Tongue-and-Groove Pine Wood vs. Drywall Ceiling

Wood tongue and groove ceiling

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Ceilings are usually made of entire 4-by-8-foot (or longer) sheets of drywall screwed to the joists of the floor above. Hanging ceiling drywall is not easy for many homeowners. But the real trick is finishing the drywall to create a flat, seamless surface. That's not something many beginners can pull off.

In sharp contrast, pine wood tongue-and-groove paneling offers a tantalizing drywall alternative: a gorgeous natural-wood ceiling with an installation process that is far easier than drywall. But before you rush to your local home center or a lumberyard for materials, consider some of the main advantages and pitfalls of both ceiling materials. 

What Is a Drywall Ceiling

A drywall ceiling is composed of full or partial sheets of 4-foot by 8-foot, 1/2-inch thick drywall screwed directly onto the ceiling joists.

Installation

drywall ceiling is at least a two-person job. Even with two people, it helps to have a drywall lift, a rental tool that lifts the panels to the ceiling and holds them in place while you fasten them. A 4-by-8-foot sheet of standard 1/2-inch drywall weighs about 52 pounds, but the weight is just part of the battle. Drywall sheets are unwieldy, and they're even more difficult to handle on ceilings.

Once the sheets are fastened in place, the job is still less than half done. The next step is taping and mudding the joints, with gravity fighting your every move. All of the joints will need at least three finishing coats to blend them into the surrounding panel surfaces.

Finishing

Finishing drywall is where a professional's skill shines and where an amateur struggles the most. The challenge is compounded on the ceiling because ceilings are particularly visible—they cannot be covered with artwork or furniture—and usually, there's a lot of light playing across them, which highlights imperfections. 

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A nearly flat, smooth surface can be achieved with drywall ceilings.
  • Drywall is easier to paint than tongue-and-groove pine boards.
  • Since drywall is traditional to most houses, it will not attract unwanted attention at the time of the house sale.

Cons

  • Drywall is very difficult for do-it-yourself installers to manage sheets overhead.
  • Drywall ceilings require upside-down mudding of drywall joints, also difficult for beginning DIYers.
  • The threshold of perfection for finished joints is high since light catches drywall joints at an angle that will expose all imperfections.

What Is a Pine Tongue-and-Groove Ceiling

A tongue-and-groove pine ceiling consists of long pine boards that fit side-to-side (tongue into the groove) across a ceiling. Often, the pine boards are long enough to span the entire width of a room without using any seams.

Installation

Installing a tongue-and-groove paneled ceiling is possible as a one-person project, but parts of it are much easier with two people. The basic process involves cutting each piece so it fits nicely to any neighboring pieces and it ends, or breaks, over the center of a ceiling joist (or a roof rafter, on a cathedral or vaulted ceiling).

The planks are sometimes nailed directly to the framing with finish nails. Most of them are face-nailed through the tongues of the planks so that the nails are hidden by the grooved edges of the planks in the next row. Other times, wood sleepers (one-by-two boards) are laid over the ceiling, then the pine boards are laid on the sleepers.

The tricky parts of tongue-and-groove paneling are getting the boards to straighten out (many will be slightly warped or otherwise imperfect), getting the joints to fit tightly, and keeping the rows in straight lines, so they remain parallel to the walls on both sides of the ceiling.

Finishing

If you finish the planks with stain or other finish material, it's usually best to apply the finish before the installation. Other than the finishing work, installing wood paneling is very low-mess work, especially compared to drywall. 

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Because the boards are light and thin, it is easy to lift them into place and hold them until they are fully fastened.
  • Pine tongue-and-groove ceilings have an attractive, rustic appearance that is appropriate for many homes, vacation homes, and cabins.
  • Pine boards can conform to less-than-perfect surfaces.

Cons

  • Pine is difficult to paint as it needs to be primed first, then painted at least twice. Plus, all of the painting is done overhead.
  • Pine is not as sound-proof as drywall.
  • It's a slower process to cover a ceiling with pine boards because they are smaller.