Parallel, regularly spaced lines on a ceiling: That's the look of a shiplap ceiling. Long, room-width wood boards create a feeling that's peaceful, orderly, and calming. Shiplap goes up in a day or two with the help of an assistant. If not in stock already, shiplap boards can be ordered from your local home center or lumberyard.
What Is a Shiplap Ceiling, and Why Install One?
Shiplap is wood paneling ordinarily used for house exteriors. Stair-like, cupping seams called rabbets overlap each other on the boards' sides.
Shiplap is often used on interior walls for decorative purposes. Aesthetics are also the primary reason for installing shiplap on the ceiling. Shiplap can cover up popcorn or other textured ceilings or ceilings that are stained or chipping.
Shiplap does have some minor soundproofing and insulating qualities, but it's mainly installed for appearance, not function.
Before You Begin
Shiplap can either be installed directly onto the ceiling drywall or with an intervening layer of furring strips. This decision is typically determined by the condition of the ceiling and by personal preference.
Shiplap Directly on Ceiling
Shiplap can be installed directly on the ceiling drywall if the ceiling is level and flat. Imperfections with the existing ceiling will be transferred to the shiplap or may prevent the shiplap boards from accurately lining up from side to side.
With this method, the shiplap must be oriented perpendicular to the ceiling joists. If you want the shiplap installed parallel to the ceiling joists for appearance or other reasons, use the furring strip method.
Shiplap With Furring Strips
One-by-two furring strip boards can be installed between the ceiling drywall and the shiplap if the ceiling is imperfect and needs minor corrections or if the shiplap needs to be installed parallel to the joists.
Thin wood furring strips help the shiplap override small gaps, dips, or bumps in the ceiling, smoothing out the ceiling to a degree. Furring strips also allow you to install the shiplap parallel to joists by providing you with solid attachment points down the entire length of the ceiling.
Working alone with long shiplap boards can be difficult, especially when standing on a ladder. Having an assistant speeds installation and makes the job far safer.
Equipment / Tools
- Electric miter saw
- Electric or pneumatic nailer
- Stud finder
- Chalk snap line
- Pry bar
- Cordless drill
- Circular saw
- Step ladder
- 30 shiplap boards, 12-foot by 5 1/4-inch
- 10 one-by-two furring strips (optional)
Remove anything on the ceiling that protrudes: ceiling lights, recessed lights, vents, and hooks. If your ceiling has crown molding, remove the molding.
Determine Location of Joists
Use the step ladder to access the ceiling at one end of the ceiling. Run the stud finder along the ceiling, from one side to the adjacent side. Mark the center of each joist with a pencil mark. Go to the opposite end (lengthwise) of the ceiling and mark joists on that end.
Snap Chalk Lines
Unspool the chalk line, holding the one end at one pencil mark and the other end of the line at the opposite mark. You can do this either with an assistant or by driving a nail at one end to hold the metal hook end. Repeat for the entire ceiling.
Attach Furring Strips (Optional)
If you are using furring strips, attach them with 2 1/2-inch screws to the joists, spacing each strip 16 inches on-center away from its neighbor. Start the first furring strip at one wall (with a 1/8-inch expansion gap). End the last strip at the opposite wall, also with a 1/8-inch gap.
Cut Starter Board
Measure the width of the room at ceiling height, while standing on the ladder. Transfer the measurement to the first board. Use the electric miter saw to cut each board to length, minus 1/8 inch on each side (or 1/4 inch total) to allow for expansion.
Attach Starter Board
Face-nail the starter board to the ceiling, maintaining a 1/8-inch gap on all sides. Be sure to nail into the joists or furring strips, not the hollow drywall between the joists. Attach this first board with the open end of the rabbet facing toward you.
Attach Remaining Shiplap Boards
On the second and all remaining boards (except for the last board), nail through the rabbet and once again mid-point through the face of the board.
Cut Around Openings or Obstructions
When you reach an opening, make a cut-out in the board with the jigsaw. First, lay the board in place and mark the board. Remove the board and cut it, then install it.
Measure and Cut Last Shiplap Board
The last board will likely not be the exact width. So, rip the board down its length to the needed width. A table saw produces the cleanest line, but you can use a circular saw, as well. Remember to allow for a 1/8-inch expansion gap.
Attach Last Shiplap Board
Face-nail the last shiplap board in place.
Tips for Installing Shiplap on a Ceiling
- If using furring strips, check each board at the home center for straightness.
- Use primed shiplap, if you are planning to paint the ceiling rather than stain it, to lessen the amount of painting after the boards are up.
- Cut each board individually. Walls tend to have variable widths.
- Additional installation of crown molding or other trim will be needed to cover up the expansion gap.
When to Call a Professional
Large rooms or unusually shaped ceilings with angles and curves make it difficult to cut the boards. A carpenter or general contractor can help you with installing shiplap on the ceiling.