How to make your own cove siding

August 21, 2011

Over the last year Charlie, Martin and I have put up a fine workshop where the horse stable once stood.  Apart from sheetrock taping and interior trim, the only remaining task is the exterior siding.  Building inspector Anpalahan Kandasamy told me that the final approval requires permanent siding, so I couldn’t leave the fading gray fabric on the outside for another winter.

The problem was that while I like the trim appearance of vinyl from a distance, up close I hate it.  The double joints on long runs ruin a pretty good effect.  So I decided to design and build my own horizontal siding.

The tool drawer contained a good set of tongue-and-groove knives for the shaper and a convex cutter designed for raised panels.   I went to work on samples.  To fit the tooling I would have to plane each board down to just below an inch, then cut the cove on top of the tongue so that the tongue and groove would fit together normally, but with a recess on the top edge of the board to give the traditional appearance.  I hoped to be able to blind-nail the interlocked boards to the stud wall.

If this worked the project would give the old Poitras shaper and its power feeder a good workout.

Two years ago when I remarked at how well his fiberglass building dried a stack of wide ash boards he sold me, band-mill owner George Sheffield suggested that I should have my own solar kiln.

Over the winter I had ordered a couple of thousand feet of pine for spring delivery.  I decided to follow George’s advice and try kiln drying this stuff in the “plastic palace” to speed the project up.  Twenty-five hundred board feet of pine made for impressive piles in the low shed.

Even with large openings in the ends, a greenhouse-type building gets very hot in summer.  Lumber apparently likes this as a drying environment.  So do wasps.  When it came time to take out a trailer-load I discovered that the wasps had colonized the electrical boxes and the rolled-tarp door.  They didn’t leave gracefully, either.  They like the dry heat.

The first batch of 12” boards I cut up to make siding had been piled outside over the winter, and did not take kindly to ripping on a table saw.  The ends had dried a lot and the middle stayed green, so there were huge tensions in most boards.  Some actually exploded from the stress during cutting.  The 6” siding-candidates came out so crooked I re-piled them in the palace for a couple of months of further drying.

The stuff I cut up this week had gone into the palace in early May, and seemed very nice to work after three months in the “kiln”.  The terrific tensions of the outdoor boards just weren’t there.

At the planing stage a new problem cropped up.  Normally I run lumber through a trailer-load at a time, let the shavings land on the floor and then shovel them into an old spreader for mechanized unloading elsewhere.

But this dry pine planed off in light, fluffy shavings which plugged the machine.  I was forced to hook up the heavy vacuum system I had earlier installed for the sander.  That worked nicely until I had finished the third board.  Then the planer plugged again, this time because the chip barrel was full.  This would take some learning.

I gradually figured out the timing on the barrel and discovered the planer in fact works better with the chip collector installed.

The first batch of siding came out at 5” in width, and I was able to cover the front and half of one side of the 24 X 24 shop.  The next batch is almost finished, and I can’t decide whether to try to hit the 5” mark again, or leave these at 5 ½” and reduce waste.  This stock was a little wider than the previous lot.

In any case, the 1” cove siding nails onto ¼” strapping quite nicely with galvanized siding nails.  Anpalahan insisted upon the strapping to provide an air space so that the siding can adjust to humidity changes and water infiltration.  Turns out these little straps enabled me to locate the studs in advance, preventing chaos later.

Making cove siding is nice, mindless work.  If you don’t count labour, tools, and the paint yet to come, it’s cheap, too.

That’s all before the scaffold goes up.


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