Weatherboarding – lengths of board for cladding buildings – is more than a cheap, temporary covering. It makes a considerable contribution to the character of old buildings, especially barns, smaller houses, church towers and mills in South East and Eastern England.
Care and repair
Oak was commonly employed in medieval times, elm in the 17th century and later softwood such as pine. Early boards were typically riven (split) instead of sawn, fixed vertically and formed infill panels between timbers. While many have survived well, boards can deteriorate due to beetle infestation or fungal attack, split or become displaced.
Defective weatherboards might be repaired by splicing in seasoned, matching new timber or inserting timber plugs. Whole boards may otherwise need replacing. To repair a split, apply glue and attach a block to the board below to act as a clamp against the lower edge while this sets. Splits or holes can be temporarily covered with thin sheet metal. Tap back and re-fix any loose boards.
Aim to avoid disturbing old boarding but where its removal is justified the reuse of existing boards is preferable to replacement. Should replacement be unavoidable, new boards should usually match the existing ones, including their profile (which is often wedge-shaped, i.e. ‘feather edged’).
Fixings and finishes
Rosehead and similar nails with raised heads resembling those commonly used historically for weatherboarding are still obtainable, often now in galvanised steel. Other galvanised or stainless steel nails can also be employed, including those of the lost head type popular for painted weatherboarding from the mid-19th century.
With a feather-edged board, one nail is usually driven through a pre-drilled hole about 25mm above its bottom edge at each stud. Screw-fixing is advisable near fragile internal plasterwork.
The practice of tarring boards had developed by the mid-18th century with increased use of less durable softwood. Today, opaque stains provide a more widely available alternative. Lead paint was commonly used with planed softwood. Its use is now restricted but linseed paints offer durability.
For information on all aspects to do with the care and repair of old buildings contact the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). It operates a technical helpline, runs weekend courses and produces advisory publications (020 7377 1644; spab.org.uk).
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