Do-it-Yourself Cedar Siding


Have you noticed some homes appear more serene than others; seem to blend in with their environment? Where the setting incorporates designs and materials that embrace the natural environment, and create a harmonious blend of architecture and nature? This concept can be especially important when choosing your home’s exterior siding. Siding defines the mood and character of the home’s exterior and reflects the image desired by its owners. All-natural Western Red Cedar is the perfect choice for those wishing to create natural warmth and add character to an exterior that will last for years. Composite or plastic materials just can’t compete when compared to the beauty and feel of all-natural cedar.


The natural finished cedar blends with and adds to the beauty of the old “Bungalow-Style” home. Rough-sawn cedar trim boards, stained with semi-transparent stain, with green-painted accent pieces adds to the “natural” appearing decor.

Western Red Cedar has outstanding physical characteristics that make it a great siding choice. These include rich color, smooth grain and a natural resistance to deterioration by insects and weather. Cedar fibers contain natural compounds called “thujaplicins” that act as natural preservatives, making the wood last extremely long. Free of the pitch and resin found in other softwoods, Western Red Cedar will take a wide range of finishes from lightly toned clear to two-coat solid colors. Dimensional stability also makes the material a premier choice for siding. It lies flat and straight and is less likely to swell, warp, cup and twist than other soft and hard woods. And, the low density also improves insulation by transporting less heat through exterior wall siding than brick, stone, vinyl or gypsum drywall. Conversely, it helps keep interiors warmer in cold weather. Low density also makes the product a great acoustical barrier.

One of the great features of cedar, however, is it’s easy to cut, saw, nail and glue. Do-it-yourself cedar siding is easy to do for those reasons, plus you’re installing one relatively small piece at a time, rather than large, bulky sheets that are awkward to handle and install. Cedar siding is available in a variety of styles. Matching trim boards are also available. To make sure you get quality Western Red Cedar siding, make sure you specify cedar siding manufactured by members of the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association.

This 100 year old home was sided with textured plywood about 30 years ago. It was badly weathered and in need of being replaced.

The siding installation shown was residing over textured plywood siding on a home well over 100 years old and located in the country. The house had been resided 30 some years ago, and the plywood siding was well weathered. The new siding style chosen was lap siding. Shown are the steps to install lap, tongue-and-groove, as well as board and batten. The same basic techniques can also be used on new construction with the addition of sheathing installation. For a quality installation it’s important to install the cedar siding according to Western Red Cedar Lumber Association guidelines.

A vapor barrier is also recommended with cedar siding. The Dupont Tyvek DrainWrap is a quality barrier with built-in channels to channel away excess water.

Wrapping the House

Regardless of new or remodeling installation, Dupont Tyvek DrainWrap weather-resistant barrier is recommended before installation of the cedar siding. The product offers the unique combination of a drainage system and a weather-resistant barrier in a single product, and it promotes water drainage behind siding such as primed cedar by channeling moisture safely to the outside. The inherent water-resistance properties of Dupont Tyvek are enhanced with vertical grooves on the surface to help channel bulk water that penetrates through claddings safely outside. In addition, the breathable structure allows vapor to pass through to promote drying in wall systems and help prevent the formation of mold and mildew. And of course, the barrier also reduces energy costs.

Tyvek DrainWrap is installed to the outside of the insulation cavity, preferably over an approved exterior sheathing board. Stand the roll vertically against a wall one foot from the corner and unroll, fastening as you go. Keep the roll level and continue around the building, covering all openings, including windows and doors. Fasten to the structural material (plywood or studs) with plastic washer-headed or broad nails, or staples. Fasteners should be applied approximately every 12 to 18 inches on the vertical stud line, with additional fasteners around each opening to be cut. DrainWrap should be overlapped at the corners of the building by a minimum of 12 inches. Overlap vertical seams by a minimum of 6 inches.

In new construction, without windows and doors installed at each opening, cut a modified “I” in the material by cutting across the top of the opening, down the center and at a diagonal to each bottom corner. Pull the side and bottom flaps to the inside and secure to the inside of the rough opening. Install the windows and doors, sealing the edges of the DrainWrap to the window flange with Tyvek Tape. If the windows and doors are already installed as in the installation shown, trim the DrainWrap as closely as possible to the edges and seal all edges and seams with tape.


Prepping the Siding

Proper acclimation and storage of the cedar siding products before installation is important. Cedar will still respond to the environment even though it is one of the most stable softwoods. It can swell or shrink as it reaches equilibrium before it is installed. Keep the wood dry and stack it on the job site off the ground by at least six inches and covered. If storing on damp ground or new concrete, first place a moisture barrier down. Knotty cedar that is dried to less than 19 percent should be stacked with vertically aligned stickers. This also goes for trim pieces as well. Air- or kiln-dried siding that has been kept dry can be installed immediately. Damp siding should be allowed to acclimatize from three to five days, dry knotty cedar siding for 7 to 10 days, and green siding for a minimum of 30 days.

Left: The cedar siding is first acclimatized by storing on stickers.
Right: It is recommended the siding boards be primed or coated on all sides. In this case the siding pieces were immersed in Thompson’s Waterproofer PLUS Clear Wood Protector in a home-built dipping trough. Be sure to have adequate ventilation and extinguish all pilot lights before applying and drying the waterproofer.


  After the cedar has acclimatized, and before it is installed, it should be coated on all surfaces, including the ends. The prime coat depends on the final coat. Natural and semi-transparent stains serve as their own “primer.” Cedar that is to have solid color stains or paint coatings should be primed with an alkyd oil stain-blocking primer. Or you can use a clear water repellent on the back of the siding and the primer on the face and edges. These primers protect the wood from water penetration, increasing the life of top coats and helping to prevent staining from mildew and other materials.

The owners of the home that is shown chose a clear sealant, Thompson’s Waterproofer PLUS Clear Wood Protector, in order to allow the natural beauty of the cedar to be seen. These clear sealers can be applied with brush, roller or spray. Immersion is a recommended procedure, and is much faster than other types of applications. A dipping trough of 2-by materials was created for the purpose. The trough is assembled with Titebond III waterproof glue and the pieces clamped solidly together. While clamped, Phillips 3-inch decking nails are used to further strengthen the joints. After the glue has set, all joints are caulked with a good grade of acrylic caulk. The trough rests on sawhorses, making sure it is level in all directions. The siding is immersed in the coating, and then removed to holders above the tank to allow excess material to run off. After the excess sealant has drained, the treated siding pieces are placed on sawhorses to further dry. They should be left to dry for 48 hours before installation. The homeowners used a Thompson’s Waterproofer PLUS Tinted Wood Protector in Nutmeg Brown on the window and door trim, as well as the corners to add color and accent the architecture of the house.

Stainless steel siding nails are the best choice to install Western Red Cedar. The nails are annular ring-shank, collated siding nails with embossed heads, from McFeeley’s.


Corrosion-resistant fasteners should be used to install Western Red Cedar siding. This includes: hot-dipped galvanized, aluminum and stainless steel. Stainless steel nails are the best choice because they are uniform throughout, unlike coated and galvanized nails that can degrade once the surface coating is damaged. Stainless steel nails are also extremely strong, about 20 percent stronger than ordinary steel nails. Ring-shank nails are the most popular because they offer greater resistance to withdrawal. The length of the nails depends on the size and thickness of the siding and sheathing. The nails should penetrate at least 1-1/2 inches into solid wood or 1-1/4 inch if ring-shank nails are used.

Left: In the house shown, outside and inside trim boards, as well as window trim were first installed.
Right: A quality flexible caulk, such as DAP Side Winder siding and window sealant, should be applied at any locations where the siding ends meet the trim.

Both the trim and siding of the building shown were installed using air guns and matching stainless steel nails. The trim was installed using 16-gauge finish nails, and the siding with annular ring-shank siding nails with embossed heads.

A number of cedar siding patterns are available. The pattern in the installation shown is lap.

Western Red Cedar siding comes in several different patterns including the most popular, bevel. It is also available as tongue-and-groove and board-and-batten. Lap siding is extremely popular with several varieties of lap siding available. The siding on the house shown is a lap siding. The materials also come in several grades, and the grade of the siding shown is “select knotty.”

First step in horizontal installation of the lap siding shown begins with the bottom course with the channel facing up. Make sure the first course is installed level.

Regardless of whether new construction or a residing job, the surface should be prepared properly before trim and siding installation. If applying over an existing siding such as the job shown, make sure the old siding is solidly anchored, using self-starting deck screws to anchor any loose areas back in place. Apply the vapor barrier and any flashings as necessary. Flashings should be made of corrosion-resistant aluminum or galvanized steel. They must be installed at any location a horizontal break occurs in the siding. This includes transitions from cedar to other materials, such as brick, at the junction of dormer windows and roof surfaces and over the heads of windows and doors. At any locations where the ends of the siding contact openings or trim, the area should be well caulked. The caulk used on this project was DAP Side Winder, siding and window sealant in clear. It’s important the caulk be a non-hardening, flexible caulk.


Left: Nail the siding in place, one nail per bearing or stud, one inch up from the bottom edge of the overlap.
Right: Place the next siding piece over the first, fitting the overlap in place and spacing the siding 1/8″-inch apart. Use a jig such as shown for quick and easy spacing.

Using the proper nailing pattern for the different siding styles is important. Regardless of the style, the siding must be kept at least 6 inches off the ground. For horizontal patterns, start with the bottom course.



Bevel Siding. On bevel siding, use a furring strip to bring the bottom edge out the proper distance. Make sure the first course is level. Each succeeding course overlaps the one below. For bevel siding this is a minimum of 1 inch. On rabbeted bevel siding, leave a 1/8-inch expansion clearance. Fasten bevel siding in place using one nail per bearing or stud, spaced a maximum of 24 inches on center. Place the nail just above the overlap. Do not nail through the overlap of the two pieces. All butt joints should be staggered, and the butt joints should fit snugly where the siding meets the trim.


Lap Siding. Lap sidings are installed again beginning with the bottom course and working up. Allow a 1/8-inch expansion gap between the pieces if the siding is air or kiln dried. A small jig using a piece of 1/8-inch thick material makes this chore easy. Do not nail through the overlaps. For siding up to 6-inches wide, use one nail one inch up from the overlap per bearing or stud. For wider sidings use two nails. For vertical installations, nail to horizontal furring strips.


Tongue-and-groove. Tongue-and-groove siding can be installed vertically or horizontally. Start with the bottom course with the tongue facing up. Six-inch siding is blind nailed with one siding nail per bearing, toe-nailed through the base of each tongue. Wider siding is face nailed using two nails per bearing. For vertical installations, start at one corner with the groove edge placed toward the adjacent wall. Make sure the first course is started plumb.

Board-and-batten. Board-and-batten siding can be installed horizontally or vertically. Wide boards with thinner battens make the most attractive siding patterns. One good choice is 1-by-10 boards and 1-by-3 battens. Battens must overlap a minimum of 1/2 inch on each board. Vertical siding must be nailed to blocking lines or furring strips.


Corners can be finished in two methods: Miter the siding, or use trim boards as shown above.

Inside and outside corners may be handled in one of two ways. Some horizontal siding can be mitered at the corners. This offers a “modern” style, and is a distinctive pattern, but does take some good trim work. Another method is to use trim boards at inside and outside corners. The latter method was used on the house shown.


New Tools for Cedar Siding

In addition to the specific materials already mentioned, a number of new tools were used for the siding installation shown. The first is a jobsite air compressor—the Porter-Cable Job Boss 150-PSI, oil-free compressor. It features a high air-output 6.0 SCFM rating at 90 PSI for fast recharge. The compressor’s single tank stores up to 71 percent more usable air than a conventional 125-PSI model. The job Boss also has a removable console to allow remote air regulation and higher pressure closer to the work site. Wheels and an expanding handle make the compressor easy to move around.

The compressor easily powered two coil nailers at the same time. One of the nailers was a Porter-Cable, with a powerful motor and tool-free adjustable exhaust. A tool-free depth adjustment with detents is also a nice feature. We also use a Hitachi coil nailer, capable of driving wire and plastic sheet-collated nails. It weights just 4-1/2 pounds and has a plastic shield to deflect the wire collation.

The trim was installed with a Porter-Cable 2-1/2-inch finish nailer kit, which features a streamlined body for easy grip and balance. It comes in a case with a box of 1,000 finish nails and a ¼-inch plug with cap and oil.

We also tested the DeWalt professional Heavy-Duty XRP, 18-volt cordless finish nailer kit. It provides cordless nailing for those tough roof-edge chores and has a 6-position dial that allows you to move between applications without having to re-acquire exact depth settings.



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