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What is shiplap

Read these time saving tips to avoid simple mistakes while installing a shiplap ceiling.

We all know what shiplap is thanks to the iconic stars of HGTV’s Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna Gaines, whom we would happily claim as personal friends.

In the years following the highly successful TV series, shiplap has become a common household word. DIYers alike have flooded the internet with a variety of tutorials and how to videos to share how even the beginning DIYer can install shiplap (whether it’s the real deal or a faux shiplap) in their own home.

Likewise it seams appropriate to install shiplap almost anywhere. Most commonly seen on walls, you’ll also see it installed on kitchen islands, vent hoods, fireplaces, even ceilings.

Although shiplap still continues to be one of the most popular decor trends around, it will likely go out of style at some point. However, if you’re like me, I don’t just see it as some farmhouse trend. I’ve always been drawn to the extra details of a home that can really give it a custom look and feel.

Our home is constructed with a craftsman style which is commonly known for details in the wood work. I’m also drawn to the timeless coastal cottage look which equally utilizes the use of detailed wood work. It’s in this style that you’ll frequently see some sort of wood work which is now associated with the term shiplap.

Thus, I felt confident incorporating shiplap into our home design long term, not just as the latest decor trend.

True Shiplap vs. Faux Shiplap

What is true shiplap?

Although it’s unlikely for most of us to unearth true shiplap behind existing wall coverings in our home, you can buy it at your local home improvement store.

It may surprise you that the origins of shiplap have nothing to do with interior design. So why is it available at the local hardware store and why is it called shiplap?

The coined term shiplap comes from the construction that uses overlapping wood planks to create a watertight seal of a ship.

Use in home construction originated in harsh climates as a way of keeping wind and water out of houses, due to the overlapping joint between the boards. It was also often installed on the exteriors of buildings.

Eventually, shiplap found its way indoors. It was placed over top of a house’s framing to create a smooth backing for wallpaper and other interior wall coverings. Originally it wasn’t meant to be seen.

It wasn’t until Chip and Jo utilized the exposed shiplap during a renovation to save on costs that the design trend took off.

What is faux shiplap

Faux shiplap on the other hand is created in a variety of ways by DIYers. Using tongue and groove, v-groove, long pine boards, strips of MDF or plywood, down to a sharpie marker by drawing the lines of a wood plank on a wall surface.

It really comes down to the choice of material and method. Faux shiplap is really more about creating the look of shiplap without using actual shiplap boards.

Images sourced from Remodelista.


Pros and Cons of TRUE shiplap

Given this information there are pros and cons to each.

A pro for using true shiplap (or v-groove which is very similar), each board is pre-cut and sanded, ready for install. You can even find them pre-primed ready to paint!

The con to this luxury comes at a cost. A single shiplap board 3/4″ x 6″ x 8′ can range in cost from $8-$16 and upwards depending on wood type.

At the very basic price of $8 a board, it would cost $1500 in wood alone to install our 750 square foot shiplap ceiling ourselves.

Given this information and the fact that we have an entire basement to work on, we opted to DIY a faux shiplap ceiling.

Pros and Cons of FAUX shiplap

By far the biggest pro to using faux shiplap is the cost difference! The cost will obviously vary depending on material choice. We spent less than $300 total for wood to cover the exact amount of square feet as the $1500 option!

Another pro is having more flexibility in the shiplap design. Shiplap available at local home improvement stores will come in set widths. Whereas if you’re using a large 4’x8′ sheet of wood, you can cut each plank into any dimension.

The largest con to using faux shiplap is TIME. Granted it will take a significant amount of time to install a true shiplap ceiling. However there are multiple factors that increase total labor time using faux shiplap.

  • cutting each plank to size individually
  • sanding each plank individually
  • increased difficulty painting

Each will weigh their circumstances differently. Whether you choose to install a true or a faux shiplap ceiling is completely up to you.

Naturally as avid DIYers and stretching our budget as far as we can. Therefore, we opted to use faux shiplap on our ceiling. When you’re a strong willed, stubborn person you’ll do anything it takes to get the look you want at a fraction of the cost!

Even though I would consider us to be more advanced DIYers, we still learned from our mistakes during this project. Without a doubt I knew this would be a very time consuming project. Even then had we taken a few preliminary steps prior to installation, we would have most definitely saved ourselves a TON of time!

AVOID these simple mistakes to save time!

Again, by doing some preliminary steps prior to installing the shiplap ceiling, overall it will save so much time in the long run! Let me preface this with saying that we have previous experience installing faux shiplap walls in our home.

For these walls we had our boards custom cut at a wood mill to 10″ wide with a 1/4″ notch. They were also pre-sanded and smooth. Although we learned a few things we would do differently installing shiplap again, we still learned through our mistakes installing this shiplap ceiling!

Mistake #1 Assuming a paint sprayer would paint the grooves more easily

During the previous project we learned how difficult it was to paint the grooves with a brush post installation. By the time we began to prepare for the shiplap ceiling, we’d received a paint sprayer and used it on multiple projects without any problems. Surely using a paint sprayer would get paint into the grooves better right?

Ceiling Detail Idea
Ceiling Detail Idea

Our first method was to use the detail sprayer which has a very fine flow creating a nice smooth finish. Because the wood was a smooth surface I wanted to maintain this look. The other sprayer head allows more paint to be applied during application which results in a textured surface.

Don’t get me wrong, both sprayers work well and provide great results. Let me explain the issues we ran into.

  • We learned that painting overhead as opposed to in front of you was a lot different. We battled flow and clogging issues having it angled toward the ceiling.
  • Because of the fine flow of the detail sprayer, it took 3 long work days to even apply the primer (approximately 18 hours)!
  • Moving on to apply paint with the detail sprayer it was more visible to notice that the paint wasn’t actually getting in the grooves.
  • And at that SLOW rate I just couldn’t bring myself to apply 2 coats of paint.

Mistake #2 Neglecting to sand the edges prior to installation

For our shiplap ceiling, we used a 1/8″ x 4′ x 8′ utility plywood. We used the table saw to make rip cuts 8″ wide. We were able to get 6 strips out of each piece of plywood.

Ceiling Detail Idea

After all of the wood was cut to size, we did take a palm sander to the top edges of the wood. Our mistake was not sanding the 1/8″ side edges. It was coarse which in turn gave sloppy looking painting results.

Because the wood in the grooves was rough, it soaked up the paint leaving areas of black resulting in a sloppy paint job. After applying 2-3 coats over these areas the results were the same.

Applying caulk to the perimeter of the shiplap ceiling where the wood met the wall was in our original plan. To solve our problem, essentially we ended up caulking in every groove as well! Which took another 12 hours! 750 square feet of shiplap…you do the math.

The intent wasn’t to fill the groove in with caulk, rather the caulk was applied to fill in the rough edges. Once dry, paint was applied which resulted in a much cleaner look.

Mistake #3 Not painting edges prior to installation

Clearly all of the time we wasted could’ve been prevented had we taken the time to sand each 1/8″ side edge. Furthermore painting the edges prior to installation would likely save even more time.

Ultimately we ended up spraying the ceiling with the other sprayer which applied a lot of paint and texture. Then we used a 3/8″ nap roller to create a nice smooth finish.

We worked on about 3 rows at a time spraying then rolling.

Mistake #4 Not painting the ceiling surface prior to installation

Ceiling Detail Idea

The surface of your ceiling will likely be painted already unless it’s new construction like ours. Even then, if you’re changing paint colors it’s a good idea to paint the ceiling first because it’s so challenging to paint in the grooves.

Another alternative is to paint the edges of the wood and ceiling during installation.

To do this, you could install one row then paint the ceiling surface and the 1/8″ edge of the row installed. Then before installing the next row, paint the 1/8″ edge that will be installed adjacent to the previous row creating the groove. These steps would be repeated with the installation of each row.

Mistake #5 Using a nickle gap

During installation, we used tile spacers (approximately 1/8″) in-between each row to create the gap resulting in the shiplap look. While I feel this gap does create a realistic shiplap look, I would recommend a larger gap unless the side edges and ceiling surface are painted prior to installation.

Shiplap Ceiling Installation

The overall process of installing the shiplap ceiling went smoothly. We were hung up on all the extra finish work we had to do because we failed to carry out the preliminary steps prepping the wood prior to installation.

Because we used a different wood for our shiplap walls, we didn’t need to go through the process of cutting and sanding each strip of wood.

We did learn however that it would’ve been beneficial to paint the 1/4″ edges prior to installation.

Use a chalk line to create straight rows

Ceiling Detail Idea
Ceiling Detail Idea

Before installing a shiplap ceiling it’s important to start with a straight line. Our ceiling houses a box which will encase a retractable movie screen. We used this as our starting point.

The box is secured to the joist so we opted to follow this line.

Use a chalk line to easily mark this line on the ceiling. We then measured out 4′ from the first line and made another line. This was used as a reference point to ensure the remaining rows being installed were also straight.

We made new marks with the chalk line about every 4′ as we progressed.

Securing the shiplap ceiling

Ceiling Detail Idea

Because the shiplap was running the same direction as the joists, nails or brads wouldn’t be driven into a solid surface on each row. Therefore, we used liquid nails on the back side of each strip of wood. They were then secured into the sheetrock with 2″ brads using a pneumatic nail gun.

Essentially the liquid nails will form a strong enough bond to hold the wood into place. The brads held the wood into place while the liquid nails cured. In some areas, the brads were secured to the joists as well.

Staggering the shiplap

Ceiling Detail Idea

The placement of the first board isn’t as important as intentionally staggering the seams as each row is installed. We installed the first piece in the middle of the ceiling right along the edge of the movie screen box.

Cutting shiplap to size

Then measurements were taken for each side piece and cut to size using a chop saw. 

Other cuts were made to fit around HVAC vents and light fixtures were done using a jigsaw and rotary saw. To ensure the holes were cut precisely in the correct spot we did this after installation. To aid in this process we used the can light template to trace each circle on the board where it was to be cut.

Finish Work

Ceiling Detail Idea
Ceiling Detail Idea

Once the shiplap ceiling has been installed, fill in each brad hole with putty, allow to dry and wipe excess putty away with a wet cloth. On occasion you may need to use a nail set and hammer to drive the brad in a little deeper.

Although this process is pretty straight forward and simple, it does take quite a bit of time. This is especially true working overhead on a ceiling with multiple trips up and down a step stool.

(We were able to borrow scaffolding for most of this, which helped a lot. This allowed us to have all the supplies up on the platform with us. Then we could roll on to the next section of ceiling without a lot of up and down trips.)

At this point, the ceiling perimeter would be caulked. Please spare yourself valuable time and learn from our mistakes! Do whatever prep work is needed prior to installation. Trust me you don’t want to waste an extra 12 hours of your life caulking in-between every single row of shiplap!

Near the end of this project the simple thought of going downstairs would make me cringe. I was so tired of working on this stinkin’ ceiling!

Completed shiplap ceiling

Ceiling Detail Idea
Ceiling Detail Idea

Overall, I’m very happy with the end result. Even though this already time consuming project turned into much more than I could have imagined.

To give you a better idea on how much time it took to complete our 750 square foot shiplap ceiling from start to finish, each step is broken down below.

    • 1 hour to cut all the wood into strips
    • 7 hours to sand the top edges of each strip of wood (not including the time it would have added to sand the 1/8″ side edges)
    • 23.5 hours to install the shiplap ceiling
    • 12 hours of caulk time + a couple hours caulk time for the perimeter of the room
    • 12 hours putty work
    • 18 hours priming (this was SLOW going using the detail sprayer)
    • 16+ hours painting (ultimately we ended up rolling anyway)

That adds up to a minimum of 89.5 LONG work hours! To see it all broken down and added up like this makes me cringe! I can’t even describe how glad I am that we’re finally finished!

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Final thoughts?

Give me your thoughts. How crazy do you think we are for taking on this project? Does this deter you from wanting to install a faux shiplap ceiling yourself? Is it worth the extra money to make the overall process easier? Comment below, we love hearing from you.

For more ideas that will add value to your home, take a look at 10 Sensational Home Improvement Ideas on a Budget.

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Thanks for spending some time with us today!

And as always here at Sunny Side Design


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This Post Has 4 Comments



    1. Michelle Dickson

      Good luck! Let us know how your project goes. We’d love to know if you have any tips for us.

  2. Kristy S.

    This was very helpful. I want to do this in my bedroom and didn’t want to find all the joist and put tack strips. I wanted to glue but was a little fearful that the board might fall down during the night. I will do this. Now I just have to find a lucky sole who will help me.

    1. Michelle Dickson

      I’m so happy you found this helpful. Let us know how your project goes. We’d love to see photos when you’re finished.

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