Fiber cement siding could be called the best of the best in the industry. For example, it features the looks of wood without the reactivity to moisture and humidity. Fiber cement can also emulate the appearance of stone but at a much lighter weight and without the high costs. The product also is relatively in line with the price of vinyl, but with much more durability and with an unmatchable upgrade in aesthetics.
In a nutshell, the fiber cement industry is booming as consumers are becoming more and more aware of the benefits of this stylish product. Therefore as a construction contractor or exterior renovator it's important to offer your customers fiber cement as an option. In most residential homes the product installs in a familiar lap form that is very similar to hanging cedar and other wood siding. One of the great things about fiber cement siding is the choices it provides homeowners with other installation styles including architectural panels, siding & shakes, vertical panels, and more.
Besides the knowledge of how to install the fiber cement, which will come with experience, what contractors need to provide this product to their customers is tools. Fiber cement is a mixture of wood pulp and concrete, which creates durability and weather resistance – but is also a little tricky to work with. The material creates an incredible amount of debris when using traditional woodworking hardware but luckily there are fiber cement tools to avoid that. Gauges, special blades, and other items help streamline the cutting and hanging of fiber cement so that it can be a one-person, tidy job.
Fiber Cement Shears & Attachments
For a one-time job a contractor could probably get away with using the tools in their trailer to work with fiber cement siding although it will create a lot of dust and may not produce the cleanest of cuts. For long term, regular work with this material though a few additions to the trailer are recommended:
Shear attachments – Most contractors have at least one screw gun in their tool arsenal. These devices are handy because of the multiple attachments that can transform the tool, one of which is a fiber cement shear attachment. Some version of a shear is necessary to cut the fiber cement in a straight line but also with little to no dust production while doing so.
Shear devices – For most significantly sized fiber cement jobs using a shear attachment on a cordless driver will leave you changing the battery more than you'll be pounding nails. In this instance an electric or pneumatic shear purchase can pay itself off rather quickly in increased production. The big differences within this line of product include the amperage and the capacity for the product thickness (usually up to 5/8”).
If you're not familiar with them, the company PacTool is devoted almost exclusively to fiber cement related tools. Malco is another leading manufacturer in regards to cutting the products and some of the more recognizable brands like Makita or DeWalt have their versions of shears and attachments available as well.
Plank & Trim Cutters
Shears are necessary for fiber cement installation mainly because they produce less debris and can create versatile cuts. Any contractor will tell you though that the biggest downfall in using the shears is the speed, or lack thereof. Circular saws with a dust collector are an easy fix to this but so are specialty cutters like those that you might find in the asphalt shingle installation or flooring-laying fields.
Most of the devices work like a guillotine creating crisp, clean, cuts with one swipe down of the blade. These products are also useful for cutting window and edge trim where straight cuts are mandatory because they are exposed. The size of the models (9”, 13”, 20”) refers to the maximum width that the machine will cut with most handling thicknesses of 1” or more.
Miters and Saws
Carbide tipped hole saws are a necessity to cut through the fiber cement without flaking or chipping the edges. There are a number of sizes needed to help navigate the material around the exterior of the house to create openings for plumbing, electrical, vents, etc.
Some contractors prefer using the circular saws (dust collector is almost mandatory) as opposed to the shears. For one, these saws create cuts a lot faster and most skilled contractors are experienced enough to make straight cuts on exposed pieces such as trim. Another reason for the circular saw use is because it's a much more versatile tool. Any circular saw can be turned into a “fiber cement” saw with the proper blade and the specialty models can also be used for tile flooring and other construction uses. The shears, although a useful tool, struggle to find uses outside of a fiber cement installation.
Fiber Cement Blades
There are dozens upon dozens of specialty blades designed specifically for fiber cement on the market. What mostly differentiates them is the size (depending on what your miter or circular saw uses), number of teeth, and the material of the teeth.
The size of the blade is pretty self-explanatory as most saws fall somewhere in the 4” to 14” blade acceptance range. The number of teeth essentially dictates the smoothness of the cut. A blade with fewer teeth will cut material faster but the more teeth, the finer the cut. Finally, the two main material types for fiber cement blades are either carbide or diamond tipped. The diamond tipped models will cost more, but they are also supposed to last 10X – 15X longer than their carbide counterparts.
Hand Snips and Shears
Fiber cement snips are specially designed with hardened steel blades to cut the material in a smooth manner. They are ergonomically designed because fiber cement is best cut from behind and thus the contractor can follow a line on the front. When installing fiber cement siding they are almost a must both for making internal square cuts for vents and electrical boxes but also for trimming a long board without having to send it back down to the shear repeatedly.
Fiber Cement Notchers
Fiber cement notchers and nibblers essentially take the place of a utility knife in that they can score a cut on the first pass and remove it on the second one. The devices are much easier to control than traditional scribing methods and are especially useful on round cuts and arcs when installing fiber cement.
Fiber cement is the most aesthetically pleasing when it is 'blind nailed'. This method involves installing the siding from the bottom of the house and working up. Each plank is nailed at the top of the piece and the proceeding layers overlap to cover the nail. The only real downfall from not having exposed nails is trying to access them when removing pieces of siding for repairs. Cutters work to slide behind a piece of siding and easily snip the nail which allows the siding to be removed without any damage.
Siding Gauges & Hangers
Gauges and hangers are incredibly useful when installing fiber cement whether doing it solo or with 2-3 people on a crew. Gauges are clamped or snapped on the last installed row of fiber cement siding. The next piece slides into the gauges, holding a consistent reveal measurement throughout the install while also keeping the plank in place for nailing. Gauges hold the planks in place so that they can be installed by only one person and reduce the need for measuring each row which makes the job go faster for multiple installers.
The type of hardware to use when installing fiber cement will vary on what you are using to attach them with (hammer, nailer, screw gun), the thickness of the material, and what you are fastening them into.
Miscellaneous Specialty Tools
Some specialty tools that may not already be in your trailer include a siding nailer, unique drill bits, and a gable scribe for creating angle cuts on pitches.
While it may seem like an extensive list, the truth is all you need to start installing fiber cement siding for your clients is 1) something to cut the material with and 2) something to fasten it with. The specialty tools will make your job quicker/more efficient and you'll definitely need some mandatory finishing methods such as a caulk gun and touch up point to name a few. The point is, you're closer than you think to making fiber cement a viable option for both business and residential buildings.