How to Plank a Wall (DIY Shiplap)

I admit that when I first shared this new plank accent wall (my own little “diy shiplap”) in my son’s room, I thought the reveal might put off my need for sharing the tutorial for some time… Boy was I wrong! ¬†I’ve had so many requests for how to plank a wall (and a few offers to hire me to do it myself ūüėČ ), that I finally gave in and got to work on this tutorial.

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

Before I continue, the former English teacher (aka nerd) in me feels the need to clarify a few things:

  1. This is not shiplap.  Shiplap refers to boards whose edges have a certain shape that fit together with the next board in an overlapping manner.
  2. Tongue and groove is another type of planked edges (our attic ceiling¬†was done using this kind of planking), and it is just what it sounds like: each plank as a groove on one side and a tongue on the other which fits into the next board’s groove… and so on.
  3. This, my friends, is a fake.  Made to LOOK like one of the two above.

With all that proper¬†vocabulary out of the way, let me just say that I thoroughly approve of calling it whatever the heck you want, as long as you know deep down what it really is. ūüėČ

One other PSA before I continue. ¬†“Shiplap” (or not really shiplap but we love to call it that anyway) is super trendy right now. ¬†Do I love trendy? ¬†Sure. ¬†Do I think it makes sense to add trends to your home? ¬†Maybe but not necessarily. ¬†Because I want to help and encourage you to invest in your home – both physically and metaphorically – I feel like I should remind you that 30 years from now, this might just be the awful fake paneling of the 1970’s. ¬†I, for one, have never minded that paneling, as long as it was painted white. ¬†In fact, I have had some kind of paneling in every home we have owned¬†– long before Fixer Upper was popular –¬†I painted it all white and loved it. ¬†That said, be sure it’s something you won’t regret. ¬†Don’t go to the trouble, expense, and even damage to perfectly good drywall if you don’t think you’ll love it forever.

Now that my conscience is cleared (are you still tracking with me?!), here is my full tutorial. :)

Materials needed to plank a wall:

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.  Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

*I’ve linked the newest versions of the tools¬†we use (where applicable), but other brands will work, too.

**Now here comes a major confession: I’m not actually sure what kind of plywood sheets we used. ¬†I read labels carefully and felt the boards, looking for the smoothest, thinnest, most “real wood” sheets I could find. ¬†I¬†thought we chose a 1/8″ plywood that was ~$9 per 4×8′ sheet. ¬†Then my sweet hubby went to get it cut into¬†planks for us and load them in the truck while I ordered our new kitchen cabinet doors (woohoo!). ¬†Later, while I was installing the planks and admiring how well I had chosen the material,¬†Mr Pax said¬†to me, “Oh yeah, apparently it was miss-marked. I think they may have been 1/4″ because I got to check out and discovered they were closer to $20 each.” ¬†And the sweet man couldn’t find the receipt either. ¬†It didn’t mess us up too bad because we were doing such a small wall, but make sure you¬†confirm the price on your boards before you have them sliced up.

Another note on choosing your planks: consider the finished look you want.  We wanted clean and smooth because the rest of our house is simply not rustic.  I would advise against MDF or any other fake wood materials; those tend to swell when they get wet (even painted), and it is much harder to sand out imperfections.  A nice, thin (i.e. lightweight), smooth as you want plywood is going to be your best bet.  And look for boards that are as straight and level as possible.

Now, without further ado,

how to plank a wall (aka DIY shiplap):

1. Cut your plywood into planks.
If you have a table saw, go for it! ¬†If not, the folks at Home Depot¬†are awesome. ¬†Simply tell them you want it cut into 8″ strips (or whatever width plank you would like), and they will do it for you. ¬†Remember that you will likely have one plank that is narrower than the rest due to the width of the saw blade. ¬†Just use that one¬†for your bottom row.

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

2. Choose the “better” side of each plank.
If you’re going for a rustic look, it probably doesn’t matter which side you use… But we wanted to avoid imperfections like you see above. ¬†You also might consider the ramifications if your boards are not completely flat (which is likely with thin plywood like this). ¬†Since our wall was only 7′ wide, we used full length boards and did not have any seams. ¬†But if you have seams that don’t fall on studs, a board that bows outward (away from the wall) may have trouble attaching well. ¬†So try to¬†choose the side that allows the bowed boards to curve toward the wall.

3. Sand all along the edges of your front side.
Now that your boards are stacked with your “better” side out, use your palm sander to sand out all those splinters and imperfections from the saw. ¬†I did not sand the face of our boards much because they seemed very smooth already, but if you get a particularly rough board, you might want to sand that, too.

4. Tape a drop cloth to a large flat surface and lay your planks down with the sanded side UP.

5. Prime and paint your boards.
If you have a high quality paint + primer, you can skip the primer. ¬†I used Behr Marquee Cameo White in eggshell (the same one I used in my master bedroom), and WOW. ¬†One coat was almost enough… even on the raw plywood! ¬†I worked with Behr in the past (and this paint was leftover from that collaboration), but this is completely unsponsored admiration. :) ¬†I did a second coat just to be sure to get full coverage, but it was almost unnecessary. TIP: Most regular broom handles will attach onto a basic roller. ¬†But doing that, you can roll the paint on in no time.

6. Prep your wall: mark all your studs and remove electrical covers.
We used a pencil to mark studs, and it is too faint to see on the full wall pictures, but you can see it in the image below: mark both sides of each stud clearly.

7. Practice with your nail gun.
Especially with thin plywood, it is easy to overshoot the board and send the finishing nail into the wall.  Use a little scrap and be sure you have your pressure on your air compressor set to the right level.

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

8. Using a long level, hang your first plank AT THE TOP of your wall.
You may not be able to tell in my photos, but this is actually a very short wall with an angled ceiling. ¬†We opted to plank the¬†angled ceiling portion, too, but we wanted to be sure we had a full width plank above and below the angle because it’s¬†pretty close to eye level. ¬†For a normal wall, start at the ceiling. ¬†Put two nails (one near the top of the plank and one near the bottom) in EACH stud. ¬†If your wall is wider than 8′, use your miter saw to cut your second plank the correct length¬†to finish the wall. ¬†Then¬†use the leftover piece from that plank to start your second row; this will stagger¬†your seams.

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

9. Using¬†two nickels as spacers (one at each end),¬†start your second row… and continue on down the wall.

10. When you get to an outlet, measure and mark the hole on your board.
Please ignore the numerous holes in our wall. ¬†The previous owners had multiple phone and cable lines coming out of there (none of which were still connected to any service) and an old outlet that was rewired lower down. ¬†They were previously covered with a bunch of blank plastic electrical covers, but that’s a beauty in planking the wall; you can cover up those imperfections! ¬†Just be sure that if you have any questions about your electrical situation, you consult a certified electrician…

11. Using your jigsaw, cut the holes around the outlets.

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

12. Rip your final plank.
When you get to the bottom of the wall, measure the width of the last section (and don’t forget to account for your nickel spacers). ¬†Using a table saw (if you have one) or a circular saw with a guide, cut your final plank(s) to the proper width. ¬†Note: our baseboards are very thick and have a flat top, so it was an easy choice to leave our baseboards in place… but if your baseboard is thinner than your planks or has a curved top, you may want to remove them and plank all the way to the floor before reinstalling them. ¬†Entirely your choice.

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

13. Use your quarter round to cover the ends of the planks.
This is actually optional, but as I mentioned, we wanted a pretty clean look in our home, so covering the ends made perfect sense.  Some basic quarter round cut to the height of the wall does the trick.

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

Now come the finishing touches. ¬†You must ask yourself, how rustic do I want this? ¬†Some people like the nail holes and cracks… It just didn’t go with the smooth finishes in the rest of our house, so with an extra hour of work, I was able to make it look¬†much¬†neater. ¬†See below the before and after.

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

How to finish a diy plank wall:

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

1. Use painters putty to fill the nail holes.
I just shove it in there with my finger and wipe it off.

2. Caulk the edges.
I chose to use caulk only where the quarter round met the sheetrock because I did not want to dig caulk out of the cracks between the planks.

3. Sand the places where you put putty lightly with 220 sandpaper.

4. Touch up paint.
The primed quarter round still needs paint, and the filled nail holes need a little bit, too.

And that’s it! ¬†Sit back and admire your work.

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

I seriously LOVE how it gave this space texture and interest…

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

The perfect backdrop for the antique beds that my brothers and I used as kids… I love passing things on down a family. (Side note: it may be time to refinish that footboard, but I promise it doesn’t look that bad in person… I think every little knick – and there are many – is reflecting light from¬†the window?!)

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

Whew! ¬†Are you still with me? ¬†I feel like that turned into one of the longest posts EVER… Thanks for your patience. I hope this was helpful! ¬†Happy planking, friends. :)

How to Plank a Wall: excellent tutorial on getting that diy shiplap look!

You might also like…

how to whitewash wood: tutorial and tips for whitewashing wood and giving a farmhouse plank look

How to Whitewash Wood

how to turn a regular table top into a farmhouse, plank look

DIY Faux Planked Desk or Table

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  1. taylor thurmond says:

    Love this tutorial! My suggestion to those wanting to try this out is to gently make sure the person who rips the boards at Home Depot is precise. It can make or break the ease of a project! Also, my home leans more modern farmhouse/fixer upper and we got by with leaving the nail/staple holes. It works for us because we were afraid that with modern Ikea cabinets we might go TOO sleek. The visible holes leave a little texture and rustic charm sits in juxtaposition with the new cabinetry. Rachel, I love the duet of your shiplap with the antique bed. Dreamy!

  2. It was refreshing to read what I’ve thought for some time–that one day this may be looked at like the fake paneling of the 70’s.

    I’m always happy when the style I’ve always liked becomes something I can purchase. It doesn’t always work when it isn’t trendy–I wanted white cabinets and marble countertops 16 years ago when we were redoing our kitchen. The only white cabinets we could find at the time were laminate (and we looked at everything Home Depot and Lowe’s had to offer), so I passed on those and got a dark wood (which I also like). I still wanted Carrera marble, but the stone place didn’t want to sell it to me. They told me it was awful for counters. There were no similar choices in quartz to purchase at the time; I certainly looked. Now there are lots of choices. At the time I ended up going with the lightest granite we could find, but it’s more gold. And now, my dark cabinets with gold granite are dated and people dislike them (not mine personally, but I hear a lot of homes having trouble selling because the style is outdated) because they’re not white with white/grey marble.

    In the end, choose what you love, because it is your house. Things can be changed (though not always easily or inexpensively) but if you sell later and people hate it, they may very well change it. It’s important that you love what you have for the long run.

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      I love what you said, Brandy! I grew up with a white kitchen with marble countertops because it’s what my mom loved… and it was NOT in style at the time. Now, though, many people would love her kitchen. The styles do rotate through, and it’s so important not to bend towards it unless it’s something you’ve always loved or can be easily changed later. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Jamie lockard says:

    Really nicely done tutorial. I’ve followed your blog for a few years now, and really appreciate the ideas you share. Thanks!

  4. Love this tutorial! Thanks for all the work putting it together.

  5. I love this! So well done, my friend! There is an extra closet in our bedroom with no doors. We have a a dresser in there with a lamp and our little early morning coffee station. I think that planking the little vaulted ceiling in there would be just perfect.

    Pinning now!

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you so much, Sarah! I do love the planking on the vaulted ceiling; I’m sure it would look beautiful in your space! Loved meeting you this weekend. xx

  6. Michelle Dickey says:

    Your tutorial is fantastic. We are getting ready to shiplap our wall and I was wondering, do you need to paint the edge of the plank?

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thank you, Michelle! I intentionally tried to kind of paint the edges when I rolled the planks, but I admit that at certain angles you can still see some wood-color along the edges once they are installed. I honestly don’t mind it at all (and it really is VERY subtle), but if you think that’s the kind of thing that would bother you, you might want to go ahead and paint the edges before you install. You can always go back with a brush later and just get the spots that show if you want. Hope this helps!

  7. karie Strong says:

    Would I need to paint the wall that is about to be shiplap white before applying the shiplap*. Since you left a nickel width?


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