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What To Know Before Making A Shiplap Wall

Shiplap is a wall covering that consists of long horizontal boards stacked on top of each other. Another term for it is tongue and groove, because of the way traditional shiplap fits together.

Shiplap was made popular by the show Fixer Upper, and can now be found in homes all over the United States.

Making a shiplap wall is an easy and (potentially) inexpensive way to make a space feel clean and bright, and give it a little of that farmhouse look that is so gorgeous.

The Details of Shiplap

While shiplap can come in several different sizes, the standard width for shiplap is 6 inches. It can be as wide as 8 inches and as narrow as 4 inches. The 4 inch version is referred to by Joanna Gaines as skinnylap.

While traditional shiplap is made from tongue and groove planks, many DIYers make shiplap out of long pine boards, strips of plywood, or MDF boards.

When using tongue and groove, the gap in between the shiplap planks is made for you by the way the planks fit together. If you use any other sort of board, you will need to use a space to create a gap between the boards.

Putting shiplap on the walls is a great way to make a room feel larger. Typically, shiplap is painted white, which can make a room feel bigger. In addition, the long horizontal lines that shiplap makes on your walls can tend to make the walls feel longer.

shiplap walls make a room look longer

Where Can I Put Shiplap

While you can always shiplap a whole room, there are also smaller spaces where you can use shiplap to showcase just a bit of the style.

Using shiplap is a great way to upgrade a plain kitchen island:

shiplap kitchen island

You can also use it as a kitchen backsplash:

shiplap backsplash

Shiplap is gorgeous as an accent wall:

shiplap accent wall

It can even go on a ceiling:

shiplap ceiling

Installing Shiplap

Shiplap isn’t hard to install, but it does require a bit of precision and knowledge.

Shiplap can go directly over drywall, or can be affixed to studs to form a wall.

You begin by measuring your wall. Then, divide the wall height by the width of the shiplap planks (plus the gap you intend to leave if you’re using wood or MDF planks, or minus the part that overlaps if you use real tongue and groove pieces). Once you see how many planks you need, you’ll be able to get a better sense of where you should start the first piece.

For instance, if you determine that you will need 10.3 planks, you can see that you will need 10 planks and .3 of another one. To fill that .3 space, you have to either cut one of the planks longwise (called a rip cut), or t start the planks a few inches up and leave a small gap at the top, since the bottom and top parts of the wall will be covered by trim.

When you’re actually affixing the shiplap to the wall, it doesn’t matter if you start at the top or bottom, but it does matter greatly that you level the first board really well.

So, decide whether you want to start high or low, and then get your level out and put a nail in one side of the shiplap. Once that is done, put the long level on the middle of the board, and nail the other side of the board once the plank is perfectly level. If you get this right, your shiplap will look amazing and you won’t need to check the level on every board.

Be sure to put a few more nails in the middles section of your board (attached to studs), and you’re ready to move onto the next board.

What Tools Do I Need for Shiplap

Installing shiplap doesn’t require a lot of tools. At a minimum, you can install shiplap with a long level, a hammer, nails, nail setter, and caulk. This method takes a lot of time though, because each nail is hammered, set and caulked separately. Plus, it is harder. (I know… I did it this way the first time I installed shiplap – more on that later).

An easier and much more time efficient way to install shiplap is to use a nail gun. They can be a little intimidating if you’ve never used one, but they’re actually really easy to use, and make for a perfect, clean nail hole every time. I love my nail gun so, so much. It makes jobs like this a breeze.

Using a nail gun to install shiplap

Be sure to check out the the list at the bottom of the post for some specific tool recommendations.

What You Should Know Before Making a Shiplap Wall…

The first time I installed shiplap, I used 1×6 pine boards. I did a lot wrong, but the wall ended up looking gorgeous anyways. Here was my experience:

For several years, I had been tossing around the idea to adding a shiplap wall somewhere in my house, but had never gotten around to it. 

But, I had a wall in my basement that was seriously ugly.  Now, you may be wondering how a wall can be ugly.  Well, take a look for yourself:

Before picture of shiplap wall

It was way too busy with the multiple cut out boxes for shelves, and had a dinky looking electric fireplace insert in the bottom.  Not to mention those cords.  I had tried to tape them up to look right, and put a mantle in the middle of the wall(where the puttied section of the wall is), but it just made it look even busier.

This seemed like the perfect place to try my hand at making a shiplap wall.  Plus, as a bonus, I would be able to cover over a few of those shelf holes without anyone being any the wiser!

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Is Making a Shiplap Wall Hard?

Long story short, kind of.

I have seen lots of pictures of shiplap rooms, read a few tutorials and have watched Fixer Upper, so I figured that I was ready to go.

Several of the tutorials talked about how the cheapest way to add a shiplap wall was to buy sanded plywood and have Lowes or Home Depot rip cut it for you into 6 or 8 inch strips.  Well my local Home Depot is on to this, and have a big sign posted saying, “No rip cuts under 12 inches.”  So that option was out for me.

So I looked at the actual strips of shiplap that they sell, but they cost about $13 a board, and I didn’t want to pay that much, even though I was only doing a small area.

Instead, I decided to just use pine boards.  It’s just nailing boards into the wall… simple right?

Turns out, adding shiplap to a wall is actually harder than it looks.  Well, let me rephrase that.

Making a shiplap wall takes more thought than than I expected.

For example, I knew that I needed the long boards for the actual shiplapping.  But I didn’t realize that I would need all sorts of additional trim pieces to finish it off.  Also, I didn’t realize how important picking the right kind of long boards was.

Here is what I wish I knew before making a shiplap wall.

1. You can buy MDF board which are primed, lightweight, and easy to install for pretty cheap. 

I used pine 1 x 8s because they are cheap (under $2 for a 6 foot board), and they were 8 inches wide.  I wanted a wider shiplap because I prefer how that looks.  Plus, I knew it would mean less cuts that I would have to make.  With three kids under 5, I don’t have time to make more cuts than necessary!

After using the pine boards, I found out about the MDF boards.  They are a little pricier than pine boards, coming in around $7 for a 1 x 8. I wish that I would have used the MDF ones for a few reasons though.  First, they are a lot smoother than pine boards.  I filled in a bunch of knot holes with Durham’s Water Putty and then had to sand the excess on my pine boards. The MDF boards would not have required this. 

Second, they are lighter than real wood because they are a composite of resin and wood. 

And third, my pine boards were not always straight.  Because they’re made of real wood, they can bow. This made some lines in the shiplapped wall look wider than some other lines.  Take a look:

side of shiplap wall before trim pieces

See how that second line down looks so much wider?  Its the same as the others (2 nickels), but because the pine board is slightly curved, it looks wider.  This was the third board I tried in this spot, and I was out of boards at this time, so it made the final cut.  Overall, it probably isn’t noticeable to too many people now that the trim is on and everything is painted, but to my perfectionist eye, it is bothersome.

So, learn from my experience.  Use the MDF (or use the pine, but have a better understanding of what you may be dealing with).

2. You don’t have to worry about cutting any edges perfectly because you are going to add trim to the exposed edges.

I was really concerned with making sure my measurements were PERFECT.  At the end, I realized that I needed to add trim to the sides of to give it a finished look.  So there was no need to make them exactly right.

3. On that point, you are supposed to add trim to the exposed edges.  This means on the top, the bottom and on any sides where the shiplap stops.

Some people just caulk the ends, but I found it looked much nicer with a piece of trim.

On the top, you can put crown moulding to finish it off.  This was really important to me, because my ceiling is not quite level.

top of shiplap wall with crown molding

This was before I caulked the crown moulding.  See how the crown moulding doesn’t quite reach the ceiling on the right?  It is actually level, the ceiling is not.

If the shiplap just ended at the ceiling, it would be really evident that it was unlevel.  With a thick crown moulding, it is much less obvious because there isn’t a dark line to compare the ceiling.

Here is how the trim looked when I was done.  (Also, you can see at on the one picture where I used one nickel instead of two, and haven’t yet sanded it to make the gap wider – see the next point for what I mean).

Adding trim when making a shiplap wall
trim pieces on shiplap wall

 4.  If your boards aren’t level, you can’t just adjust the thickness of the gap between the shiplap.

Maybe this is common sense, but I didn’t realize it.  When my boards weren’t level, I put one nickel on the higher side and two nickels on the lower side.  Problem solved, right?

Wrong.  Problem created.

When I painted the boards, it was SUPER OBVIOUS that the lines were not the same thickness the whole way across.  And then I had to go back and sand in between the pine boards until they were a similar thickness the whole way across.  I created a lot more work for myself.

As mentioned above, my advice on this is to make sure the first board is level.  Level it really well, and don’t just put it flush on the ground because the ground may not be level.  Since you are going to be covering up the bottom with a trim piece anyways, it doesn’t matter if one side is higher off the ground than the other.

So, level the bottom piece and the rest should turn out pretty level as well.

5. When everything is painted and all the edges are trimmed, its going to look good.

When I was making a shiplap wall, I was really concerned about all the little things.

Did I fill each knot hole?  Was each board completely level?  Did the edges of the shiplap board go the whole way to the wall?  Did I cut the piece above my fireplace insert perfectly straight?

None of these things mattered once it was all complete.  All the edges got covered by trim.  Even that one above the fireplace insert that I meticulously sanded to be straight.  I covered that up with a piece of trim.  (As an aside, this shiplap wall took that dinky looking fireplace insert and made it look so much better!  I love it!)

Making a shiplap wall

So that is what I learned about making a shiplap wall.

Even with all of the tutorials that I read, I had to really search to find information about how to finish the ends, and what the BEST type of material to use for the shiplap itself.

Final Thoughts on Shiplap

I’ve installed both pine board shiplap and tongue and groove shiplap. Both have their good points, but given the choice, I would always install tongue and groove shiplap if I had the option. It goes up easier, the planks don’t bow like wood can because they’re made of MDF, it has the groove already set which means less room for error, and it comes in a perfect finish, which means you don’t necessarily have to paint it.

I hope this post is beneficial for you, and saves you some of the missteps that I took while I was making a shiplap wall!

If you’re wondering what color to paint your shiplap, check out this post on the best whites from Sherwin Williams!

Before you start, pick up everything you need to install shiplap!

Shiplap:

Nail Setter:

OR, for an easier (but more expensive job)… Nail gun and compressor:

Long Level

Check out some more of the inexpensive and easy ways we have upgraded our home:

Kitchen Island Update

RTA Cabinets

Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets

How To Whitewash Brick

How to Reface Vanity Doors

DIY Wood Countertop

Make sure you pin this post to remember these tips for when you get around to making your shiplap wall!

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Colleen

Monday 18th of January 2021

What did you use for the trim along the side edges?

Lauren

Saturday 23rd of January 2021

Hi Colleen! I just just little wood strips. They can be found in the trim section at Home Depot or Lowes. Here is a link that shows an example.

Allison

Saturday 9th of January 2021

Hello! When installing shiplap with molding, should you remove the molding first or install around it? Thanks!

Sarah

Saturday 6th of February 2021

@Lauren, What size crown moulding did you use?

Lauren

Saturday 9th of January 2021

Hi Allison! You will want to remove the molding before installing the shiplap, and then re-install it over the shiplap. Good luck

Joan White

Wednesday 17th of June 2020

It seems you started at the bottom and worked your way up to the ceiling. I was thinking I have read where people say to start at the top. Any clarification on reasons why you started at bottom. Thank you for your helpful article. I'm getting ready to start my project!

Lauren

Wednesday 17th of June 2020

Hi Joan! I did start at the bottom and work my way up. I found it to be easier to space the boards evenly (with the nickel method), since I was doing it on my own. Since I planned the spacing out so I wouldn't end up with just a tiny sliver of a board at the top edge, it didn't matter whether I started at the top or bottom. Hope this helps! Good luck on your wall!

Corin

Saturday 16th of May 2020

We just finished getting our shiplap up and I’m wondering what you used for your exposed edges? Looks great!

Lauren

Saturday 16th of May 2020

Hi Corin - thanks! I got small trim pieces from Home Depot for the edges. They were just thin strips of wood, like a half inch wide by a quarter inch deep or something like that. The trim really makes a huge difference! Good job getting your wall up!

Kristi

Sunday 10th of May 2020

So, so helpful! I’m glad I found your post before starting my project. Thank you for saving me some stress! Your wall looks fabulous!

Lauren

Sunday 10th of May 2020

Thanks Kristi! Hope your wall goes well!