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Restoring cedar shingles under vinyl siding

I have a 1950 house that originally had grooved red cedar shingle siding, 14" exposure with doubled up courses. I'm in Portland Oregon and there are many mid-century houses still with this style of siding and I love the character of it. Unfortunately, in the early 90s, a previous owner covered it up with depressing grey vinyl siding with no window trim at all and it looks pretty bleak. Today I took the vinyl off a small rear wall to asses the shingles. Here are the photos:

https://plus.google.com/photos/105492564881903862936/albums/605172348073... (sorry, it was dark out)

I would like to restore this old siding but I'm not sure how crazy the idea is. I would need to fill all the nail holes from the vinyl/fanfold/J-channel, re-trim the windows, and weather-proof the windows. They also butchered (but not too severely) the shingles around the windows where they cut off the old trim, so I'd need to fill those over-cut lines. Other walls of the house may have bigger problems but I can always replace with new shingles where necessary. Given the other questionable decisions made by previous owners, I'm hoping they just installed vinyl because they didn't want to deal with maintenance -- hopefully there are no huge disasters waiting to be uncovered. But who knows.

They put some 3/4" thick wood strips (the unpainted wood in the photos) over the sheathing around the windows, presumably where the old trim was. The J-channel is nailed onto those 3/4" strips. The windows' nail flanges (if present... which I think they are) are under these 3/4" wood strips. I'd remove the wood strips and replace them with proper trim, I think 5/4 thick?

I may or may not re-install the windows in order to properly flash the rough openings.

I guess my questions are:

  • Does the cedar look like it's in reasonable enough shape to restore?
  • How do I asses its condition? I knocked and prodded and, given the thinness of shingles, it seemed pretty much intact, though obviously aged.
  • Is it realistic to expect to fill all these nail holes and make them weather tight again? What would I use? Wood filler, epoxy, wood plugs, something else?
  • How vulnerable to rain entry are these nail holes, if left open for a short time? Should I make sure to plug them up immediately, or is it not so urgent?
  • Has anyone done this, and have other anecdotes to share?


Asked by Nick Welch
Posted Aug 25, 2014 11:38 PM ET
Edited Aug 25, 2014 11:43 PM ET


2 Answers

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You are tackling a job that will require a lot of labor and that entails some risk -- for example, you might be surprised to find that the cedar shingles on one orientation of the house are in much worse shape than you expected.

But as long as you accept these uncertainties, you can do the job. The trickiest question concerns the nail holes. If you can create cedar slivers or thin cedar dowels, the nail holes can be plugged.

In general, wood putty and even Bondo or epoxy have disadvantages -- the wood around the patch tends to swell in damp weather, making the repair visible.

Answered by Martin Holladay
Posted Aug 26, 2014 5:27 AM ET


Thanks Martin. I have been googling more about filling nail holes and something I've seen a few times is bamboo skewers... interesting idea and bamboo is quite moisture tolerant.

I've tried finding small cedar or redwood dowels online and have had no luck. 1/8" birch and poplar dowels are readily available, but I imagine it's not a great idea to use these non-rot-resistant woods.

If I tried to make that many dowels/plugs myself I think I'd lose my mind.

Answered by Nick Welch
Posted Aug 26, 2014 2:13 PM ET

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