Installing wood slats on a wall lends a refined air to a room. It's a mid-century modern look often found at high-end hotels or designer homes. It's not a feature you ordinarily see in homes—which makes it even more noteworthy. A wood slat wall is the ideal focal point for a room: an accent wall that you'll have for years to come.
Installing wood slats on a wall can be a bit time-consuming, but it isn't complicated at all. Plus, you have a couple of time-saving options. One method, using dimensional lumber slats, is easier and faster but it's much more expensive. The other method, using sheet goods, is slower and requires a table saw, but costs are considerably pared down.
Sheet goods collectively refers to MDF, plywood, veneer wood, or other large-format (often 4 feet by 8 feet) wood or wood byproduct materials.
This guide will yield enough wood slats to cover 8 feet of a wall. To cover more wall space, plan to add more wood and supplies as needed to cover the space you're working with.
Basics of Installing Wood Slats on a Wall
A wood slat wall is made of evenly spaced vertical strips of wood that extend from the floor to the ceiling. Each wood slat is from 1/2-inch to 2 inches wide. The width of the wood slats is your choice, depending on the final look you're hoping to achieve. Generally, wood slats tend to be more on the narrow side.
The wood slats should be spaced about 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch apart from each other. To avoid a zebra-stripe effect, spaces between the slats should be less than the width of the slats.
The color of the wall behind the slats plays an important role because this is the background for the slats. You may want to choose a dark background, such as matte-black, for a dramatic, modern look.
One-by-two lumber strips
$150 to $300 per 8 linear feet
Requires a miter or circular saw, not a table saw
Thicker wood slats
Large sheets of plywood that you cut into slats
$40 to $60 per 8 linear feet
Requires table saw, plus miter or circular saw
Thinner wood slats
Building With Dimensional Lumber
Using pre-cut, one-by-two wood strips accelerates the project and helps you avoid using a table saw. Most of the work is concentrated on cutting the ends of the boards and nailing up the boards.
Each one-by-two is actually 1-1/2 inches wide. To cover an 8-foot stretch of wall with a 3/4-inch space between boards would require 48 strips. A timesaver that ensures a cleaner look is using a spare slat held on edge as a spacer for the next slat. Or, if you want a different width, use blocks cut to your preferred spacing size to keep spacing uniform across the wall.
While softwood strips are inexpensive, the slat wall can still be expensive when you need to buy 100 or 200 strips. Hardwood strips are three times more expensive than softwood but require less finishing work.
Building With Sheet Goods
Cutting a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of plywood into strips is a more cost-effective approach, but it is more time-intensive. One sheet of plywood yields around 90 to 92 strips, each 1/2 inch wide.
One chief difference between using sheet goods and dimensional lumber is thickness. If you'd like slats that hug the wall closely, you'll want to use nominal 1/2-inch plywood (about 3/8 inch thick). With dimensional one-by-two lumber, the strips would be 3/4 inch thick.
Working with a table saw or circular saw is hazardous enough but even more so with repetitive cutting. Stay alert at all times. Keep your hands away from the blade by pushing from a distance or by using a push block or push stick. Large sheets can be difficult to push through a table saw, so do the cutting with an assistant to help hold the other end.
Equipment / Tools
- Table saw
- Electric miter saw
- Cordless finish nailer
- Eye and hearing protection
- Putty knife
- Heavy gloves
- #220 grit sandpaper
- Laser level
- Tape measure
- Plywood sheets or dimensional lumber slats
- Black matte interior paint
- Wood filler
- Construction glue
Inspect the wall surface for flatness. Minor gaps can be filled in with drywall joint compound, but walls that are excessively wavy may not be good candidates for this project.
Plan Wood Slat Wall
Calculate the amount of wood to buy based on strip width and spacing width. Unless you plan on moving light switches or outlets, the wood slats need to work around them. Plan for about 1/2-inch of space around the faceplates.
Slat walls can be constructed in a vertical or horizontal format. The materials needed and steps to construct the wall are the same, with the only difference being in the length and position of the slats.
Vertical slat walls give the illusion that the walls and ceilings are taller than they really are. Horizontal slat walls tend to make a room look spacious and are a good option for smaller rooms or hallways.
Paint the Wall
Paint the wall the intended color, for a contrast with the wood slats. Roll out the paint with two coats. Matte or flat paint dries quickly, so you can apply the second or more coats within 30 to 45 minutes.
Rip Wood Slats (Sheet Goods Only)
Sheet goods will need to be ripped, or cut lengthwise, to produce individual slats. If you are using pre-cut dimensional lumber slats, skip this step.
Run the plywood lengthwise through the table saw to cut 1/2-inch-wide slats or your desired width. Periodically check strip width to make sure that the width is uniform, as the saw gate may loosen over time.
Fill Large Voids
In some places, the sides of the plywood may exhibit small voids or holes. Using the putty knife, fill these in with wood filler.
Sand Wood Slats
Wearing heavy gloves, sand each wood slat individually. Cup the sandpaper in your hand and lightly run the slat up and down to remove stray splinters. The layered sides of plywood do not sand down smoothly, so try to remove the roughest areas.
Paint or Stain Wood Slats
Lay out the wood slats. Paint or stain the front and both sides of the wood slats, but not on the back. Avoid large drips on the back that will harden and prevent the slats from laying flat against the wall.
Cut Ends of Wood Slats
Starting at one corner, measure the distance from floor to ceiling for the first slat. The slat should be the distance from floor to ceiling, minus 1/4-inch to allow the wood to expand and contract.
Install Wood Slats
Run a bead of construction glue down the length of the first slat, on the back side. Begin in a corner and install the first wood slat. Position it vertically with the laser level's plumb feature or with a bubble level. Nail the slat in place.
Since you'll be nailing most of the slats into drywall, angling the nails will help hold the slat in place better while the glue sets.
Cut Around Obstacles
When you reach an obstacle, use the miter saw to cut the slats around it.
Fill Nail Holes on Slats
After all of the slats have been installed, fill the nail holes with wood putty.
Touch up the Slats
With a brush for paint or a rag for stain, touch up wood slats as needed.