Lap Wood Siding

If removing a partial, in the middle of a course – a compact circular saw or better, a Dremel Saw Max is indispensable. Again using the stud locations you’ve already noted, take a 7-inch speed square and placing the lipped fence against the bottom edge of the board, draw a line at the center of the stud location. Place your cut such that any board remaining will refasten to a stud.

Using your compact saw, loaded with an appropriate blade, set the cut depth to just over 3/4″ (if possible) and cut at your mark, but Important! stop short of the board above. The 3/4″ depth is likely not enough to cut through the entirety of the board’s thickness. Here, this cut is meant to be more of a deep scoring action.

Complete the cut with an oscillating multi-tool, loaded, too, with a quality blade.

What You Might Find When Removing Antique Siding

As your antique siding has a half of century or more of wear, so do the materials underneath. As you roll back the hands of time, you roll back too the maturity of building practices. For me, I peeled back areas of siding to find exposed insulation and un-sheathed areas. In almost all locations, I found heavily stained and deteriorated rosin paper. My siding (in fir) was treated on its face in verdigris – a copper based sealer, but the back of the boards were a deep brown and untreated. Square nails held most boards firmly in place, but many showed signs of rust and disintegration.

Cutting and Hanging Replacement Dutch Lap Wood Siding

Cut new material with a miter box/back saw combo or with a chop saw. I used my 10″, but a 12-inch sliding compound miter saw would have been far more effective. (Check this DEWALT DWS779 12″ Sliding Compound Miter Saw  on Amazon. Wow!) For cutting multiples of the same length, set up and gang cut. Remember to seal cut ends before you install.

Now, with hanging, reader, Don V. asked – “Do I replace top down or bottom up?” My answer – kinda depends. As you might see from photos – I installed top-down in some locations, bottom-up in others.

Working with a slightly variant material, as I was, it may make more sense to work downward trying to keeping each course locked tight and level to the one above. This creates a situation, however, where you must face nail your new boards.

Prepare yourself to make inconspicuous rip cuts both at the top of the board and/or from the boards’ rabbet. This will allow for effective jigsawing into place. If it’s a toss up, bottom-up is surely the more ideal way to go.

Nailing Replacement Dutch Lap Wood Siding

With a new install, you install a starter course and work your way up. This not only coursing easier, but also makes for a far more convenient nailing pattern. While you will find varying recommendations on nailing, Dutch Lap is ideally nailed to studs, at two locations – roughly 1/4″ from the top of the board (such that this nail is hidden with the subsequent course) and 3/4″ from the bottom (such that that nail passes just above the board below it). Important! Do not over-nail as this will create inconsistent shadow lines.

When replacing a larger area, work with a story pole to ensure consistent coursing throughout. Be mindful of the coursing of adjacent exterior walls. Try to remain consistent as possible around the house – this makes for a more “professional” job. (You can see mine slipped here just a little.)

With nails, you have a number of options. I myself toggled between stainless ring shanks and galvanized siding twists. If you are only replacing a few boards, plan to pre-drill with a 7/64″ wood bit. Whichever fastener you choose, ensure that it can pass through both siding and sheathing into a stud, is rust-resistant and does not react with any sealers used.

I find that when nailing it is best to set each board with a single (topper) nail at each stud. A second nail is added at intervals along the span. This second nail is not driven all the way home until level, reveal, etc. has been checked. As hinted at above, keep nailing consistent, and I’ll go so far to say – unless you are using pneumatic tools, nominate one person and only one person for all nailing on the job.

Consider flashing behind with metal, self-stick or roofing felt at locations where boards are spliced. Bed the back sides into a liberal bead of water-resistant caulking, checking that the seam remains filled once nailed.

Finishing Your Newly Replaced Dutch Lap Wood Siding

Once installed, finish any joints/seams with appropriate sanding. There is some debate about whether the bottom edge of each board should receive caulk. I chose to on my repairs for two reasons. 1) To help with air sealing on a very old home, and 2) To give the finished job a much cleaner look. Caulk with a highly elastic premium paintable caulk, and paint with a high quality exterior paint.

For more on caulking at Dutch Lap Wood Siding, please see our articles: Gettin’ Weatherized with Caulk and Dap 3.0, a Review :: Caulking at a Chimney.

Lessons Learned with Repairing Dutch Lap Wood Siding

Reader, Don V., asked – “Is this a job within the capability of an average DIY guy?” Well, my answer – probably yes, BUT there are a lot of moving parts and things to consider with this job. Don V. is right to put the time in upfront with thinking it through.

For me, I know I should have taken more time and focused more on my coursing. I was able to seamlessly patch in at several locations (like just below this bay window). You can’t even really tell.

But the irregularity of some of the work in the ell still bugs me (like this patch-in under a new wood window). In this case, I probably should have just replaced entire board lengths.

Working around windows and doors can be a challenge, too. I’d recommend trying to remain mindful of the larger job – identifying inconspicuous locations where you can adjust the rhythm of your boards if needed (for example, with short lengths an inside corner).

Which material? While the stock profile worked out exceptionally well in the places where I only had to fill in two or three full-length courses, there is no question that any larger replacement will turn out better if you go all in on the custom milling required for an exact match.

Your mill/lumber yard should be able to help some by making minor adjustments, like rips on height, even for a stock order. If ordering a product that ultimately will be painted, ask if pre-primed is available.

Remember to check yourself repeatedly. A long (or laser) level or a simple chalk line can be helpful for reference as you work.

Wrapping Up – a Note on Flashing

Thanks out to reader Don V. from Pa. for the motivation to write this article. Thanks too to Kevin at National Lumber, as always, for his support.

Final Notes: If new penetrations are introduced or the fenestration is modified (aka an a window or door is added and/or is otherwise upgraded), much of this info still applies. On a new wood siding installation, a stain, over paint, is a far better option. With any siding job, consider the existing air and moisture barrier – don’t just slap up of Tyvek – :~).  At roofing or flooring, as well as around windows and doors, plan for installing (or at minimum, inspecting) metal flashing. This almost certainly will mean utilizing Coil Stock. And in general, it might mean implementing some non-standard practices. See: Installing Window and Door Cap & Replacing Roof Flashing at a Wood Side Wall.  (An entirely different topic.)

For more on repairing wood siding, here is another great article from friends over at Home FixatedClapboard Siding Repair.

For me, I hope this begins a year-long unloading of tips and lessons learned from working on a unique old house. Stay tuned. That said, yes, my wife and I have since moved from this Victorian – and more on that too maybe soon. There’s a lot of work to be done and thanks for reading.  ~jb


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