Build a Wood Shower Surround
I then created a “drainage plane”—an air gap behind the wall cladding through which water can travel and escape. I’d love to say I’m a genius for using the dimpled material that created this gap (dam proofing membrane, DPM), but the truth is I stumbled upon it. I had a roll left from installing my basement’s perimeter drain. It’s inexpensive and easy to apply. I held it in place with washer-head Spax screws. Once in, I marked the horizontal blocking with a Sharpie so I could locate it for nailing.
Wood, Wood and More Wood
For the shower surround, I used clear 1×4 tongue-and-groove clear Southern Yellow Pine. On one side, it’s beaded and V-jointed for use as paneling, and the other is square for use as flooring. I love this stuff. The bead and the V-joint combine to make vertical lines and texture that make the shower space feel taller, and they also team up to channel water down and away from the wall. The tongue-and-groove joints lock it all together so water of any real consequence can’t get through.
Most of my anxiety attacks were about the end grain. That’s where wood is most absorbent. To keep water away from it I used a weatherboard at the bottom. A weatherboard is a horizontal piece, installed at an angle (like a window sill or drip cap). Underneath it I cut a 1/4-in. deep kerf parallel to the front edge. This is called a “bond break” that causes sticky water molecules to fall apart and fall to the floor instead up wrapping around the weatherboard and leaching up the wall.
Since the weatherboard is also the starter piece for the vertical slats, I made sure to get it nice and level. I pitched it 8-degrees and shot it right to the bottom wall plate.
To get the wall cladding started, I used 1-in. (aka five-quarter, 5/4) corner blocks. The bottom cut is tricky. It’s a double miter and it took me a few minutes to wrap my head around it. Because you’re putting it in the corner, it has to be triple-mitered to mate up with both angled weatherboards. As I write this, I forget how I did it, but I did. A dab of clear latex caulk (I like DAP Dynaflex 230) where the corner piece hits the weatherboard helps further seal the end grain.
Now the fun stuff: when all the prep becomes pomp and perfection. I rip the groove off the first board on the table saw and install it using both face nails and tongue nails. I cut this to fit tight between floor and ceiling because you can see the edge. Then I follow up with the next piece, cutting the miter on the bottom to cover the weatherboard and cutting the top about 1/4-in. shy of the ceiling.
Then, just like you would with any T&G project, when you come to an obstruction (the corner blocks here), I rip the back half of the groove off, rip the board to width and install with face nails.
And—this is an important detail—start the next column with the tongue-piece you ripped off the board before the corner (unless it’s really small, like under 3/4-in.).
Carefully cut around penetrations. When in doubt (for me, almost always), make a template, test it out, then transfer your layout to a full piece. Sometimes you can clamp two pieces together and just drill a hole in them to let the pipe through.