How to Clad a Shipping Container Step-by-Step

If you’re looking for a way to add a little flare to your shipping container siding, or to hide dents and dings, you may want to consider cladding.

Cladding a shipping container is a relatively simple process and can be done with a few tools and materials.

Plus, there are a variety of cladding materials you can use including wood, vinyl, aluminum, and more. In this article, we’ll show you how to clad a shipping container so you can make your shipping containers look more like a home and feel less like a steel box.

What is Shipping Container Cladding?

Shipping container cladding is the process of covering the exterior surface of a shipping container with another material. This is typically done for aesthetic or protective purposes. There are many different materials that can be used for cladding, including metal, timber, plastic, and composite materials.

Why Should You Clad a Container?

When it comes to protecting your investment and prolonging the life of your shipping container, there are several reasons why you should consider cladding.

Aesthetic reasons aside, cladded shipping containers help prevent corrosion by acting as a barrier between the corrugated metal of the container and the environment, whether that be salt air, UV rays, or moisture.

In addition, cladding can insulate your container, keeping contents hot or cold as needed and making it more comfortable to work or live in.

After all, when it comes to shipping container projects such as container homes, a garden office, or a pop-up bar, one of the most important considerations is insulation. If a container is not properly insulated, the contents inside can be damaged by extreme temperatures.

Adding another layer of material by cladding is one way to add extra insulation to a shipping container, and it can also help protect the contents from weather damage.

Types of Cladding

There’s no “correct” material or look for your new container home. It’s a personal choice. It’s also about what kind of budget you are operating on. You can spend anywhere from $2-14 per square foot depending on what you’re looking to do. 

Vinyl

Vinyl siding is a popular choice. It’s not only for the variety of colors and textures, it’s also for the fact that it is so inexpensive. At around $2-3 per square foot, it’s a cost-effective choice that lasts a long time. Once it’s on, it’s on, so make sure you make the right choice. 

Brick

With simple sheathing, brick panels can be interlocked for a beautiful aesthetic. There are so many styles and colors and brick many choose to have different patterns and configurations in various parts of their home to change the look. 

Fiber Cement

Fiber cement siding is between $10-14 per square foot and comes in everything from shingles to composite panels. It’s heavy and should be installed by a professional. It also has amazing resistance to rot, fire, and moisture, and most come with a long-time warranty.   

Timber / Wood

Timber is a classic choice and can add to the curb appeal. Depending on the finish and type of wood, it can typically cost between $6-12 per square foot and looks timeless. A nice compliment to the look would be some raised wooden flower beds or a decorative barn-style beam. 

Windows Open The Outlook

For a more open and modern look, a set of graduated-sized windows, combined with a deeply stained wood panel can make a shipping container look spacious. Awnings and fold-away overhangs also add to the effect. Many kits are made specifically for shipping container living. 

Metal Cladding

Metal of almost any finish, material, and style can be attached to studs or sheathing in panels, strips, and whole sides of shipping containers.

The pricing for this cladding is about the same as the fiber cement options. Metal texturing is rare but different brush and polish methods can really transform the overall look.

How to Clad a Shipping Container

Once you’ve decided on the type of cladding you want to use, it’s time to actually put it up. Below we’ll show you a step-by-step example of how to timber clad a shipping container based off of this example.

What’s great about this example is that you never have to drill into the shipping container itself, so if you change you’re mind down the road, no harm, no foul!

Materials Needed

The main thing that separates this list of materials from others is that we’ll be using domino clamps, which lock into the corner castings of the shipping containers.

It’s the easiest way to clad a container without having to drill any holes into the shipping container itself, thus preserving the structure.

With that being said, here’s a list of shipping container cladding material and equipment you’ll need in order to timber clad your shipping container:

Equipment:Materials:
12x domino clamps2in x 8in x 8ft timber
12x plywood adapters2in x 4in x 4ft timber
Hand or Circular saw4mm Pilot drill bit
Tape measure70mm wood screws
Marker90mm screws
Hex key50mm screws used for cladding
Drill driver

The last thing I would recommend a DIYer tackling cladding of any kind is a trusted backup hand. No matter if the material is light and easy to handle or the job is small and not labor-intensive, having someone competent to help you makes any job better and more manageable.

Timber Cladding Step by Step

  • Step 1: Prepare the Container

The first thing you want to do before anything else is prepare the container. Ensure it’s on a flat/solid surface and clean the exterior walls to get rid of any dirt or debris.

  • Step 2: Attach Domino Clamps

Next, you’ll want to attach domino clamps to every corner of the container that you plan on cladding (typically this is two sides and one end).

  • Step 3: Attach Domino Plywood Adapters

Once the domino clamps are in place, you need to attach domino plywood adapters to every domino clamp that you just installed. To attach them, use the 45mm countersunk screws that come with the plywood adapters

PREPARE TIMBER RAILS

  • Step 4: Cut the Timber

In order to prepare the timber rails, you need to cut two lengths of 2in x 4in and 8in x 2in timbers that measure out to the length of your container. The thickness of the 8in x 2in timbers (usually 47mm) plus the thickness of the Domino Clamp and plywood adapter should give you an overhang of roughly 101mm.

  • Step 5: Pilot Holes

Next, you want to use your 4mm drill bit to pilot hole the back edge of the 8″ x 2″ timbers. Continue doing so down the center of the timbers every 600mm.

  • Step 6: Joining the 2×4 and 2×8 together

Once you’ve drilled the pilot holes, you want to join the 4in x 2in timber to the edge of the 8in x 2in timber using the 90mm screws to form the shape of an L.

This will give you the top and bottom rails where your studs will fit into. It’ll also provide you with a strong, straight edge, to span between the domino clamps.

  • Step 7: Positioning the Rails

Starting with the lower rail, position it so that the 4×2 is lowermost and is pushed up against the two plywood adapters.

The top rail is the opposite in where the 4×2 should be the uppermost. Each rail should be flush to the door side of the shipping container and shouldn’t protrude more than the 101mm overhang mentioned in step 4.

  • Step 8: Attach Lower Rail

Get the 70mm wood screws from the materials list and the pilot holes drilled in step 5, attach the lower rail to the plywood adapter at each end of the container.

Make sure to avoid the two M12 screws which are holding the plywood adapter to the domino clamp. You should need roughly four 70mm screws at each end.

  • Step 9: Attach Upper Rail

Repeat the process from step 8, making sure the top rail is flush with the roof of your shipping container.

Also, ensure that the 4×2 is on the top edge and that both rails are plumb and parallel to each other.

Cut and Place Studs on the Long Side of the Container

  • Step 10: Measure and Cut Studs

Next, you need to measure the distance from the top 4×2 rail to the bottom 4×2 rail and then cut 12 studs to fill this gap.

  • Step 11: Secure End Studs

Secure the end studs using screws diagonally, so that they go through the stud and into the rail.

securing studs with diagonal screws
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  • Step 12: Cut Notches into Studs

Next, you want to cut notches into the 2×8 timber, about a foot from the top, and the width of the 2×4 so that you can slide them through as shown below.

notches in timber
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  • Step 13: Place Studs 2ft Apart

Depending on the size of your container, you’ll want to place the studs 2ft apart into the grooves of the container for the length of the container, and screw them into the top and bottom rails you created earlier.

  • Step 14: Insert 2×4

Cut a 2×4 the length of the container and screw it into the notches you created.

wooden frame
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  • Step 15: Add Blocks Between Studs

The final step before you can start cladding is to add roughly 2ft blocks between each of the studs you just created in the middle of the container. You’ll want to stagger them so it’s easier to drill into each end of the stud as shown below.

staggered blocks for cladding
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  • Step 16: Repeat for other side

Repeat the same steps for the other side and you’re ready to go!

  • Step 17: Clad the Container

You’re now ready to drill in your timber cladding. Just measure it out and screw it into the base, middle, and top of the frame. Here are some examples of timber cladding that I really like:

cladded container
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Source: Ebay UK
finished cottage example
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Source: Pinterest
smart cladding
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Source: Smart Stone Systems

How Much Does Cladding Cost?

Cladding a shipping container isn’t as expensive as you may think. The price range is quite varied though. Depending on the material, you can pay between $2-18 per square foot for your cladding.

Of course when figuring out the cost of the cladding, factor in at least 8% of the overall area into the cost for waste, like flooring. Also keep in mind boards, studs, tools, and screws aren’t going to be free either. 

The video below breaks down the total cost of their siding to around $1,500 on a 40ft container.

FAQ

Question: How do you remove vinyl siding?

Removing vinyl siding is a real chore but it is doable. Use a zip tool to remove two pieces of the vinyl siding. Slide and pull the tool to remove it. Make sure you go in about five or six inches. Then remove all your anchoring nails with a pry bar. Remove and stack all panels and discard. 

Question: I found some inexpensive aluminum siding. It’s a little thinner than what I’ve seen but I got a great deal. Should I use it?

You absolutely can use it but I wouldn’t recommend it. Not only is it difficult to keep it flat and not dented when installing it, but it’s also not the best cladding.

It can rust or get banged up and bashed in by the wind. The wind can also get under the panel and try to pull them off. Overall, I would stay away from aluminum siding as the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. 

Question: Can I buy pre-clad shipping containers?

Yes! You can order your live-in ready container with any configuration from nothing but glass to diamond plating on the outside depending on the supplier/distributor. They will of course charge a premium so be prepared.

The Good, The Clad, and The Ugly

Well, maybe not ugly. Cladding of any shipping container, be it open-top or ventilated, is always a good choice. It can add elegance, curb appeal, heat, and element resistance.

There’s no telling what look you can create when you combine elements like large open windows and brick or timber and satin glass. 

As with any project always remember if you start to do the cladding yourself and discover the project is more than you can handle, hire a professional.

There’s no shame in admitting that something is over your head as a DIYer. That’s why there are professional contractors in the world. 

Lastly, never underestimate the power of many people working together. You want to fix up your shipping container not ruin your back for life.

That handy relative, tool-savvy friend, or helpful co-worker could save you a ton of labor and headache. Paying someone you know in pizza is cheaper than paying $30-40 dollars an hour. 

Ryan Stetson

Ryan Stetson

Currently own two 20' and 40' containers converted into an office/workshop. Having worked in the shipping industry for 6 years, my goal is to share my personal experiences as well as connect potential container buyers with suppliers around the US.

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    2 Responses

      1. Hey Daysha,

        It depends on skill level, but if it’s just one container, you should be able to tackle it as a weekend project 🙂

        Ryan

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