Learn How to Install Gorgeous Tongue and Groove Wood Ceiling

Wood Tongue and Groove Ceiling
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Ceilings are usually made of entire sheets of 4' x 8' drywall, or larger, screwed to the joists of the floor above. Hanging ceiling drywall is difficult for many homeowners.

Wood tongue-and-groove ceilings offer a tantalizing alternative; a gorgeous natural wood ceiling with an installation process easier than drywall. Before you rush to your local home improvement store or lumber yard for wood, though, learn some of the advantages--and pitfalls--of wood ceiling installation.

Ceilings: Drywall vs. Tongue and Groove Wood


Drywall ceilings, without the aid of a lift, are two-person jobs, and even then, are difficult to install. Standard 4' x 8' sheets of drywall exceed 52 pounds, but weight is the least of your worries. Sheets are unwieldy. Bang in a few screws and the person holding the sheet is free to let go, allowing you both to fill in the rest of the screws.

Your job is only half-done. Next, you will be mudding the joints, with gravity fighting your every move. Be sure to sand those joints extra-perfect, because of every flaw on a drywall ceiling shows.

Tongue and Groove

Tongue and groove pine ceiling is the ultimate one-person ceiling project. While the going is slow, it is no problem to lift and smack single lengths of pine board into the neighboring board with a rubber mallet. You can then face-nail or blind-nail the boards.

It is a completely dry process, as well.

No mudding, no sanding.


Drywall CeilingTongue and Groove Ceiling

Nearly flat, smooth surface can be achieved.

Easy to lift individual boards.

Easier to paint than tongue and groove.

Attractive, rustic appearance that may be appropriate for some houses.

Traditional to most houses, therefore will not attract unwanted attention at time of house sale.

Conforms to less-than-perfect surfaces.


Drywall CeilingTongue and Groove Ceiling

Very difficult for two DIY installers to manage sheets in that position; impossible for one DIY installer to manage.

Difficult to paint.

Requires "upside-down mudding" of drywall joints, also difficult for beginning DIYers.


Not as sound resistant as drywall.


Threshold of perfection for finished joints is high since light catches drywall joints at an angle that will expose all imperfections.


Slower to cover the ceiling than you would with the large sheets of drywall.

Materials and Tools

Board: The kinds of pine tongue and groove boards you may buy at a Lowe'sHome Depot, or local lumberyard would be a width of 5 1/2", lengths anywhere from 8' to 12', and thickness of 3/4". 

Longer does not necessarily translate to better because then you are trying to manage an exceedingly long board, and that can get out of hand.

You probably will have no need to go thicker than 3/4", but if you're feeling ambitious or have a particular need, you can even go as thick as the Millstead 2" x 6" x 12' Whitewood Tongue & Groove Board pictured here.

Nailer: Due to the fact that you are nailing onto the ceiling, your arms get tired quickly when using a manual hammer.

Try a power nailer for the job.

Rubber Mallet: Used for tapping boards into place.

How to Install

Installation of tongue and groove ceiling is slow and painstaking, but in the end, it does look fantastic because you are working over head-level for the entire project, take frequent "arm breaks."

  1. Face-nail the first piece on your first wall. Do not worry about gaps that are less than 3/8", because you can cover those with trim.
  2. Gently, with a rubber mallet, encourage the second length of tongue-and-groove to go into the first piece. Using a scrap piece of tongue-and-groove (eight inches or so), smack it the rest of the way in. Then blind-nail that piece.
  3. At this point, you will discover something interesting: these pieces are not perfectly straight. By beginning at one end of the piece and gradually working your way down the line, it is possible to straighten out all but the worst pieces of tongue and groove.
  1. Continue all the way to the end. Rip the last piece to the correct dimensions and face-nail it in place.