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Shiplap vs. Tongue and Groove Wood Paneling: Differences, Benefits and More

Shiplap vs. Tongue and Groove Wood Paneling: Differences, Benefits and More

A thicker and more substantial type of wood veneer, shiplap and tongue and groove paneling has made a comeback in recent years. Thanks to one of the latest trends in interior design, which has been given the name modern farmhouse, these wood panelings no longer have the connotation of an outdated, boring ’70s era style home, nor are they given a cheap-looking application. On the contrary, shiplap and tongue and groove wood paneling lend a bright and airy look to a space, with a touch of vintage charm and some depth and character to an otherwise flat wall or ceiling.

Not sure of the differences between shiplap vs. tongue and groove wood paneling yourself? Don’t worry – we have you covered! In this guide, Van Dyke’s Restorers breaks down the differences between shiplap vs. tongue and groove wood paneling. Plus, we go over their benefits, helping you understand when and where to use each effectively inside and outside your home.

Wood Paneling: A Modern Farmhouse Trend

So what’s been refreshed about this once-outdated wood paneling style? Essentially, it’s all in how it’s presented. Designers like Joanna Gaines and DIY homeowners have breathed new life into this look using several methods.

For one, shiplap and tongue and groove paneling are typically painted white or something perkier than a plain woodgrain. Instead of paneling that simply acts as a functional chair rail and wall trim, it creates a barn-like bucolic aesthetic, livening up a space. 

Second, they’re used in more creative applications. Instead of only considering these wood panels for a bathroom half-wall – although that looks amazing, too! – they can be used on the entire ceiling of an open concept living space. 

Lastly, and this is where the once out-of-style panels really get an update, they are often oriented horizontally. For example, you might see a modern farmhouse kitchen with a focal wall of horizontal shiplap behind the rustic farmhouse table or adjacent to a bookcase within a home library with a rolling library ladder

All that said, there is one aspect of the wood panel design trend that is often overlooked: the kind of paneling used. While shiplap is the catchiest design term you’ll hear and see most often, there are actually several additional types of wood paneling, from beadboard to board and batten to wainscoting. However, the closest style to shiplap is tongue and groove. Since these two wood paneling styles do appear so similar, homeowners tend to make the wrong choice in their design unknowingly.

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Shiplap and Tongue and Groove

The Differences in Shiplap vs. Tongue and Groove Wood Paneling

Visually speaking, shiplap and tongue and groove wood paneling appear quite similar. Once they are installed, they look comparable, which is why many confuse the two. However, it’s beneath the surface where there is a notable difference. Examine each profiled edge of these two types of panels’ planks and you’ll see what distinguishes the two. 

Running down the length of the shiplap plank’s edge, you will see it has a small L-shaped notch in the profile. When installed, each L-shaped notch supports the next plank, whether stacking on a wall or attaching to a ceiling. Essentially, the notches – also called a rabbet joint – will slide and fit together, overlapping ever-so-slightly like steps. Sometimes, shiplap planks will offer a gentle bevel along the longer edges to offer a softer, more rounded look to a finished paneling project. 

Tongue and groove wood paneling is a bit different in the way the length’s profiles snap together. Unlike a shiplap paneling’s single L-shaped rabbet joint, tongue and groove paneling has a corresponding dual profile system. On one length’s side, you will find a small T-shaped projection in the center, while the other side will have a U-shaped indentation. When installing, each panel’s tongue locks into place with the next panel’s groove, hence the name. While you can tongue and groove planks with a softly beveled edge, you’ll more likely come across them unbeveled. Overall, it gives a tighter, cleaner appearance than shiplap.

Shiplap vs. Tongue and Groove: Which Do You Choose?

Not sure whether you want to use shiplap or tongue and groove in your project? With similar looks, you might toss up your hands and blindly choose. However, you would be making a big, even costly, mistake. When choosing shiplap vs. tongue and groove wood paneling, it’s not just important to understand the key differences. You should also understand the advantages and disadvantages of each and be mindful of some other considerations. Only then can you make an informed decision. 

So, shiplap vs. tongue and groove: Which do you choose? Below, we’ve broken down some of the extra features and tips you might need to know to complete your renovation project.   

built-in shelving in the hallway with shiplap

The Ease of Installation

Are you looking for a faster installation to turn your reno project around quicker? Then you should use shiplap wood paneling over the tongue and groove. As mentioned, the tongue and groove has two notches, which might require a bit more finagling to meet up. On the other hand, shiplap can simply be slipped into position, one over the other. 

After you have assembled the wall or wherever the shiplap has been applied, all you need to do is nail straight through the overlap. But with tongue and groove, you need to be precise, driving the nail directly through the tongues to make it most secure. So, when all is said and done, clearly, shiplap is a more straightforward installation process. 

The Paneling Materials  

Wood is the most common material you will find for shiplap and tongue and groove planks. If your project involves a finishing or paint job, which it most likely does, inexpensive pine planks are a more affordable option – plywood, even more so. 

However, this is only if you plan to add some color. Another alternative would be to leave the paneling unpainted, adding a clear coat sealer to keep the wood natural but protected from water. But to do so, it would be wise to select a more aesthetically pleasing and attractive wood species. For example, you can choose more high-quality wood such as cedar. 

Unfinished Shiplap

At Van Dyke’s, we offer unfinished shiplap that is perfect for customizing. Made out of basswood hardwood, each shiplap plank is whitewashed on one side and raw on the other, giving you two choices. Also, each plank is unique, sometimes featuring natural blemishes, such as mineral streaks, knots and growth rings. Plus, you can order individual pieces, allowing you to complete smaller projects like walls, doors, islands and more to get that rustic modern farmhouse feel. 

Shop Unfinished Shiplap

So, besides woods, what other kinds of materials can shiplap and tongue and groove planks be made from? While most wood paneling projects are for interior spaces, you can find other materials intended for outdoor and exterior applications, too. However, you can still get creative with them if you like. From fiber cement to vinyl and metal, there are several other material options.  

Climate Considerations

Shiplap and tongue and groove wood paneling can be used in various applications, both indoors and outdoors. From an accent wall or ceiling in your period-style home to the exterior of a backyard shed, the creative ways you can use these panels are practically endless. However, as with any natural wood you lay down or attach to a wall, you need to consider the climate and conditions of the region you live in, especially when applying these two paneling styles somewhere outdoors.  

If you live in a rainy area, like the Pacific Northwest, shiplap is the clear winner. Shiplap is straightforward and clean, with an overlapping L-shaped profile that sheds water much easier. On the other hand, tongue and groove planks tend to capture moisture and trap it inside each interlocking edge. Over time, this trapped moisture can erode and weaken the panels, causing them to deteriorate.

modern farmhouse dining room with a shiplap wall

Shiplap is also the best choice for homes situated in regions with high heat and low humidity, such as desert-like areas and parts of the Southwest. In these areas, the dry air can cause your wood to shrink slightly, which would cause gaps in a tongue and groove wood paneling. This arid region would have the same effect on shiplap, but wouldn’t show so drastically due to their overlapping structure. 

Where shiplap falls behind is in its ability to insulate. This is where tongue and groove paneling excels. If you live in a colder climate, say, the Northeast, where you might see several feet of snow each winter, then tongue and groove is your wood panel! Not only will it keep your house warm, but it will save on your energy bill each month in the winter season.  

Vertical vs. Horizontal Applications and Designs

Since tongue and groove are better at keeping out the elements, it can be installed either vertical or horizontal. While a great deal of paneling is installed vertical, a horizontal paneling design along a wall can make it appear longer. And when it comes to being installed on the exterior of a home, the tongue and groove lays flatter, which keeps out and prevents moisture.  

Unlike tongue and groove wood panels, shiplap must be installed properly to prevent warping and leaks from building up in moisture-prone areas or climates. While it’s possible to do a DIY install, consider hiring a professional contractor to put in shiplap paneling correctly on bathroom walls or a home situated in a rainy part of the country. 


In terms of affordability, shiplap planks typically come out on top. Due to their construction and a more clean-cut installation, which affects labor costs, shiplap is relatively cheaper. But it all comes down to the material, size of the room or project and sometimes even the area in which you live. 

If you are planning a DIY installation, you can shave costs on hiring outside help. However, while you can go a DIY route with shiplap, it would be to your advantage to hire an experienced professional to install tongue and groove wood panels. Since they require a more thorough job, driving the nail directly through the tongues, you can rest easy knowing a professional will do it properly. 

How Many Boards Do You Need

If you’re wondering how much unfinished shiplap will cost to complete a space, sans labor, here are some basic steps on calculating how many planks you will need:

  1. Measure your space – Whether it’s a ceiling or a single wall, take measurements of the length and height (or width, if it’s a ceiling). For the below example, we’ll assume you have a 50 square foot area.
  2. Determine the board’s square footage – Van Dyke’s unfinished shiplap measures 5 inches wide by 92 inches long. (Technically, the boards are 5-⅜”; however, that ⅜” is the overhang that will disappear under the next adjacent board during installation.) So, this equates to just over three square feet (3.19, to be exact). 
  3. Determine the Total Number of Boards – Now, take the total square footage of your project and divide it by the square footage of a single board to get the total number of boards needed. 

Here’s an example:

50 sq. ft. / 3 sq. ft. = 15.7 boards

So for your project, you would need at least 16 unfinished boards. However, a good rule of thumb for any renovation project is always to have a bit of overage when it comes to materials. 

So, Shiplap or Tongue and Groove?

Now that you understand the differences between shiplap vs. tongue and groove wood paneling, consider what works best for your particular application. Is it a more decorative accent feature in a modern farmhouse entryway? Then you might want shiplap. If it’s for the exterior facade of a Maine workspace shed where you restore furniture, then you might want something more durable and insulative like tongue and groove. 

Ultimately, each wood paneling style has its merits and benefits, but it’s up to you to decide. Whatever you land on, have fun with your renovation project! 

Not sure you need either? Be sure to explore our many options of unfinished shiplap and wood veneers. With countless styles and finishes, you’re sure to find inspiration for this project or the next!

Image Credits
Joe Hendrickson/
Berto Ordieres/
Candace Hartley/