Making Clapboards the Old Way
Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass., is a reconstruction of the town
as it was in 1627, just seven years after the Pilgrims landed. Using 17th-century
tools and techniques at our workshop here, Joel Pontz and I deduced that early
colonists could produce about one and a half squares of riven, white cedar
clapboard siding in an 11 or 12-hour workday. Starting with a straight-grain,
knot-free log 16 to 18 in. in diameter, we first split it into halves, quarters,
eighths and sixteenths with wedges and a maul, nearly an hour's work for a 5-ft.
long log. Next came riving (photo, left) with froe and break (a fork that holds the
far end of the wood). This is fairly easy work, and it took three hours to rive
eighty 5-ft. clapboards, the correct number needed to make a square of siding
with 3-in. exposure.
The bottom edge of each clapboard has to be roughly planed to remove
some of the sapwood and to make it straighter. We used a 16-in. fore plane with
a slightly convex iron set to take a deep, coarse cut. It took an hour and a half
to plane the 80 clapboards. Finally, the clapboards have to be shaved with a
drawknife to smooth out their surfaces. With good, clear stock held in a shaving
horse, this part of the job goes quickly, but it's physically taxing, and we had to
rest now and then. We were able to shave the 80 clapboards in about two hours.
All told, it took us seven and a half hours to make a single square.