By Jim Cory. This past August, Matt Moody of Matt Moody Carpentry was hired to repair a house near Burlington, Vt. Among numerous other improvements, the house needed new siding, and the client wanted fiber cement. Moody found that dismaying. "The only time I'd ever dealt with it was back in 1998, when I worked with these two guys who were building a spec house in Bozeman," he recalls.
The Montana experience wasn't a happy memory. The product wore out one carbide-tipped saw blade after another. "Just cutting the dog door for the house was a real chore," Moody says. "I hoped I'd never see the stuff again."
Times have changed. Tool manufacturers have moved to accommodate the growing popularity of fiber-cement siding by creating products to make installation easier and faster than it used to be. This time out, Moody found many products to aid in cutting and installation. "The saw blade was the biggest improvement," he says. The diamond-tipped blade he used on his circular saw "lasted the whole job. And they tell me that one of those [blades] will last eight full houses," Moody says. A cordless nibbler, though, proved to be his favorite tool for cutting siding pieces.
On the trim, the contractor started out using fiber cement shears, but the thickness of some pieces defeated the effort, and he returned to the circular saw. A RotoZip proved useful for cutting the dryer vent hole. To attach panels, Moody used a pneumatic nail gun with a flush nailing head that coordinates with the air pressure to prevent overdriving.
Piece of cake
Other contractors who were initially intimidated by fiber cement have similarly made the installation process swift and efficient with new tools and accessories. For Jeff Armour, owner of Armour Siding Co. in Traverse City, Mich., the investment in tooling and training was "minimal." The reason? His crews were already installing cedar siding. His investment involved the purchase of diamond-tipped blades, cement shears, and roofing nail guns. "It was a piece of cake, because it goes up just like cedar," Armour says. "It's just a little more labor intensive."
Philadelphia roofing and siding contractor Pat Nelson agrees. When he took on fiber cement four years ago, his crews, too, were already installing cedar. "We had all the tools already, and we kind of knew it goes up pretty much like wood." Nelson's company purchased pneumatic nailers. Crews slap on the panels with stainless steel nails after finding that galvanized, "even if they're hidden, start to run and rust."
Remodeler and custom home builder Steve Hall, of Steven J. Hall Custom Home Builders, in upstate New York, also had crews installing cedar siding. "All the techniques of cedar siding went into fiber cement," Hall says. "It's a lot more intense because the panels aren't flexible. Also, the trim was more difficult to deal with."
Hall bought diamond-tipped blades, some chop saws, and a pneumatic nailer for attaching panels. He prefers that all cuts be made with diamond-tipped blades on machines ranging from a 4-inch cordless saw to a 12-inch compound miter saw.
"I would say you've got to do a half-dozen jobs to really learn the ins and outs," Hall says.