Square Lattice Panels

The first use of lattice goes back centuries and was actually carved of stone. The Mayans, amongst other ancient people, carved latticework into some of their temples. Other people in other places have done the same, both for the decorative appeal of the lattice itself and because the lattice can be used as a trellis for climbing plants. Lattice panels were common in medieval and renaissance gardens, as well as French architecture. The word “lattice” comes from a French origin.

Today, lattice panels are used for a variety of home and gardening purposes, including such things as skirting homes built on pier and beam foundations, skirting decks, making pool enclosures, as decorative walls for gazebos and arbors and to make pet enclosures. In landscaping applications lattice panels are useful for hiding service equipment, such as air conditioners, dividing up areas and anywhere that a non-solid wall can add to the décor. Lattice panels also make excellent trellises.

By definition, a lattice panel is any panel made of wood strips or laths. These are normally criss-crossed on a frame, making some sort of pattern. This is usually a square or diamond pattern (a square pattern rotated 45 degrees), but can include floral and foliage designs as well. A number of different types of lattice panels can be ordered through home improvement centers, even though they stock only a limited number of styles.

Commercially manufactured lattice panels can either be made of cedar lath or molded out of vinyl or PVC plastic. PVC can be somewhat problematic in hot climates, as the plastic has a tendency to dry out, leading to it cracking. Leaving that out of the picture, any of the materials can provide life expectancies of up to 30 years, depending on how they are used and how well they are maintained.

Wood lattice is made of lathing strips, thin strips of wood from 7/16” to ½” thick and from ½” to 2” wide, with the most common size being ¼” thick and 1 ½” wide. This is also an excellent size for homemade lattice panels, as it can readily be cut from 2” thick dimensional lumber. For the most part, the lath used in making lattice panels is rough cut and not sanded. The plastic versions have wood grain molded into them, so that they can imitate wood panels. Panels come in 2’x 8’ and 4’x 8’ sizes.

Building Lattice Panels

Most people buy lattice panels, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be made in the home workshop. Lattice panels are actually quite easy to make, although somewhat tedious, especially if a lot of them are needed. On the other hand, making them at home can save some money, especially if the DIY-er manages to find a good price on rough-cut cedar.

To make lattice panels, first lay out the panels desired. A few basic questions need to be answered in this process:

  • How big will the panels be?
  • How big will the lath strips used to assemble the panels be?
  • How much space will there be between the strips? 
  • Will the strips be attached together to form squares or diamonds?

All the strips should be of the same size for ease of cutting. A very typical size for the lath strips is ¼” thick by 1 ½” or 2” wide, depending on the stock being used. That allows the cutting of the strips either on the table saw or the band saw, with each cut being one strip. If a band saw is available, less material will be wasted in cutting the strips.

Please note that the strips do not necessarily have to be spaced evenly apart. Some very nice designs can be made by using staggering widths, forming a pattern. For example, the standard spacing between strips can be the same as the width of the strips, and then every third strip can have double the spacing. This can give somewhat of a “plaid” design to the panel.

It can be helpful to paint, stain or apply any other finish to the lath, before it is attached together to make the panels. Painting lattice panels can be time consuming, unless it is done with an airless paint sprayer. But the lath strips can easily be painted by lining them up on a table and painting or staining them with a paint roller.

A large table or workbench will be needed for assembly. Lay out the connection points on all the perimeter pieces and one piece that goes across the center. Then lay the cross pieces on those, stapling them together at each marked intersection (edges and that center crosspiece). Once all the cross pieces are attached, the long pieces can be attached in the same way, once again stapling at every end joint and at the center crossbar.

Installing Lattice Panels

There are a number of ways that lattice panels can be installed, depending on the effort and expense that one wants to put into them. Since the lattice panels themselves have very little structural integrity, they either need to be attached to framework installed where the lattice is to be installed or the lattice panels need to have frames attached to the panels, giving them some structural strength.

In most cases, the framework is built for the lattice to be attached to. This can be 2”x 4” framework, but it often includes furring strips that have been attached to the structure of whatever the lattice panels are being used in conjunction with. If the lattice panels are being used as skirting for a deck, for example, then the lattice can either be attached directly to the deck’s framing or furring strips can be attached to the deck’s framing for the lattice panels to be attached to. This second option is extremely useful when the support is not provided in the right direction for the panels to attach to. It can also make for some attractive framing around the lattice panel.

furring strips, framing
Furring strips for support

In this case, the lattice panel is attached to the furring strips, probably stapled with a pneumatic stapler, stapling every crossbar.  A second course of furring strips can then be added on the outside of the lattice, covering the ends of the lattice and helping to hold it in place, while framing it attractively.

Another option is to attach the frame directly to the lattice panel and then use that frame to attach the lattice panel to whatever structure will be behind it. This can be done by using 1”x 3” or 1”x 4” dimensional boards, attaching them to the face of the lattice panel, all the way around the edges. As with the abovementioned method, the easiest way to attach the two together is with narrow-crown staples from a pneumatic stapler.

A third option is to buy U-mould capping to go around the edges of the lattice panel to frame it. However, not all lumberyards and home improvement centers carry U mould in stock. Nevertheless, any woodworker with a basic shop can easily cut their own. The U mould is nothing more than a square wood stick with a groove cut into one side, allowing the lattice to be inserted and fastened. The corner of the U mould can either be square, as shown below, or cut with a radius router bit.

u mould
U mould
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