Wood Ceiling 101: How To Install Tongue & Groove Paneling

February 17, 2010 | 43 Comments | DIY How To
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The easiest way to describe this is “like installing a wood floor, but upside-down.” Even if you’ve never done a wood floor before, the concept is pretty simple– take board, attach to ceiling. Rinse and repeat 400 times.

If you’re looking for a little more detail, this is what I can tell you.


  • Wood
  • Stain/ polyurethane


  • Finish Nailer
  • Hammer
  • Hole saw and/or jigsaw
  • Rasp
  • Ladders or scaffolding
  • Tape measure
  • Miter saw, or hand-held circular saw (really, it’s 100 times easier with a miter saw)
  • Table saw

1.) Finish first.
Stain and polyurethane every single board, including the tongues of said boards, before even thinking about attaching it to the ceiling.


Try not to get too high from the fumes.

2.) Acclimate. Let the boards sit in the area you’ll be installing them for at least a couple of days.


3.) Prep. This is the part of “installing” the ceiling that requires a lot of standing around and head scratching. Here are a few pointers:

  • There’s some debate whether or not you need to put drywall up before installing the wood (which is to say that my father told me I should, and I ignored him). We went with some visqueen and called it good. If you’re starting with drywall in place, find your studs and mark them by snapping a chalk line.
  • Plan to start installing from the top and/or middle. You want the tongues to face down and out, so the “grooves” of your first two boards should butt up against each other.
  • Measure to see if you should start a board or a seam in the very middle of the room. Best case scenario you have to do very little trimming down on your last pieces.
  • Note the location of any electrical boxes or other obstacles.

4.) Go for it. At some point you have to actually get up on the scaffolding and nail a board in. You’ll want to nail through the tongue of every board you install except these two. These first boards you will face nail.


You can hardly see that sucker, but you’ll still want to tongue-nail the rest of them to minimize visible holes.

5.) Cutting. To minimize waste you should start at one end and lay boards end-to-end. On the final board, cut it to fit and then use the “leftover” to start a new row. To make the seams less visible, cut the pieces at a 45-degree angle.


We’re getting fancy around here and I even made a diagram.


Notice the boards are perpendicular to the rafters. I have no idea how you would accomplish this otherwise, so I don’t think you’ll try… but I’m saying it just in case.

6.) Nailing. Boards should be nailed at a 45-degree angle through the tongue. (Have I mentioned this yet? One or two hundred times?)


You can see, the 45-degree angle means the nail is hidden, but the tongues can still fit into the groove of the next board.

We practiced this on a scrap piece of wood before nailing the first one in.

Also, we tried this with both a brad nailer and a finish nailer. The brad nails were a little too small and would shoot through the board at times. The finish nailer- as you would expect- was just right.

7.) Tight fit. Do not bang on the tongue of a board to get it to fit better. Use a scrap piece of wood with a groove cut it in that fits over the tongue (or a scrap piece of ceiling material) and fit that over the board before tapping gently with a hammer.

8.) Obstacles. We had a couple of electrical boxes to work around and I let the engineer handle the proper math for that. Temporarily nailing a piece of scrap up to help get the correct measurements proved invaluable.


We cut these out with a 3″ hole saw, and then used a rasp on the edges to adjust a little if necessary.


9.) Finish. The last boards will likely need to be ripped down to the right width (unless you really lucked out on the size of your ceiling). After that all that’s left is to lay down on the ground and admire your handy-work.


You may need to peel your eyes away from that gorgeousness some time in the next decade. But for now, enjoy!

Without Words
Insanity Continues
DIY diva


  • carrie @ brick city love

    Looks awesome!! Good tip about nailing on the tongue at 45 degrees. I didn’t know that.

  • wanderluster

    *standing here wide-eyed and my mouth hanging open*

    That is one spectacular ceiling. If it were in my house, I would just lie on the floor all day. It makes the room look massive! Good job guys!!

  • Sara @ Russet Street Reno

    Oh, now THAT is tongue and groove! We are planning to do this to our kitchen ceiling and paint it white, however I purchased extremely thin, cheap pine T&G planks (why spend a lot when we’re just painting it?) and I’m worried that priming it before installation will make the tongues useless. No matter how neat a painter you are, there are bound to be drips of primer on the tongues and in the grooves somewhere. Do you think we would be committing a crime by installing, then priming and painting after they are up? I think the only thing we would have to do is touch up the cracks with a brush when they expand and contract. I’m not sure. And the packages are all sitting in our basement while I’m paralyzed with indecision. Help me!

    ps – your stain color is RAD! You did a perfect job.

  • kitliz

    Sara- How thick is your wood? (These were 8″ wide pine planks, and it was about 1/2″ thick) The tongues fit snugly, but the stain and polyeurathane didn’t make it any harder to install them. Certainly you can install your ceiling and finish after, the real reason they say not to do it is probably because painting on a ceiling is a pain in the butt. Although, you may want to do a really thin wash of white (mix it with water) on the tongues before you install just in case you have the shrinkage. I’m sure you can touch up after as well.

    If it were me, I’d probably paint two pieces (or even 6″ pieces cut off of a board) and let them dry, then see if you have trouble fitting them together. If you can get away with it, I think it will be much easier to paint/finish before installing. Also, if they’re thinner and you’re installing on an existing ceiling (over drywall) you can probably do it with adhesive… or at the very least find those studs first and snap a chalk line over them! Can’t wait to see how it turns out for you!.

    • Joyce

      2 questions.
      1. How wide is the face of an 8″ pine board like you used? Or another way of asking – how wide are 2 of these when they’re butted together?

      2. Where did you find 8″ x 1/2″ tongue and groove? The usual suspects only have 6″.

      • John Hoegemmann

        I ordered 1×8 SYP from the HD. I ordered 16′ lengths also. 2 pieces joined are 15 inches.

  • Mamie

    Kit–When I get back to Ohio during some decent weather, I want to help build whatever you are doing. And feed the donkeys and climb on the roof. No one will let me get up on the roof anymore. And the neighbor will not let me get above 3 steps on my ladder. Can you believe it. Your badass gtrandma Mamie

  • Dugswife

    We are doing this in our walkout basement. We don’t have drywall on the ceiling – just the exposed rafters. What is the plastic stuff I see covering your rafters in the picture? Figure we need to do that??

    • kitliz

      The plastic was just another layer of insulation for us, since the wood was going on a vaulted ceiling covered by a thin sheet of metal roof. If you’re putting it on an interior space, probably not. If it’s an exterior wall/ceiling… it’s up to you. Not necessary, but we think every little bit of insulation helps!

  • Guerrina

    Spectacular ceiling! Great job & tutorial!

  • juan carlos

    gracias, yo tenia que disertar de esto y no encontraba lainformacion por ningun lado y ustedes isieron posible eso,

  • r. maloney

    Absolutely beautiful ceiling – what color did you stain the ceiling – we are trying to find a great color and your picture shows a great color.

    • Kit

      Thanks! That is pine with two coats of Minwax Early American and a coat of clear satin poly. If you have the patience, three coats of the EA turns out even better!

  • mavie

    What color stain did you use?

  • JT

    That looks awesome. I am putting T&G pine on a new outdoor porch ceiling and I have been trying to find the right color stain. I haven’t been successful, but what you have here is exactly what I am going for. It is so rich. The MinWax Early American sample looks nothing like this though. I tell everyone I am going for a dark caramel color, like CocaCola. Does that sound like what you have? Thanks for this tutorial. It is very helpful.

  • Steve

    Installing 1 x 6 cedar paneling inside. Would you use 1/4″ x 1″ narrow crown staples?


  • Scarlet

    Hi! It looks amazing!
    I want to do this in my house but I have pop corn ceiling style. Do I really have to remove everything or can I just install over it?. What are your thoughts?


    • enrique lopez

      please send me the answers for this question I have the same problem thanks.

    • Joyce

      I don’t see any reason that we’d need to remove the popcorn as long as we can find the studs. Am I missing something? I

      • Joyce

        Oops – cut myself off mid-thought. Covering popcorn without scraping is the whole point for me – only problem would be if I tried to depend on glue – but with nails I don’t see why I wouldn’t be fine!

      • Kit

        Agreed, no reason to remove the popcorn for this!

  • jordans cheap

    Can I just say what a relief to come across someone who essentially knows what theyre talking about online. You definitely know how you can bring an problem to light and make it very important. Much more individuals should read this and have an understanding of this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more well known given that you definitely have the gift. jordans cheap


    would vaseline on the tounge side of the board on the ceiling help slide the next groved board in I am dealing with 15ft boards

  • Sid Allinson

    I’m putting up the exact same tongue and groove on my ceiling on my new build home and am using similar stain and have done everything up to and including the finish coat!
    But here is my problem I have a similar ceiling to yours – how do you:
    1) ensure that the sloped ceiling seams fit into the flat ceiling seams without gaps happening
    2) lack of square room/ceiling/walls don’t make the final row “out of alignment” ie not parallel to the final wall?

    Everything else you posted is great and very helpful!

  • Jon

    Is there a name for that shape of ceiling, the flat center with descending angles at the side?

  • Lauren

    Gorgeous ceiling! Question – Did you need to do anything special for the angles? My ceiling has this exact same shape, and I have looking for a tutorial with tips for that. Thanks!

  • jim

    Did you butt the two top pieces, or rip an angle to make them flush?

  • jim

    Nice job on the ceiling. I could not help but notice the plastic sheeting OVER the face of the kraft faced insulation.

    That is a double vapor barrier and can cause major problems in cold weather AND hot climates.

    You have trapped future moisture from water vapor.

    You may want to consult an insulation specialist.

    BTY I’m a General Contractor and have been for the last 36 years.

    Good luck. I like every thing you posted you turned out a nice install.

  • Louis

    What nail length did you use?

    • Kit

      Nail length depends on the size of boards you’re using. You’d want them to drive at least a 1/2″ (3/4″ would be better) into the studs.

  • herb bustle

    I am installing the T&G in an outdoor kitchen. What sealant should I be using to ensure appropriate weatherizing?

  • Joseph

    Should the ceiling be done before the wall’s, or the wall’s first? I have a open ceiling that’s where my t and g is going, the gables are going to be sheetrock.I wouldn’t have to tape the seam next to the ceiling.I can put a piece of trim like 1×4. If the building is not square where is a good place to start. Bottom and work up or top and work down to the walls.

  • Chris

    Looks great! Drywall is required for fireblock. That is probably why you dad suggested it. The plastic is just a vapor barrier. Not knocking your work looks great!

  • Kirk

    I use small panel clips to install wood panels on the ceiling in Germany. Where can I buy these in the US?

  • long run mailing list marketing campaign

    Awesome post.

  • Jim Fulton

    I am installing a ceiling in my fitness center using 1″ x 6″ T&G cedar. I have a pneumatic brad nailer and a pneumatic crown narrow stapler. I do not have a finish nailer. Will either/both of these be satisfactory, and if so what size brads/staples should I use? My ceiling is shaped a lot like your project. I hope it turns out half as good.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Kit

      Whatever type of fastener you use, I’d say you want it to go at least 3/4″ in to the stud. The wood we used here was 3/4″ thick and I used 1-3/4″ finish nails. If you’re going through drywall you need to take that into account too. I honestly don’t think brad nails will be enough to support the wood… cedar is lighter than pine, but still, you want to make sure it’s sturdy. Staples might work if you can get them long enough, but you want to make sure they don’t split the tongue. I’d definitely do a trial on some scrap boards first!

  • Kathy

    Great job!! Thanks for all the great advice! We’re going over a popcorn ceiling and want to paint the boards white and then install white painted beams. We were thinking of poplar wood bc it paints really well and no knots BUT super pricey compared to pine . Any advice ? Also how to install the beams? Thank you !

  • Kathy

    Jon I think the ceiling youre referring to is called a Tray ceiling!

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