Love the look of shiplap? Learn how to plank a wall beautifully and affordably.
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 😉 ), that I finally gave in and got to work on this tutorial.
Before I continue, the former English teacher (aka nerd) in me feels the need to clarify a few things:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 😉
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:
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- 1/4″ underlayment in 4×8′ sheets**
- table saw (unless you have the planks cut at the department store, like we did… you will probably need some kind of circular saw* to rip the last piece lengthwise, though)
- palm sander
- painting supplies: roller, broom handle, primer, quality paint, brush
- stud finder
- air compressor and finish nailer (here’s a great deal for a combo)
- miter saw
- quarter round
- painters putty
- paintable caulk and caulk gun (or I think this little tube can be used without a gun if you don’t already have one)
*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.
UPDATE One more word of caution: I have heard from a reader that the stores do not guarantee the straightness of their cuts. The employees in our store were happy to do it for us and the cuts were just right, but please know that I can’t speak for all the stores.
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.
2. Choose the “better” side of each plank.
If you’re going for a rustic look with your DIY shiplap, 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 shiplap 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 shiplap 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 finish a diy plank wall:
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.
I seriously LOVE how it gave this space texture and interest…
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?!)
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. 🙂
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