How to Install Shiplap on a Ceiling

Upgrading Your Ceilings With a Simple Makeover

Shiplap Paneling on Ceiling

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Project Overview
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 days
  • Yield: 12-foot by 12-foot room
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $500 to $750

Parallel, regularly spaced lines on a ceiling: That's the look of a shiplap ceiling. Long, room-width wood boards create a peaceful, orderly, and calming feeling. You can install shiplap on your own with the help of an assistant and some carpentry tools. Shiplap boards can be ordered from your local home center or lumberyard if not in stock already.


Installing shiplap is a two-person job. Anytime you install lumber or anything heavy on the ceiling, it can be dangerous, especially when juggling the long, awkward boards, standing on a ladder, and using a nail gun.

Why Install a Shiplap Ceiling?

Shiplap is wood paneling ordinarily used for house exteriors and sheds to give walls or ceilings a rustic look. Each panel has stair-like cupping seams called rabbets that overlap with the next board. It was originally used to waterproof ships, with the overlapping rabbet or groove cut at the top and bottom of each board overlapping and forming a tight seal. 

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 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 in the existing ceiling will be transferred to the shiplap or may prevent the shiplap boards from accurately lining up from side to side.

This method requires the shiplap to 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 the ceiling to a degree. Furring strips also allow you to install the shiplap parallel to joists by providing solid attachment points down the entire ceiling length.


A shiplap ceiling will cover up minor surface problems, but the underlying issues first need to be addressed. Leaks from above will only continue onto the shiplap if not fixed. Severely distorted joists cannot be covered with shiplap, even if you use furring strips.

Types of Shiplap

This project uses shiplap boards, also called square-edge shiplap or nickel gap shiplap. However, tongue-and-groove or v-groove boards are other alternatives that give your walls a shiplap appearance.

  • Square-Edge Shiplap or Nickel-Gap Shiplap: Shiplap boards are square-edge boards with a rabbeted edge. This rabbeted edge allows the boards to overlap and fit together snuggly with almost no gaps. If you want a small gap, you can get nickel-gap shiplap boards that will enable you to leave a little space in between the overlapping boards.
  • Tongue and Groove: Each board has a slot and groove, one slot on one side, and a tongue that fills in the space. It fits much like a puzzle piece.
  • Eased-Edge (V-groove) Shiplap: Like square-edge shiplap boards, eased-edge boards have slanted rabbeted edges for overlapping. The space between the boards looks like a v-groove between the boards.

Other Safety Considerations

Electrical cables are usually found in ceilings. Shut off power to the ceiling light, recessed lights, or any device located in or around the ceiling.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Electric miter saw
  • Electric or pneumatic nailer
  • Jigsaw
  • 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)


  1. Remove Obstructions

    Remove anything on the ceiling that protrudes: ceiling lights, recessed lights, vents, and hooks. If your ceiling has crown molding, remove the molding.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

Cost to Install Shiplap on Ceilings

Installing shiplap yourself will cost about $2.50 to $7 per square foot. For reference, one 5-inch by 8-feet panel runs about $10 to $12. A 200-square foot ceiling can cost about $500 to $1,400 if you do it yourself, assuming you have the tools and materials. Tools include nails, a nail gun, spackle, wood filler, a level, a stud finder, saws, drills, and underlayment (if necessary).

Alternatively, you can shortcut the work and cost by installing ready-made shiplap panels that come in different sizes, like 4 feet by 9 feet, for about $1 per square foot.

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.