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What is a Batten?

By Phil Shepley
Updated May 17, 2024
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A batten is basically a long, narrow strip of wood, and sometimes metal or plastic, that is used for several specific purposes. Battens are used in the construction of buildings, but variations are used in other industries as well, including boating, theater, and more. The command “batten down the hatches” comes from sailing, where battens were used to secure a boat’s hatches from the rainfall of an incoming storm.

One of the major uses of a batten is in roofing construction, where several of the strips of wood are attached and used to apply roofing tiles. They can be oriented in any direction, depending on what type of tiles or roofing sheets are being used to protect the roof. In addition to being used to properly space the roofing tiles, battens can provide air flow around the roof to aid in water drainage and to help promote drying. A roofing batten can be constructed of plastic, which has an advantage over wood since it will not rot and wear down as easily.

Another way that battens are used in construction is for board and batten siding. This type of siding consists of battens that cover the joints of the walls, and boards that are applied vertically to the side of a house or building. The siding alternates between boards and battens, so that each pair of boards, which are not necessarily the same size, has a batten in between them. Many barns are built like this, so board and batten siding is also often referred to as barn siding.

In addition to being used to secure a boat’s hatches, battens have other purposes in sailing. Battens can be used to support the actual sail of a sailboat in many different configurations. These battens need to be constructed from durable and lightweight materials that can withstand forces from the wind, especially in boats with massive sails. Other types of sails do not need battens at all.

A different kind of batten is used in live theater. In this case, the term refers to a long metal pipe that is suspended above the stage, from which many theater elements can be hung. For example, a batten in a theater can hold stage lights, curtains, electrical wires, and even props that are involved in the show. Theater battens are also sometimes used to store lights and props that are not in use.

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Discussion Comments
By everetra — On Feb 08, 2012

@SkyWhisperer - Can you batten down windows? I think the term applies there. One year my parents, who live in the Gulf Coast, got slammed by the backside of a hurricane.

Rather than evacuate they decided to wait it out. They battened down the windows of their house and hunkered down in the basement until the worst of it had passed over.

Since they were on the backside they didn’t take a direct hit, but still it was a rough storm. They survived it with their house intact, and no broken windows.

By SkyWhisperer — On Feb 07, 2012

I didn’t know battens were used in roofing. If so, I have recently done some battening down of my own. I repaired a leak in my roof, by laying down wood first and then applying metal flashing on top of that.

Only after the wood (the batten) and the metal flashing were laid down did I nail down the shingles. It was a pretty thorough job and it served well to prevent the roof from having any further leaks.

It was a minor repair, however. Anything larger and I would have called a professional roofing company to come in and do the fix. They would have charged a pretty penny no doubt.

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