A wood plank ceiling offers a classic look that has become increasingly popular in recent years. In some cases, a DIY’er can complete a simple installation to give a rectangular room a decorative upgrade. For more complicated projects that are “over your head,” you’d better call a construction pro.
Installation of a plank ceiling is essentially the same as a plank floor, but working on a ceiling can present some unique challenges.
With flooring, for example, boards with square edges that butt flush against each other can create a smooth floor surface, even if the boards have slightly different heights. Although the height difference can result in a bit of lippage when installed, a floor sander usually
levels out the boards. You won’t be able to sand down a ceiling, however, so the lippage would remain visible. For this reason, homeowners and contractors often prefer boards that have beveled edges which form V-shaped channels when assembled. The V-grooves hide slight discrepancies in the ceiling.
Even though you can’t use a floor sander, keep in mind that unfinished wood needs to be sanded in order to take stain uniformly. For this reason, it’s a good idea to sand and pre-finish the boards before installation.
The ceiling boards should be allowed to acclimate to the room where they’ll be installed.
Beveled boards present their own challenges, though. On the project shown, for instance, the crew from Dustin Schwaiger Construction of Cullman, Alabama, weren’t working with a simple rectangular ceiling. These guys were tasked with installing the T&G boards on a multi-angle vaulted ceiling, which is not something you’ll encounter when laying a floor. Due to the intersecting angles, each board had to be cut to a precise bevel and/or miter angle that joins the surrounding boards with perfect alignment and near-seamless accuracy. The cuts require a compound miter saw, and if the angle is off, then the boards won’t align, and the V-grooves will be visibly mismatched when installed. That was unacceptable to the Schwaiger crew.
“Our plan on this job is to install the boards so tightly that there will be no need for trim,” explained Dustin Schwaiger.
As with flooring installation, you’ll need to plan a square layout that eliminates small sliver boards or noticeable pie-shaped cuts along the walls. Snap chalk lines to help guide the layout.
If you think this sounds like a difficult task, you’re right, and the challenges are compounded by construction realities such as built-up joint compound at the drywall seams. When the flat ceiling surface is pushed just slightly out of plane by the drywall mud, it can affect the angle of the board joint. This can be frustrating even for an experienced professional. To battle this problem, Schwaiger would use a scrap board to make the cut, test its fit against the adjoining boards, readjust the cut angle until it achieves a perfect fit, then reproduce the final angle on the boards to be installed. This can be tricky, time-consuming work, and it’s why a project this complicated should be referred to a contractor.
The intersecting angles of this vaulted ceiling made for a complicated installation.
Ceiling plank installation is generally the same as for a floor. The boards should be prepared the same way by acclimating the wood to the space where it will be installed.
For finished ceilings, first disconnect the electricity and remove all light fixtures and other obstacles. If the framing is not exposed, use a stud finder to locate and mark the ceiling joists. Scaffolding will be a huge help on any major ceiling project.
Dustin Schwaiger runs the crew and operates the compound miter saw.
Installation can require several trial cuts to dial in the perfect angle.
In general, floor planks should be installed perpendicular to the ceiling joists, although the addition of a sub-ceiling or a layer of perpendicular furring strips will allow you to install parallel to the joists. If this is not an option, you can nail into solid framing where it’s present, glue the backs of the boards with construction adhesive, and blind-nail the T&G joints during installation.
You’ll encounter the same general layout issues as with any floor installation.
You’ll encounter the same general layout issues as with any floor installation. Measure the ceiling area and divide by the exposed face of a plank to avoid being left with a small sliver of boards on the final row. If that is the case, then begin installation with a ripped partial board to allow room for a larger final row. Also, check the ceiling for square. If the diagonal measurements in each corner aren’t the same, you should establish a square, straight line as a starting point. The key is to create a line parallel to the end wall. A chalk line can help guide the installation. Establishing a square first row will avoid having odd pie-shaped planks along the final row.
Matthew Hancock fastens the boards in place with 16-gauge nails. A scaffolding system will be a huge help on any ceiling project.
Nail the boards solidly into the framing. On the project shown, the crew fastened the boards with 2-1/2-in. 16-gauge finish nails, supplementing this with construction adhesive. Avoid driving fasteners closer than an inch from the end grain to avoid splitting the wood. Using construction glue reduces the need for nails and the associated repair work. Gluing will also prevent the planks from rattling and vibrating.
When installing boards parallel to solid framing, construction glue is applied to the backs of the T&G planks.
In some cases, shims might be necessary to achieve a perfect fit to the joints.
For ceiling installations, homeowners often prefer full-length boards to avoid visible end joints. If you or your installer are not using full-length boards, then be sure to stagger
the end-joints from row to row.
The cut edges of the planks along the wall edges can be hidden with molding or trim
strips stained to match the new ceiling.
Or, maybe your installer has skills like Dustin Schwaiger and crew, who cut and installed
the boards on this project with such precision that no trim was needed. That’s quite the accomplishment on a vaulted ceiling like the one shown here, but these guys succeeded spectacularly.
Professional installation can achieve a near-seamless appearance.
This ceiling was installed with such accuracy and attention to detail that no trim or molding was necessary to dress up the edges.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Dustin Schwaiger Construction company for help
with this article. Find them on Facebook and Instagram @dustinschwaiger.