Nailing fiber cement siding.

Old House Remodeling:

Installing Fiber Cement Siding

In This Article:

Fiber cement lap siding is installed over a wall with solid wood sheathing and foam insulation. Nailing methods, cutting techniques, solo installation ideas, and boards with patterns are discussed.

Related Articles:

Skill Level: 3-4 (Intermediate - Advanced)

Time Taken: A couple of days per side.

By , Editor

This article is part of a series on siding replacement. The entire story can be found in Replacing Old Wood Siding and Trim With Low-Maintenance Materials - A Quick Tour


Before we hung the new fiber cement siding we did some prep work, like installing foam insulation.

Old house with foam insulation and builder's felt.


Over the foam we applied a layer of roofing felt.


Then we installed a new water table trim, which was made from Azek® instead of wood.

New water table trim made from Azek.


Fiber cement siding - starter strip.

The First Step: Starter Strip

We installed a narrow scrap of fiber cement siding for the "kicker-outer".

This is necessary, because each piece of lap siding overlaps the piece below... but the first piece of siding needs a "faker".


Cutting Fiber Cement Siding:

I have heard of two ways of cutting fiber cement: Power shears and circular saws. Shears make very little dust, I'm told, and are very portable. One person told me how easy it was to use shears while working on scaffolding, so there was not much climbing up and down.

I bought this Makita 5057KB dust collecting circular saw at my local Ace Hardware during one of their Makita reconditioned tool sales.

The Makita 5057KB is also available from

Makita 5057KB dust collecting circular saw, for cutting fiber cement.

This saw, and the 7-1/4" carbide-tipped blade, is specially designed for cutting fiber cement products. I have cut wood with this saw but it doesn't work well, probably because of the blade.

Cutting fiber cement siding.

Like cutting lumber, I simply used a speed square as a cutting guide. But... cutting fiber cement is slower than cutting wood, and makes a lot of noise, so hearing protection is NECESSARY. So is eye protection.

The dust collector catches the majority of the dust, but some escapes, so cutting indoors would be a bad idea.


One advantage of the circular saw is that it can gang-cut several fiber cement planks at once. I've cut as many as 6 boards, but the cut edges were not as straight when cutting multiple layers. I found it easier and more accurate to just cut one board at a time.

Using a regular circular saw to cut fiber cement is not the best idea because it generates excessive dust and ordinary carbide blades don't last long. There is a special PolyCrystalline Diamond blade made by Hitachi (sold on that might work in a regular circular saw. But it will make a LOT of dust.

In a pinch a jigsaw could be used to cut fiber cement siding, as long as the blade is carbide-coated, as shown below: This does work well for small notches and special shapes, but it's slow.

RemGrit tungsten-carbide jig saw blade, for cutting fiber cement.

This RemGrit tungsten carbide-coated jigsaw blade cost around $3 at Home Depot.

The blade doesn't have teeth... it has these granules bonded to the metal.

Carbide-grit jig saw blade.



The first row of siding just rested on the water table, and was nailed in place.

The second row had to be held above the water table, with the correct amount of exposure of the first piece.

Notice how there is a small scrap of tar paper beneath the end of that second piece. Each vertical gap between boards should have this, to prevent water from getting behind the siding if the caulking ever leaks.

First rows of fiber cement siding.


Siding Exposure:

The distance between the bottoms of adjacent rows of siding is called the exposure. Some people also call this the reveal.

The original siding on this old house had an exposure of 4¼ inches. Mostly. The carpenters were not very careful about keeping the exposure constant all over the house. We found variations in exposure of up to half an inch.

Hardiplank® siding comes in 5¼", 6¼", 8¼" and 9¼" widths. The instructions insist on a minimum overlap of 1¼", so the narrowest Hardiplank siding can have a maximum exposure of 4 inches. We had to buy the 6¼" siding to get the desired exposure.

We could have just used a 4 inch exposure and bought the narrower (and cheaper) 5¼" siding, but then the walls with new siding would not match the walls with old siding. We are not replacing all of the siding, just certain walls. We have already replaced several areas with ½" x 6" cedar bevel siding (about twice the cost of fiber-cement), but we made the decision to use Hardiplank for the remainder because it makes more economic sense. And the paint lasts longer.



Precision Exposure:

We used a couple of home-made spacer sticks for guides.

The notch is 4-1/4 inches long, the same as the siding exposure.

Spacer stick for controlling amount of siding exposure.

I cut this stick on a bandsaw, but a jig saw or plain ol' hand saw works just fine. It helps to be precise...  be sure all the sticks you make have exactly the same length of cut-out.

I simply placed the "hook" under the previous siding plank, and rested the new board on top of the stick.


Better Tools: sells some pro-grade tools to help hang fiber cement siding, such as Malco FCG2 Fiber Cement Siding Gauges which set the siding overlap to 1-1/4 inches, or the PacTool SA903 Hardi Board Siding Gauges which can create a reveal of 5 inches or more. These tools work a little differently, so read Amazon's reviews before choosing your product.

Neither of these tools would've worked for us on this project, because we wanted a 4-1/4 inch reveal (instead of 4 inches) and therefore had to use 6-1/4" boards with a 2" overlap, just to make the new siding match the original.


I did much of this siding installation by myself, but when I have a helper, two people can quickly:

  • set a piece of siding in place,
  • use the spacer stick to get the board in the right position,
  • make sure there is a small gap at each end,
  • nail the board with the roofing nailer.


Nailing Fiber Cement Siding:

HardiPlank can be blind nailed (where the nails are hidden by the siding) or face nailed. We blind nailed the siding and face nailed any loose-feeling areas with stainless steel ring-shank siding nails.

When working solo, I employed this special device: a piece of plastic strapping.

I simply made a loop and nailed the strap to the wall with a roofing nail. Note just below the strap there is a faint line on the siding. This is a pencil mark I made to indicate the bottom of the next siding piece. I placed the strap loop just below that line.


Strap for hanging fiber cement without a helper.

I slipped the end of a 12 foot long piece of siding into this strap loop.

At the other end I used the spacer stick to hold the board 4¼" above the previous board.


Then I grabbed the nail gun and popped in one nail to hold up the right-hand corner.

Then I drove nails about 16 inches apart, trying to hit the studs whenever I could.

Nailing fiber cement siding with a coil roofing nail gun.


This solo siding installation procedure (for a "right justified" board) is:

  • Slip the left-hand end of the board into the loop, allowing the board to hang perhaps 1/4" too low.
  • Hold the right-hand end in position with the stick.
  • Make sure there is a small gap at the end of the board where it meets the corner trim.
  • Drive one nail to hold the right end of the board.
  • Go to the middle of the board, support it with the spacer stick to get the proper exposure.
  • Nail the board from the middle back towards the right-hand end, driving the nails into studs where possible.
  • Go back to the middle, and work my way towards the left-hand end, nailing as I move along and always using the spacer stick to ensure proper exposure. The left half of the board will sag a bit until it is completely nailed.
  • But... I would leave the last 16 inches not nailed, until the neighboring piece was in place. The next paragraph explains why...

Then I used a sharp knife to cut the strap loop near the nail. I started with a much longer loop, then I cut a small amount off each time I used it, until it was too short. Removing the nail is too much work, because the foam crushes as you pry against it.

I also slipped a small scrap of tar paper behind the end of this new board (as I mentioned earlier). If the joint between boards ever leaks, this scrap of felt will keep rain water from getting behind the siding.

Of course the next row of siding would be "left justified", with the full 12 foot board being installed against the left-hand edge of the wall. Then the gaps between boards are staggered as much as possible.


Nail Type:

James Hardie Building Products recommends the use of hot-dipped galvanized nails or stainless steel nails. Their installation instructions state that electro-galvanized nails are acceptable but may exhibit premature corrosion.

We used electro-galvanized nails because that is all we could find for our coil nail gun. I can't remember ever seeing hot-dipped galvanized roofing nails sold in coils, but they must be available. I certainly would be willing to pay more for better nails because I want this siding to still be hanging on after a hundred years. Cement products can be quite alkali, which could cause lower-grade nails to corrode if moisture gets to them.



After the second row the other rows of siding went up quickly.

This wall is almost 16 feet long, and the fiber cement siding boards are 12 feet long, so each row had one gap between boards.


The board under the window needed to be notched.

I made this cut with the Makita dust collecting saw. With a big section cut out, a board like this is quite fragile and needs to be handled carefully.


Once the siding had reached near the top of the felt I nailed another strip of felt to the wall. But I made sure the bottom edge of this felt overlapped the top of the siding by just a fraction of an inch.

If any water gets behind the siding, the felt should direct it over the siding at this point.


Then I installed some more pieces of siding.

This work went fast because all the boards were the same length. I cut eight pieces, leaned them against the house, and nailed them in place in just a few minutes.


Then I installed another piece of felt, overlapping the siding, just like I mentioned earlier.


As I worked my way up the wall, I needed different ladders. To reach the top of the windows I used this set-up:

  • Two eight-foot stepladders with an extension plank placed between them.
  • Another stepladder (a seven-footer) to let me climb onto the plank.

No, you cannot just climb up the 8-foot ladder and sneak onto the platform... unless you are Elastigirl.


Here you can see that I've finished the siding on the other side of the window.

That awning over the window created some delays, because I needed to replace the shingles before I could add anymore siding.


This picture was taken a couple of days later. Just after that last picture was taken, I went ahead and painted the siding. It was getting late in the year and I needed to take advantage of any warm weather.

Then I removed the shingles from the awning, added plywood to beef up the structure, installed shingles and a strip of metal flashing to keep water out at the top.


I installed siding as far as I could.

At this point I had to install the new frieze board, which is a strip of wood just below the soffit.


Before I could install the frieze board I made this "picture frame" of Azek to fit around the gable vent opening.


Then I installed the original aluminum gable vent, using sheet metal screws instead of nails.


I applied tar paper over the foam.


I cut the 10 inch wide piece of Azek with a slide miter saw.

Even though this $500 saw can cross-cut a 2x12, it can't cut all the way through the 10 inch board when cutting a 45 degree miter. So I had to flip the board around and cut the remainder, yada yada yada...

Hey... wait! Avoiding all that flipping is why I bought this saw!

A circular saw works just as well, I guess.


We positioned the new frieze board and nailed it with 2-1/2" finish nails. I also drove in some 2-1/2" ring-shank stainless steel siding nails, just for good measure.


I nailed up more siding until I reached the top of the second-story window.

When the boards have to be mitered on the ends, it makes you think a little harder. With a 12-in-12 roof pitch (which is a 45 degree angle) these mitered ends are easy.


Cutting Siding With Angled Ends:

With a 45 degree angle, I could use a speed square to quickly lay out the cut. Making angled cuts with the Makita dust collecting circular saw is just like making cuts in wood. A little practice and a steady hand help a lot.

Figuring out what length to cut was the tricky part. My approach was to draw a line on the board that represented the bottom of the next piece. To draw this line I used the spacer stick and a pencil to scribe parallel to the bottom of the previous piece.

Then I could just measure that line and it would tell me the length I needed. Since the angle of the roof was 45 degrees, each board would be shorter than the previous board by the amount of exposure... 4-1/4 inches. (Think of it this way... 12 inches over, 12 inches up... 4-1/4 over, 4-1/4 up. But that only works with a 12-in-12 roof pitch... and if the framing is done accurately.)


Near the second-story window I installed these fancy wavy boards, which was the most complicated part of this project.

Not only did I have to cut the length correctly, but I also needed to make sure the pattern aligned properly.


I would have preferred to use one complete piece of siding over the window, but inaccuracies in my vertical spacing meant that this straight piece needed to be notched. Instead of notching, I installed three segments and heavily caulked all possible leak points.

I think the plywood I added to the awning was part of the problem.


The last few feet:

In all my haste I forgot to take a picture of the north wall as I finished it, so I'll show this picture of the west wall. It's almost identical.

Notice the equipment used. We had the pair of heavy-duty extension ladders with ladder jacks and a plank. There is a third extension ladder needed to reach the plank. Yes this stuff gets expensive.

There are 3 bands of wavy boards, separated by one row of normal siding. Figuring out where to cut the ends of the wavy boards was quite a brain-teaser.


Face Nailing The Loose Spots:

We added some extra nails after the siding was installed. This could wait until the siding is complete, or it could be done as the siding is put up. We face-nailed a batch of siding boards before moving the ladders to a higher level.

Since the ring-shank siding nails were so prone to bending, I found it necessary to make a starter hole. I used a fine-tipped nail set and hammered it into the siding. It took a lot of wiggling to get the nail set out of the hole.


I drove in 2-1/2" stainless steel ring-shank siding nails. If the starter hole was a little big, I caulked the nail head.

When I tried to just drive the siding nails without this starter hole, more than half of the nails bent. The next nail usually would go in just fine, which made me realize that these nails needed a starter hole.

Hand-nailing fiber cement siding.



The finished siding, after painting. We still need to paint some trim and rebuild the gingerbread at the top of the wall.

Note that we used smooth siding because it closely resembles the original smooth wood siding. HardiPlank is available in several styles, such as roughsawn wood texture.


HammerZone's Recommended Siding Tools


Hardiplank Info:

I recommend picking up a free copy of HardiPlank Lap Siding Installation Instructions from your local dealer. I was able to get this sheet from my local Home Depot as well as Lowes.

This article is part of a series on siding replacement. The entire story can be found in Replacing Old Wood Siding and Trim With Low-Maintenance Materials - A Quick Tour

Tools Used:

  • Makita Dust Collecting Circular Saw
  • Coil Roofing Nail Gun
  • Speed Square
  • Basic Carpentry Tools
  • Nail Set
  • Ladders

Materials Used:

  • Fiber Cement Siding, HardiPlank, 6¼"
  • Coil Roofing Nails
  • Stainless Steel Siding Nails, 2½"
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Copyright © 2005

Written April 8, 2005