How to Install a Tongue and Groove Pine Ceiling

Wood tongue and groove ceiling

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Project Overview
  • Total Time: 2 - 4 days
  • Yield: 10-foot by 15-foot ceiling
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $500 to $1,000

When building or renovating a home, the finished ceiling work or ceiling installation is usually one of the last things that people think about. However, most builders and subcontractors will tell you it's one of the first things you need to decide upon and complete first. You have many choices for ceilings; however, two of the most common options are installing drywall sheets or wood panels.

Tongue and Groove Boards

Tongue-and-groove planks are milled wood boards with a tongue on one long side and a groove on the other, so one slips into the other, much like a locking puzzle piece. The most common sizes are 4 or 6 inches wide and 4 to 16 feet long.

Before You Begin

Ceilings are usually made of entire 4-by-8-foot (or longer) sheets of drywall screwed to the joists of the floor above. In contrast, wooden tongue-and-groove paneling offers a tantalizing drywall alternative: a gorgeous natural-wood ceiling with an installation process that is somewhat easier than drywall because the boards fully stretch from one end of the room to the other end.

Or, if you have drywall that looks less than wonderful and want to cover it, tongue-and-groove pine planks can help. The cover-up option increases the room's safety since the fire resistance of drywall balances the propensity of wood to burn. You can also install tongue-and-groove over bare framing or plaster, an excellent remedy that quickly masks an ugly ceiling.

Type of Tongue and Groove Boards to Use

The most common woods used for the wood panels include pine, spruce, or cedar. The prices vary based on the woods, averaging $2.50 to $4.00 per square foot. If you plan on painting over the woods, it's acceptable to purchase inexpensive pine boards.

If you're interested in installing a tongue-and-groove wood ceiling, you can find the lumber at your local home improvement center or lumberyard. But before you rush out for materials, consider some of the main advantages and pitfalls of installing a tongue-and-groove wood ceiling. 

Tongue-and-groove pine boards can sometimes be warped and splintered. It helps to purchase your boards in person so you can cull out the poor materials.

Safety Considerations

Standing on a ladder and nailing up long, unwieldy tongue and groove pine boards can be hazardous. The boards are difficult to control, so they have the potential for throwing you off balance.

Renting scaffolding is the safest way to install tongue and groove boards on the ceiling. Installing a tongue and groove pine ceiling is possible as a one-person project, but parts of it are much safer with two people, especially if you're using boards that are longer than 8 feet. You may need someone to help you hold up one end of the plank as you're nailing in the other end.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Electric miter saw
  • Electric nailer
  • Set of ladders or scaffolding
  • Painting tools
  • Rubber mallet


  • Tongue and groove pine boards
  • One-by-two furring strips
  • Primer and paint or stain


  1. Clean Up Ends

    Clean the ends of the planks by re-cutting the ends. Clean end cuts get rid of splits or holes from staples, then give each board a 45-degree bevel on each end. The bevel appears like a V-groove. If you get pre-finished boards, they may already have the grooves on the ends.

  2. Cut Boards

    Cut each piece so it fits nicely against neighboring pieces, and it ends, or breaks, over the center of a ceiling joist (or a roof rafter, on a cathedral or vaulted ceiling).

    Or, if you are installing over drywall or plaster, you will need battens (strips of timber used as spacers to raise the surface of a material). Battens provide a solid nailing surface versus going through drywall that might not penetrate deeply enough.

    Also, battens can help flatten uneven ceilings and run parallel or perpendicular to the ceiling framing. Battens are usually made from rough one-by-two boards.

  3. Nail Boards

    If you're ready to start nailing in the planks, put the groove side of the plank facing the wall and have the tongue facing out. Nail directly to the framing or battens with finishing nails—a nail gun makes the installation much faster. Two-inch brad nails are a good choice, long enough for getting through the board, batten, and drywall or joist.

    Face-nail through the tongues of the planks so that the nails are hidden by the grooved edges of the planks in the next row. You only need to nail on the tongue side; the previous board will hold the groove side in place.

    However, you'll need to tap the next panel into place, which can be impossible without some help. Tap the block until the board slips into place. Then, nail it on through the tongue. Repeat until the ceiling is complete.

    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. Don't hesitate to return poor boards for better materials.

  4. Finish Ceiling

    If you're going for a whitewashed shiplap look, before you add paint, fill any nail holes. Also, if you have any considerable gaps in the tongue-and-groove joints, caulk any seams that show a gap. Consider caulking any visible cracks between the ceiling board and molding, too.

    If you don't want to paint the boards but want to keep the boards looking natural, you can go two ways: linseed oil or polyurethane. Linseed oil is easier and more environmentally friendly. You can apply it with a rag or large brush, wiping or brushing the linseed oil directly onto the wood. Polyurethane is more durable and resistant. However, since ceilings don't get wear and tear, linseed oil works fine.

    If using paint, prime and paint the ceiling and trim. If you have knotty wood and want to cover it, use two coats of primer over the knots. Other than the finishing work, installing wood paneling is very low-mess work compared to drywall. 

Tongue and Groove Ceiling Pros and Cons

The main benefit of having a pine tongue-and-groove wood ceiling is its beauty. It's stunning, looks customized to the space, and looks more expensive than a drywall ceiling (it is pricier, too).

If done right, it can increase the value of your home. It's a little easier to install versus large sheets of drywall, but depending on the size of the room, it will likely take longer since each plank needs installation.

  • Easier to lift and hold up light, thin boards instead of large drywall sheets

  • Increases home value if properly installed and finished

  • Easy to conform boards to uneven or ugly surfaces

  • Can cover up a poor drywall ceiling

  • Requires multiple steps for priming, painting; if overhead, it's messy

  • Not as soundproof as drywall

  • Takes longer to install; requiring many boards

  • Tedious overhead work

When to Call a Professional

Carpenters or a general contractor can install a tongue and groove pine ceiling for you. If working overhead for long periods is difficult for you, consider calling a professional. Pros can also finesse some of the trickier aspects of tongue and groove ceilings, such as imperfect boards or bowed ceilings, for a finished look.