Wood Ceiling 101: How To Install Tongue & Groove Paneling


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!

84 Responses

  1. *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!!

  2. 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.

  3. 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!.

    1. 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″.

      1. Joyce you can buy T & G pine boards called car-siding at all the big box and lumber yards, including the usual go-to’s, Lowes and Home Depot. It’s called “car-siding” because it’s often used as the interior lining for railroad box cars and even some truck interiors. I’ve seen it in both 6″ and 6″ width. I’m getting ready to do a living room cathedral ceiling with 8″ in a gray-wash finish. Car siding boards can be turned over and used either side exposed for a narrower board look as well. There are indeed lighter/ thinner board products that can be used, but car siding is much thicker thus much stiffer, and doesn’t “walk” with a wavy ceiling.

  4. 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

  5. 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??

    1. 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!

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

  7. 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.

    1. 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!

      1. Love the ceiling! We’re probably going to copy it. 😉 Do you – or does anyone know – if we need to put up visqueen underneath if we have spray foam insulation in our ceiling?

  8. 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.

    1. Please forgive me for questioning your comment about the stain/urethane, but are you certain it is two coats of stain and one coat of urethane? I’m used to hearing it the other way around. But I’m SO enthused by your results I want to make sure I have it right.
      Thank you for this tutorial. I learned a lot.

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


  10. 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?


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

    2. 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

      1. 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!

    3. I’m getting ready to do this in a living room with a cathedral ceiling in my home. Currently have popcorn ceilings throughout the home (20 year-old home) but in this room I’m not removing the popcorn. I’m doing a gray-wash finish over the car-siding boards on the ground, then nailing/ stapling the wood boards up pre-finished and will touch it up if needed when installed.

  11. 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

  12. 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

    1. I’m doing it with boards cut to 14’9″ to span a living room ceiling and no need to lubricate the joints. Since I’m installing with tongues down (toward the lowest walls), I cut a few bump-boards out of a piece of scrap. I cut my “bumpers” at 8″ length and use half the width of the board so I’m not handling a full-width board. You’re just bumping with it so you don’t need to use full widths. have a few on hand as they will eventually scrap-out and have to be tossed, and if you’re on a scaffold and drop one it’s good to have another handy in your tool belt pouch. It doesn’t take much to bump one tongue into the previous groove if you have straight lumber and undamaged tongues and grooves.

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. Herb… I don’t see that they replied to your great question…did you ever find your answer? My husband and I are doing the same and need to know what we should do.

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

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

  19. 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.

    1. 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!

  20. 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 !

    1. A tray ceiling has a center portion that is flat and higher than the surrounding ceiling and it could be any shape (square, round, octagonal, etc.) The vaulted ceiling with a flat area is still a vaulted ceiling although there doesn’t appear to be a special name for it.

  21. We purchase a 70s home that have beautiful large cedar beams on the main floor vaulted ceilings. Yes there is pop corn ceiling =) We want to install T&G covering the existing pop corn . Our question is where the T&G boards meet the existing beams how do you handle that? I know you need a small space for expansion. Is the only way to handle this is by adding a small trim piece or can the beams be routered & then the T & G boards slipped into the channel? Any other ways to go about this, we really don’t want to wrap the beams. Thanks, ~LIsa

  22. Your ceiling is beautiful. Am thinking of paneling my ceiling bur wanted to know if the weight of the wood impacts the integrity of the roof. thanks

    1. Ah, well everything will have an impact on the load that the structure of your house is carrying. If you already have concerns about your roof (existing sagging, etc.) I wouldn’t recommend this. But for most houses that are up to code the addition of pine tongue and groove to a ceiling won’t cause any structural issues.

  23. I am installing tongue and groove panels that come in7′ lengths. They have a tongue and groove on the ends as well. My room is a cathedral ceiling that is 20′ wide. I will obviously have 2 joints (3 boards) in each row. Is there a particular pattern that you should follow for the joints. Obviously you odn’t want them all to line up.

    1. The pattern is up to you! I would alternate seems every 3 rows and depending on your stud spacing there may be a more “efficient” way to stagger the seams without waste.

  24. I’m doing a 12 x16 kitchen ceiling with 1×6 t&g pine. If I start with a full board ( not ripped) I end up with approximately a 3″ board at the end. Should I rip the first one and last one and have approximately 1 1/2″ on both ends? Thanks Ed

    1. I probably would… you can rip the 1 1/2″ pieces off the same board usually, so less waste. Good luck!

  25. I’m installing 1 X 6 T&G on my patio ceiling. It measures 90″ wide X 36′ long. If I put 18 planks together they measure out to 89 1/2″ so I wind up with a 1/4″ on each end if I center the planks. I can cover it with a trim board but in looking at many examples, trim boards are not used. Your expert opinion is appreciated.

    1. I actually like a trim board around a wood ceiling, or you could go with quarter-round if you want something smaller! Either way having 1/8″ to 1/4″ space isn’t bad for expansion reasons, so it’s better to leave the space and use some trim instead of wedging everything in tightly and then having it buckle if the boards expand a little. Best of luck!

    1. I just finish the visible parts, and am careful with any sealers on the tongue or groove of the boards. Stains are fine but anything thicker may impede the fit.

  26. Please forgive me for questioning your reply to Kit about the stain/urethane, but are you certain it is two coats of Early American stain and one coat of urethane? I’m used to hearing it the other way around. But I’m SO enthused by your results I want to make sure I have it right.
    Thank you for this tutorial. I learned a lot.

    1. Hey Richard – It’s been a while since I did that ceiling, but I would agree with you on a second coat of poly being a good idea. I would still do two coats of stain, otherwise the color doesn’t look as rich. I’ve since started using Fabulon Satin Poly for all of my floors and it’s the best low-sheen poly I’ve found yet. My issue with putting two coats on with the Minwax was that even the satin version started to get shiny. Good luck with your project!

    1. We’re currently put up a ceiling like this and are staining the crossbeams with Minwax Jacobean (it’s very dark – almost ebony) The 2 colors pair wonderfully with this:


      At least we think so! Pictures don’t do it justice.

  27. Very good advice, my ceiling is shaped just like yours and we’re about to nail up wood planks.

    Only difference is that there is a thick layer of plaster on the ceiling currently! And on top of the plaster (or, below it, in the case of the ceiling) is a layer of wallpaper that we refuse to attempt to remove. Hence the wood ceiling, which will also look cool.

    How do you recommend nailing the wood to the plaster ceiling? Should I screw/nail in “nailers” or “strapping” down the length of the rafters, rafter ties?

    1. Is it actually plaster (like oldschool plaster and lath?) or is it drywall? You still need to nail the boards directly to studs (you could screw in nailers but THOSE need to be attached to the studs, so really you need to find the studs regardless, I don’t think the nailers would serve much of a purpose). The thickness of the drywall/plaster on the ceiling will actually determine how long your nail needs to be, I’d make sure it’s going at least 1/2″ into the stud… 3/4″ would be even better.

      Keep in mind that with plaster and lath walls/ceilings it may be a bit more difficult to determine where the studs are, because the lath can be deceiving!

  28. I’m getting ready to install pine t&g in a cabin off the grid in North Idaho. I’ve installed kraft insulation between 16″ oc studs. The cabin will be unoccupied and unheated during the winter (about 6 months). I do not plan any underlayment i.e. sheet rock or OSB. But looking for Pros & Cons for plastic sheeting stapled on the studs between the kraft faced insulation and the T & G as a vapor/air barrier. All thoughts appreciated.

  29. Kit your ceiling looks great, I was going to use same stain and satin urethane, for outdoor porch 16×30′ did you use oil base on both. Also did you consider polyshade, was also wondering about that too.

    1. The stain and poly were both oil based! I haven’t used the polyshade… I like the control of being able to apply/wipe as many coats of stain as I want to get the final look and then applying the poly, but it could work just fine.

  30. Should I cut my tounge and groove pine I’m using 8ft boards only 900 as ft celing someone said cut in half add do one board 8 ft then 4th on and on? I think would look better just all 8 ft together? Help

    1. Hey Sue – If your ceiling is 8ft wide or less and you can use full boards (with no seams) then I would use full boards. But if there will be any seams (if your ceiling is, say 9ft or 10ft or 12 ft long) then I would stagger the seams (don’t have any 2 seams line up) both for aesthetics but also for structural reasons.

  31. My house is 5 years old and I have decking boards for ceiling in my upstairs room the contractor put plastic under the boards then insulation, gettin mildew on ceiling we cleaned the mildew it stayed gone for a while but it is coming back and the ceiling fans are sagging and the screws on the fan are rusting but recently found out that they did not cut the fire and ice shield from under the ridge cap so all the hot air is staying over the room can some one please tell me if the plastic needs to come out or will cutting the ridge so it can vent??thanks

  32. How did you deal with the transition between the flat and angled planes? Did you miter the T&G?


  33. After installing 1×6 pine T&G boards on a ceiling some of the butt joints opened up as much as 7/16″ of an inch. Wood does not shrink lengthwise this amount. What would you think caused this? The installer swears he had the butt joints tight when he installed the product. The boards were put up approx 3 months ago and now the homeowner is noticing these open butt joints. The product was also put up unfinished then polyurethaned . Looking for any suggestions as to what would cause the open joints.
    Thanks, EL

  34. How can we be sure that by putting the first board up straight (parallel to the wall) the last board will also be straight? We want to be sure the room is square and we won’t have the last board looking crooked.

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