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The Enduring Appeal of Clapboard Siding on Houses

The method of protecting the exterior of houses with clapboard boards has been used since colonial times. Clapboards, also known as weatherboards or lap siding, have been the first choice for colonists to shield their homes from harsh weather by overlapping wood planks on the sides of their homes. This method was particularly popular in the New England states and was considered “dressy,” especially when many earlier homes were log structures meant to be temporary dwellings. Clapboards provided excellent protection against winter winds while allowing the house to breathe during summer.

Clapboard Siding on Houses
Clapboard Siding on Houses

Historical Use of Clapboard

Clapboard houses were prevalent in the New England States. It was a common practice in the late 1700s not to cover the entire house in clapboard for cost reasons. Often, the front of the house would be covered with clapboards, while the sides and back were covered with rough shingles. Clapboards gave homes a refined look, especially compared to the temporary log structures common at the time.

The Origins and Evolution of Clapboards

The term “clapboard” likely originated from the Dutch word “Klappen,” which means to split. Originally, clapboards were hand-split from logs of various woods, producing boards with one edge thicker than the other, allowing the boards to overlap effectively. Clapboards were typically made from woods that split well, such as oak, ash, and cypress. The process of riving clapboards involved splitting logs into quarters and then into smaller pieces, which were then smoothed with a drawknife.

Clapboard in Colonial America

In Colonial America, the riving of clapboards was a closely regulated trade due to their high cost. The price for clapboards was linked to a man’s hourly wage, with Massachusetts Colony setting a price of three shillings for a five-foot length in 1641. Clapboards were considered a premium material and were often used to give homes a more refined appearance.

Clapboard Siding in Australia

In Australia, clapboard siding is also known as weatherboards. This method of exterior protection has been widely adopted due to its durability and aesthetic appeal. Australian houses commonly feature clapboards made from local timbers such as hardwoods and treated pine. Clapboards provide excellent insulation, keeping homes cool in summer and warm in winter, making them a popular choice for Australian homes.

Clapboard Manufacturing Techniques

Sawn clapboards were introduced around 1815 with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and clapboard mills. The bandsaw, developed around 1830, allowed for the easy creation of beveled siding. Most of today’s mass-produced beveled boards are made this way, although the best type of board remains quartersawn-resawn, which mimics the grain orientation of rived boards.

Restoring Clapboard Siding on Houses
Restoring Clapboard Siding on Houses

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Clapboard Materials and Their Longevity

The premier wood for clapboard making in the New England region was No. 1 Eastern white pine, known for its durability. Hemlock and spruce were also used when pine was unavailable, although they tended to erode between the annular rings. The country’s oldest timber frame house, the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts, built in 1641, still has its original clapboard siding, demonstrating the longevity of this material.

Modern Use of Clapboards

Today, clapboards are still popular for their aesthetic appeal and practicality. They are known as lap siding, wood plank, beveled wood siding, and weatherboard. While they were historically split by hand, modern clapboards are often machine-cut, ensuring uniformity and ease of installation. Clapboards continue to be a favored choice for new constructions and renovations, providing a timeless look that enhances the character of homes.

The Advantages of Clapboard Siding

Clapboard siding remains a popular choice for its ability to protect homes from the elements while adding a touch of elegance. Its historical significance and enduring appeal make it a preferred option for homeowners looking to blend tradition with modern functionality. Whether in colonial America or contemporary Australia, clapboards provide a reliable and attractive solution for exterior home protection.

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Clapboard siding has a rich history dating back to colonial times and continues to be a popular choice for homes today. From its origins in New England to its widespread use in Australia, clapboards have proven their durability and aesthetic appeal. Properly installed and maintained clapboard siding can last for generations, making it a wise investment for homeowners seeking a classic and enduring exterior finish.

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