Ship Lap Laundry Room Painted White

Shiplap Vs Tongue And Groove: Which Is Better For Your Home Improvement Project?

Miranda Crace4-Minute Read
April 21, 2021

Thanks to home decorating shows and the endless appeal of simpler times, wood paneling is having a moment. If you’re of a certain age, the thought might have sent a little chill down your spine – maybe you remembered the dark and ugly wood paneling of the ’60s and ’70s.

But if you’re a fan of “Fixer Upper’s” Joanna Gaines, you know wood paneling has come a long way since then. Modern wood paneling is made of real wood (or realistic-looking wood veneer). It’s lighter, and often painted white or white-washed to give it a clean, bright look. Laid horizontally, it’s a staple of modern farmhouse, rustic and casual cottage design.

If you’re thinking of starting a DIY project, or undertaking a more extensive interior or exterior cladding project, you’ll have a lot of choices to make. We’re here to help!

What Is The Difference Between Shiplap And Tongue And Groove?

The main difference between shiplap and tongue and groove paneling lies in the way the boards fit together and the ability of the materials to withstand the elements, if used for exterior surfaces. Wood paneling is sometimes referred to as “cladding,” which simply means a layer added to an interior or exterior surface of a house.


Rustic Dining Room Minimalist Shiplap Wall

Shiplap is distinguished by the L-shaped groove, or rabbet, on the edges of the board that allows the pieces to be stacked, like siding. The boards rest on top of one another and overlap. Shiplap is nailed in from the front of the board, visible after completion, for that rustic look that’s popular in home decorating.

With traditional shiplap, the pieces butt up against each other, but the look of modern shiplap favors a gap between boards that is about the size of a flat nickel. Enter nickel gap shiplap, which is similar to shiplap except that there is a stop cut into each board that prevents the new board from laying directly on top of the previous board. You can achieve the same effect by slipping nickels between shiplap boards, but using nickel gap makes the process easier and quicker to complete.

Tongue And Groove

Tongue And Groove Vaulted Ceiling Panelling With Large Windows

Unlike shiplap, tongue and groove planks are cut so that the tongue of one fits into the groove of another to fit together in an interlocking fashion. When a piece is added, the nail is driven in on a diagonal, and then covered by the next piece. There are different types of tongue and groove planks that alter the look of the finished surface by either increasing or eliminating gaps between the board, depending on the aesthetic you’re going for.

Can Shiplap And Tongue And Groove Be Used Interchangeably?

For interior walls, whether you choose shiplap or tongue and groove will depend solely on the look you’re trying to achieve.

Do They Come In A Variety Of Materials?

Remember, the terms “shiplap” and “tongue and groove” refer to the way the boards fit together, not the materials being used. You can choose any wood you’d like – and there is a variety. Consider going with a simple pine if you’re planning on painting the wood, or if you’re choosing a wood for its grain, consider something like a tropical hardwood. Once you’ve picked your wood, you can get it cut into the shiplap or tongue and groove of your choice. Both shiplap and tongue and groove fittings are available in vinyl, fiber-cement and a wide range of other synthetic materials suitable for exterior use.

What If The Cladding Will Be Used On An Exterior Wall?

If you plan on cladding an exterior wall, there are some important differences to consider. Traditional shiplap creates a weather-tight bond that keeps out moisture, so it’s definitely the better choice for rainy climates. Shiplap is also best for hot and dry climates. Dry air can cause wood to shrink and create gaps in tongue and groove fittings. Because shiplap overlaps instead of interlocks, it’s likely that those gaps won’t show. However, if you live in a cold climate, tongue and groove is likely the better choice because of the superior insulation it provides.

What Are The Differences In Cost Between Shiplap And Tongue And Groove?

It’s hard to say unless you’re comparing apples to apples, but it all depends on the look you’re trying to achieve. In general, tongue and groove costs more because the processing of the boards is more labor-intensive. Expect to pay more if you’re picking the wood and then having it processed. A shiplap board need only be run through a planer, while creating tongues and grooves that fit tightly requires more time and skill.

However, direct, general comparisons among preprocessed products are difficult because so much depends on the use, look and quality you’re looking for.

How Will Cladding Affect Home Value?

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, the average cost of exterior fiber-cement siding is $19,700. Of that, homeowners can expect to recover 76% of the cost when they sell their home, for a 76% rate of recovery.

Interior projects are considered cosmetic and don’t tend to have the same rate of recovery as changes to curb appeal and energy efficiency, but a stylish home with modern decor will sell faster and sometimes for more when compared to a frumpier counterpart.

The Bottom Line: Find Your Style

When choosing interior finishes for your home, you’re looking for that sweet spot between what you love and what you can afford. Today’s popular and affordable materials make it fun to experiment with color, texture, patterns and finishes. Explore more tips on how to find your decor style.

Miranda Crace

The Rocket Homes blog is here to bring you all you need to know about buying, selling and making the most of your home. Whether you’re thinking about becoming a homeowner, selling your current home or looking to keep your place in tip-top shape, our writers and freelancers bring their experience and expertise to meet you right where you are.