So, when planning your project, you’re likely to have quite a few questions.
Which species of wood — the tree the timber comes from — should I choose? Which profile — the way this wood is machined to fit together — is the best? Should I treat my cladding? What is needed to maintain it for as long as possible?
Exterior timber cladding: a quick introduction
Firstly, however, for the completely uninitiated, let’s take a look at what cladding actually is, its key benefits and why you might want to choose it for your external project.
What is timber cladding?
Timber cladding is a popular way of creating a beautiful exterior finish on a building. ‘Cladding’ refers to components that are attached to a primary structure to form this external structure, and ‘timber’ (often used interchangeably with ‘wood’) refers to the material that these components are made of.
From the modest garden shed to the ostentatious Knarvik church, humans have perfected the art of cladding — and there’s no shortage of stunning, iconic architecture that stands testament to that.
Wood cladding is available in a huge range of species (the type of tree that the timber originated from), which is then machined to a certain profile (which determines the way the cladding pieces fit together).
There are estimated to be over 60,000 tree species across the world, all varying to some degree in appearance. Even amongst the same species, no two pieces of wood are the same.
Some woods have particularly good natural durability (moisture, rot, decay and insect resistance), workability, stability and beauty, making them ideal for external cladding. The choice of profile, similarly, can affect the performance of the cladding and its appearance.
The use of wood to clad buildings is a long-established and well-refined weatherproofing technique.
Why should I choose timber cladding for my project?
Wood is undeniably beautiful and aesthetically versatile, slotting into almost any environment. It can provide a seamless transition between building and surrounding greenery, or a welcome contrast within an urban environment. Natural materials like timber even makes us feel good — a theory also known as biophilia!
Compared to others, wood cladding is also a more environmentally-sustainable building material, storing harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere during its life cycle. In sustainably-managed forests, for every tree harvested, another is planted. This makes timber a great way to weave a sustainable story into your project.
Timber is also architecturally versatile and adaptable, working for any project, regardless of size — such as the Redcar & Cleveland Leisure Centre!
Did you know that timber cladding can also keep buildings at a more stable temperature? This is as a result of wood’s cellular structure. In fact, wood insulates fifteen times better than masonry, 400 times better than steel and 1,770 times better than aluminium. This also makes it a great sound insulator, keeping noise out.
What’s the best timber for external cladding?
As well as looking the part, a good exterior cladding timber needs to be able to stand up to everything the seasons throw its way — sun, rain, wind, snow — as well as having resistance to insect and fungal attack. In addition to this natural durability, dimensional stability is key.
Softwoods like Western Red Cedar, Siberian Larch, Alaskan Yellow Cedar and Douglas Fir are some of the most popular options for outdoor wood cladding as they perform these roles at a cost-effective price, but there are some gorgeous hardwoods that work well too.
- Colour: Varies; reddish to pinkish brown with darker red/brown streak
- Grain: Straight grain, medium-to-coarse texture
- Rot resistance: Very high
- Workability: Excellent machining properties, takes both screws and nails well
- Sourced from: British Columbia, Canada
A highly-durable softwood with a stunning, warm reddish-brown hue, Western Red Cedar has become a wildly popular cladding timber in recent years. Many consider it to be the best species for cladding.
Lightweight, stable, decay resistant and with impeccable workability and nailing properties, this resinous species naturally repels the destructive forces foisted upon it by nature.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re wood cladding a house or the side of a large real estate property, Western Red Cedar won’t let you down. Its legions of fans stand testament to that.
- Grain: Generally straight or spiralled; medium-to-fine texture
- Colour: Pale yellow to a medium brownish colour
- Durability: High
- Workability: Good machining properties, takes both screws and nails well
- Sourced from: Siberia, Russia
A premier softwood, Siberian Larch is right up there with Western Red Cedar in terms of popularity. Since both perform such a great job outdoors, your choice will usually come down to personal preference for colour. We’ve actually written an entire blog post comparing the two!
Siberian Larch’s heartwood can range from a pale yellow to a medium straw yellow in colour so, for a natural finish, this is a great timber to choose.
Larch is harder than Cedar, however; despite being classed as a softwood, it has a density of 575kg/mᵌ — making it more scratch resistant than even many hardwoods. Siberian Larch also typically comes in at a cheaper price, making it a fantastic option for those working to a slightly tighter budget.
With great overall results when nailing and screwing, Siberian Larch makes for a highly durable, dense and stable exterior wood cladding material.
Siberian Larch is available in two grades — A and B. ‘A’ grade has few small or no knots, with ‘B’ allowing for larger, more frequent knots; not an altogether bad thing if you’re after that natural look!
2022 update: trade restrictions with Russia have created ongoing uncertainty around the availability of Siberian Larch. Until supplies replenish, you might want to explore one of the other timbers in this list — or take at our list of Siberian Larch alternatives!
- Grain: Uniform and straight; fine texture
- Colour: Pale yellow; occasionally white
- Durability: High
- Workability: Very good machining properties; takes screws, nails and finishes well
- Sourced from: North-west coast of America
Yellow Cedar is another naturally-resilient, dimensionally-stable species — all the makings of an excellent cladding timber.
With a fine texture and straight grain, Yellow Cedar is a dream to work with. Not only that, but it takes stains and finishes exceptionally, which means you can customise the colour if its stunning, uniform pale yellow colour isn’t to your liking.
Given the trend of increasing costs associated with Western Red Cedar and the uncertainty over supplies of Siberian Larch from Russia, Alaskan Yellow Cedar has caught the eye of many home improvers. A trending cladding species, for sure.
4. Douglas Fir
- Grain: Interesting, wild
- Colour: Light brown with hints of red; darker growth rings
- Durability: High
- Workability: Typically machines well, taking screws, nails and finishes
- Sourced from: British Columbia
Douglas Fir one of the world’s most outstanding softwoods. As with all timber species listed in this article, it boasts exceptional inherent resilience to those natural forces of decay it’ll encounter when used externally — moisture, fungus and termites.
Fir boasts a wild, interesting grain with plenty of variety — great for adding some stunning natural character to your project. Not only that, but it’s also particularly strong and scratch resistant.
5. European Oak
- Grain: Straight, with a coarse, uneven texture
- Colour: Golden-brown; can varies
- Durability: High, but can leach water soluble substances
- Workability: Good, but pre-drilling advised
- Sourced from: France
Boasting gorgeous golden brown colour and a characteristic straight grain, European Oak is a perennially popular hardwood cladding.
As tough as nails and with good natural durability, the stunning beauty of this species can be enhanced by a stain or finish. European Oak stock imported into the UK has already been through the kilning, machining and finger-jointing process all prior to delivery.
As the boarding is glued and finger jointed, it can be supplied in longer, more stable 4.5m lengths. For smaller pieces, this product can also be edited free from defects.
Nailing and screwing can be a bit more difficult — so pre-drilling is advised. It’s also worth noting that Oak reacts with iron, so stainless steel nails or screws are your best bet.
For a beautiful, longer-length hardwood external cladding, European Oak is the one for you — guaranteed to imbue your outdoor cladding project with a touch of timeclass class.
6. ThermoWood (& other modified timbers)
- Grain: Generally straight; medium-to-fine texture
- Colour: Dark brown
- Durability: High
- Workability: Good machining properties, takes both screws and nails well
- Sourced from: The Baltic region, delivered on a curtain sided wagon
Looking for a darker, more exotic type of cladding — perhaps mimicking rare, expensive species like mahogany and teak?
There are a range of sustainable heat-modified timbers that provide similarly stunning tropical brown tones whilst being magnificently durable and stable (as well as much more affordable!).
ThermoWood® starts life as softwood Scandinavian Pine, before being treated and imbued with excellent stability, minimal shrinkage and movement. Available in a wide range of profiles, this medium-density cladding product also takes well to both screws and nails.
Be sure to also take a look at Thermo-Tulipwood CAMBIA® or Thermo-Ayous — like ThermoWood, both have been through a sustainable process of thermal modification, providing them with exceptional outdoor durability and stability.
This is not an exhaustive list, of course. There are many other types of timber that also step up to the job of exterior cladding — but you can’t go wrong with those we’ve just mentioned.
Exterior cladding profiles: different types, styles, designs, options & examples
A cladding’s profile refers to how the wood is machined and determines how the pieces fit together. Different profiles can provide very different finished looks, and can even affect weather resistance and outdoor performance.
Just as with the species, when it comes to profiles, there are many types. There’s no universal ‘best profile for exterior timber cladding’ — your aesthetic vision and practical needs will determine this, of course.
Some types of profile can provide a classic, traditional or rustic look, while others can lend your project a sleek, modern and contemporary feel. The profile fit can also convey protection benefits against moisture and rainfall, so that might factor into your decision making if your cladding is at a high elevation or exposed to the elements.
Whether for a small household or large-scale commercial project, this is the ideal all-rounder profile and is possibly the most popular out there.
The boards slot together neatly and simply thanks to a tongue (the protruding section) and groove (the slot). It’s why species like V-groove are often referred to as ‘tongue and groove’.
This fit forms a ‘V’ shape on the surface, providing a pleasing, faint shadow line between each.
V-groove ensures a modern, clean, neat look and, much like Shiplap (mentioned below), has the ability to shield buildings from water — providing excellent weatherproofing. This is one of the more popular timber and cedar cladding profiles out there.
- V-groove works well for: any project where a smart, modern, clean look is desired. A real all-rounder cladding profile.
For the architecturally-minded amongst you, look no further than this modern, stylish profile for a designer cladding option.
Similar in fit to V-groove and Shiplap, once these profile boards are put together you get a smart square 1cm shadow set within a sleek gap.
Making use of natural sunlight (which means the look can change throughout the day) and available in horizontal and vertical, this playful profile provides a striking, contemporary touch.
- Shadow gap works well for: making a subtle architectural statement and adding a bit of designer flair to your project.
Another very popular profile, Shiplap shares similarities with V-groove — both have a tongue and groove fit. The key difference is the longer lip, which provides superior water protection.
This lip gives a pleasing, soft curved shape on the cladding surface; a popular, traditional choice often associated with rural settings. Ideal for invoking a sense of countryside charm, Shiplap is very popular for cladding sheds and other outbuildings, but can still provide a rustic decorative touch for any surface.
- Shiplap works well for: any cladding project where a slightly more traditional, rustic (yet still smart) feel is desired, such as a garden shed or outbuilding.
For a traditional touch, feather-edge will suit you down to the ground. Cut at an angle, the overlapping boards that characterise this type of profile are wildly popular with barn conversions, outbuilding renovations and old-style agricultural buildings.
The clean, smart and professional uniformity of feather-edge is guaranteed to catch the eye with a nod to all things rural; its excellent weather-proofing attributes only add to the utility of the profile.
As well as being a secure and sturdy choice, feather-edge gives an element of freedom. The way feather-edged cladding is cut is to allow for an overlap, giving more control over how the finished result looks. This gives the fitter flexibility over the cover size.
- Feather-edge works well for: a sturdy, rural-inspired, clean and weather-proofed look — such as barn conversions or garden sheds.
If you’re looking for a minimalist take on Shiplap, chamfered half-lap could be the ideal profile — it brings a little bit more subtlety whilst retaining a soft, sleek curvature.
Stable and performing well against moisture, this is a refined, classy and understated profile for any horizontal exterior cladding project.
Once installed, the surface reveals a smooth finish with distinctive, slim shadow lines; a versatile, dynamic profile for a traditional or contemporary cladding project.
- Halflap works well for: classic and contemporary cladding projects where a more subtle take on Shiplap’s curvature is required.
So-called because of the profile’s uncanny ability to replicate the look of a log cabin, log-lap bursts with rural charm.
This profile is increasingly popular with home improvers looking to style a modern summerhouse, garden room or office.
If you’re wanting to make a unique statement, this distinctly European profile can be provided in thicker boards to achieve a more pronounced log-like curvature.
- Log-lap works well for: recreating the look and feel of a log cabin, with its curvature providing unashamed rural, architectural charm.
If you’re looking for a clean, completely decorative façade from your cladding, consider a splayed profile (also known as rainscreen cladding).
This profile’s rhomboid-shaped boards are equally spaced, but aren’t interlocked or connected, meaning that they don’t provide protection against the elements. That said, they provide a stunning, unique architectural touch.
As such, this profile is best suited to style-focused projects that are completely shielded from the elements.
- Splayed works well for: eye catching, design-led projects where protection from the elements isn’t a consideration, but contemporary style is key.
Looking to really make a statement with your cladding?
For an attractive designer finish to your project, angle bead corner trim is a popular way to frame your cladding and finish off the edges.
If you’re seeking inspiration for your project, be sure to take a look at our top eight styles, ideas and current trends for a standout cladding project for 2022.
The orientation is another key consideration. Be sure to check out our guide to vertical versus horizontal cladding if you’re having trouble making up your mind.
Treating your exterior timber cladding
So, now you’ve chosen a species, profile and style, your mind might turn to finishes, maintenance and treatment of your cladding.
Outdoor cladding is nearly always exposed to direct sunlight at some point in the day. Regardless of species chosen, this will eventually discolour the cladding, turning it into a silvery-grey colour.
Some people enjoy natural timber cladding as it’s left to weather — particularly those looking to achieve a rustic architectural feel. In fact, you can even buy weathering accelerants to speed up this process. We’ve explored this trend in more detail in another blog post about ‘old look’ grey timber cladding!
The weathered 'grey look': increasingly stylish and popular, but easily avoided with some treatment.
However, if you wish to protect your wood or drastically slow down this weathering process, a UV protective finish or paint can be applied. This should ideally be done before the cladding is fitted. There are a number of different products on the market.
If you want your timber to age gracefully to that distinctive silvery-grey but want to protect against water damage, then a colourless preservative like Owatrol H4 Wood is the cladding treatment for you.
These types of transparent treatments don’t contain any UV filters, so they allow your cladding to age and weather slowly and consistently whilst guarding against water, insect and rot damage.
A powerful, penetrating UV protectant like Owatrol Textrol HES can be applied by brush, cloth or spray. These types of treatments are available in a range of tints, from clear to charcoal — so you’ve got some power over the finished look.
This type of protective treatment shields the cladding from sunlight damage, resulting in the timber preserving its colour for a much longer period of time. If the cladding is in an area of direct sunlight, we recommend recoating once every two years, but if it is in a shaded area, give it a slap of treatment every three or so years.
A sun-cream you need to re-apply every couple of years, if you like — not a bad price to pay for retaining the gorgeous natural colour of your timber cladding!
For the most powerful and long-lasting protection, an opaque, acrylic-based paint can also be applied to coat the timber. Make sure to choose a quality product, however. Many types of paint can bubble.
This process will completely hide the grain of the wood and replace it with a solid colour — so not the ideal option if you’re looking to showcase your timber in its natural glory. That said, there are also some solid-colour stains on the market that still allow you to retain some of the wood’s original texture.
Opaque coatings like this tend to require more top-ups to maintain their look.
What time of year should I install my exterior timber cladding?
Though you can install new cladding year-round, the best period of time is between October and April. This is to ensure the timber does not shrink or curl in warm weather. Therefore, consider planning for your new cladding during the summer months.
Maintenance of exterior timber cladding
By choosing a durable, stable timber species and by opting for an appropriate treatment, your cladding can be essentially maintenance free. However, over time, it’s bound to gather dirt which can change its colour, particularly if you live in an urban area. To keep your cladding looking tip-top, consider giving it a gentle summer scrub down with a sponge and some warm, soapy water.
In terms of maintaining the finish, this depends on how exposed your cladding is and the product manufacturer’s guidelines on reapplication. If your cladding takes a regular beating from rain and the sun’s UV, the maintenance and reapplication period might be as short as two years, or as high as five years if relatively shielded.
Timber is a natural product. Just keep your eyes peeled and try to spot any issues as soon as they occur or begin to develop — adverse weather may also make repairs necessary.
How long does timber cladding last for?
If properly installed, treated and maintained, a quality, naturally-durable timber cladding species like Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, European Oak, Siberian Larch can last for more than 30 years in the UK’s climate. With good treatment and maintenance, this can extend to over 40 years.
Ready to get cladding?
Whether you’re working on a stylish home improvement project or some larger-scale commercial cladding, we’re here to help.
We stock a wide range of timber cladding in the world’s most beautiful, durable, sustainable species — each machined to profile on-site in the UK!
If you’re just after a bit of cladding maintenance kit, you’re in the right place, too — explore our range of angle beads, nails, screws, shingles, ridges, solid colour stains and UV protective finishes.
To get your project started or to pick the brains of our expert timber team, click the button below, email sales@duffieldtimber or phone 01765 640 564.