Starting the Siding

Shiplap siding is very simple to install, all you need to do is start the process correctly! If there is any discrepancy you are doomed from the start, so take your time to make sure it is perfect!

The first thing you need to do is install the starter strip. A starter strip is merely a ripped section of fiber cement board that is set at the bottom of the first plank. It should be around 2 inches wide and run the length of the wall discontinuously. If the starter strip is continuous, water running down the wall between the siding and wrapping will become trapped between the siding and starter strip. By installing segmented pieces, water is able to drain out through the gaps at the bottom of the wall.

I installed two strips with a nice gap between them and a nice gap near the corners. With these two strips in place, the first plank can be installed.

The first plank is the most important to get straight. On a trailer, there is little that is level. The trailer is probably not on level ground, so a bubble level is pretty much useless. Instead, a fixed known reference point must be used. In our case, the trailer is known to be perfectly flat.

Since the trailer is flat, I can feel safe about using its front edge as a reference point to level the first plank. I set the first plank to overhang the top lip of the trailer by 1/2 of an inch. I propped the plank against the tiny house wall and measured the overhang on the trailer by the prescribed distance. I then verified that it was the same on the other side. Once everything was 1/2 inch of overhang, I screwed it into the tiny house.

With the first plank attached, I then proceeded to set and attach the planks one after another all the way up the front of the house.

With the first plank set properly, all the other planks went on smoothly and easily. As you can see, the planks all went on straight and even, using the simple tool I fabricated out of a metal strap.

Attaching the Sheer and Shelf Clamp

With the chines in place, it is time to attach the sheer and shelf clamp. These two strakes will tighten up the top end of the dinghy frames and make the framework look like a potential boat instead of a possible boat. 


The sheer and shelf clamp need to be installed at the same time since they are riveted together. I began with the first three stations, setting the two strakes on the third station with a C Clamp to hold it in place while I worked on stations one and two. Once the first two stations were secured, I could remove the clamp as I worked my way aft.  

The bend in the hull proved to resist accepting the strakes. These strakes wanted to remain straight and were not keen on being bent into shape. The downfall of these strakes is their length, providing me with the leverage I need to bend them into place and rivet them together. 


Work proceeded quickly, first connecting all the sheer and shelf clamps with a single row of rivets at the top of the frames, followed by a second row of rivets to further attach the bottom of the sheer strake. The stem is still not present so the strakes are set longer than the length needed in both fore and aft dimensions.  


In the end, the starboard sheer and shelf clamp were securely fastened to the frames. This solidified the starboard half of the boat and tied all the frames together. The dinghy is really beginning to look like a small boat instead of a pile of random cuts of lumber. 


When provisioning for a trip, don't make the same mistake we made. We went out to the grocery store and purchased a massive amount of food! 

We had two full carts of food with everything stuffed into them. We had cases of waters, chips, fruits, vegetables, and canned foods, as well as everything else you can think of. 

We ate what we normally do, and all this extra food simply began to rot! What's worse is the canned vegetables were disgusting, so aweful that they are still in the back of a locker, just waiting to be thrown out. All the money we spent on wasted food could have been used towards anything else on the boat, but instead was thrown out as rotten lettuce.

Thinking that we learned our lesson from this fiasco, we decided not to go overboard with food provisioning on our future trips. When we set off for a 2 week cruise, we once again bought what we thought would be an adequate amount of food for the trip. Once again, the extra food we purchased began to rot and had to be thrown out.

The moral of the story is, only buy the normal amount of food that you would consume on a regular basis. If you buy extra food, it will go bad and you will have wasted that money. Instead of "provisioning" for a trip, what we do now is cast off. If we find that we need more of something, we will pull into a port and pick it up. 

This is an easy approach for us since we liveaboard. Our regular grocery shopping is what we consume in a regular amount of time. We typically go shopping every other week, so we know that we have around two weeks worth of food on board at any given moment. Instead of wasting money on extra food, we simply shove off and provision along the way.

Another word of warning: Canned vegetables are disgusting and there is nothing you can do to make them better. I have tried everything like adding them to delicious dishes, but all they do is ruin everything. Canned string beans are the worst offenders, followed by canned carrots and canned peas. Canned corn isn't that bad, and can be hidden in chili, but fresh corn is a million times better. Canned beans on the other hand are wonderful and they will keep for years!

While we don't stock up on extra fresh foods or foods that need refrigerating, we do stock up on rice, beans, and canned meats (Vienna Sausages are amazing) as these foods won't go bad and make a great meal that can be eaten while on watch.

Fiber Cement Siding Tools

Fiber cement siding is very easy to install in a shiplap pattern (called lapstrake on boats). This pattern of siding works very well to shed rain water and keep the house dry. Shiplap needs to be installed from the bottom to top, and progress proceeds quickly.

They do sell tooling to install the planks evenly, but these tools cost around $50 to $80 for a set.

These tools are great, and make installation quick and easy. Shiplap siding needs to be even and consistent. If the amount of overlap varies, the siding will look crooked, uneven, and ugly. These tools also let you install the siding alone!

If you don't have any tools, you need two people to install the siding. Each person needs to hold the plank, measure the overlap, and secure the plank. If there are any variations between the amount that overlaps, the job will look sloppy and the end result will look unsightly.

Tools are set to a specific amount of overlap, and simply slip on to the lower plank and hold the next plank in perfect place. A single worker simply sets the plank on the tools and screw it to the wall. Each plank will go on exactly the same as the previous plank with no variation. The result is a very even job that looks professionally finished. All of a sudden, an expensive tool sounds worthwhile!

It's a small price to pay for a high quality result that will last for years to come. The truth is, you can make your own set of tools for a fraction of the price.

I purchased a pair of metal straps which I bent into an "S" shape for $0.92 per metal strap. While the expensive tools are adjustable, allowing you to vary the amount of overlap, these tools are fixed in their size. 

I wanted 6 inches of exposed plank, so I need 2.25 inches of overlap. To manufacture this, I clamped both strips into a vise and beat them into shape with a hammer. I made sure that the bends occurred at the same position on both by forcing the bend to occur at the edge of vise jaw. Both tools were verified for symmetry, and measured to make sure that the length of the body was 2.25 inches.

Installing the siding was very simple, all I had to do was set the tools on the top of the current plank, and then rest the new plank in the tools. The tools held the plank in place while I screwed the plank into the studs.

Some tricks to using these inexpensive tools are:

  • Put the tool on the edge of the plank before you tighten the screws all the way, this makes it much easier to get the tool between the plank and the wrapping.
  • Tighten the plank once the tool is in place.
  • Place the tool half way on and halfway off the edge of the plank to facilitate removal after the new plank is installed.
  • Alternate the side you use the tools on with each plank to avoid manifestations of any discrepancy in the lengths of the tools you created.
    • If the tools are off but just a little bit, the planks will not lie evenly and the problem will compound as the siding goes on the house. For example, if the tools are off by 1/16 of an inch, this means that at the 16th plank, the planks will be off by a full inch! 
    • If you alternated the side you use the tools on, the planks would only be off by 1/16 of an inch on each plank, and the 16th plank will still only be off by 1/16 of an inch. 
    • From a distance, 1/16 of an inch discrepancy is very hard to detect, so if your tools are made even better than that, any discrepancy will be even less notable and the end result will be a professional looking job.

Rivet Tool

Copper rivets are a wonderful fastener to connect planks to frames. They combine the advantages of through bolting and screws with only one pitfall.  

Through bolts provide tremendous clamping pressure without relying on the substrate for resistance. A through bolt is places the forces on the opposing side which has its force disseminated via a washer or backing plate. The nut and bolt pull tightly towards each other and compress everything in between them.. The problem with through bolting is the ends are bulky. The nut protrudes and can offer a place to hook clothing and lines.  

Screws on the other hand are very low profile with only the head of the screw protruding. This head can be minimized by either using flat head or counter sinking. Screws go deep into the wood and leave nearly no trace behind. The problem with screws is they rely on the substrate for resistance to extraction. The little threads are all that offer mechanical resistance to their extraction. If the substrate is soft, the screw can pull out. At the same time, the material is under constant strain from the screw being forced into the substrate.  

In short, screws are low profile but place strain on the material they are inserted into. Bolts do not place strain on the material and instead place strain on the fastener itself, but are rather bulky. 

Rivets are both low profile, place the strain on the fastener, and are not bulky. They function by inserting a copper nail through the material and then mushrooming the end to lock it onto a copper rove, sort of like a copper washer. The only problem rivets have is they are time consuming and technique sensitive to install. 

As with any fastener, specialized tools make work much easier. Screws use screw drivers, nuts and bolts use wrenches, and rivets use clamps, hammers, and dies. 

The rivet clamp is a great tool for inserting rivets and fitting the rove tightly to the strakes. It uses the mechanical advantage of an inclined plane in the form of a screw to tightly compress everything in the system. 


To make a rivet clamp, all you need is a large C-Clamp. Remove the lower pad from the ball and drill a hole through the top of the clamp. The ball at the end of the screw is excellent for compressing the head of the nail into the wood while the other end of the nail exits through the top of the clamp. 



Removing the lower pad allows the ball to fit into smaller spaces without distortion. If you are counter sinking the nail heads, the ball will fit down the hole with ease. 


Drilling small hole for the nail to pass will keep the rove in place as you clamp the unit down. Drilling a larger hole part way down the clamp will let you insert center punches into the unit to mushroom the head of the rivet while it is still under clamping pressure! When you remove the clamp, the rivet will continue to hold the strakes tightly as the mushroom head will not allow it to expand. 

This simple modification will let you insert rivets in a much more systematic way which will increase your speed and advance the progress of your projects.