The Easiest Way to Install Shiplap Wood Plank Walls

Shiplap walls or horizontal wood planking on a wall can be done on a budget and the DIY installation much easier than you may think.

I have installed two wood plank walls in my house that resemble shiplap.

DIY shiplap wood planked wallHow to Shiplap a wall on a DIY budget

One in the kitchen that has a more modern vibe with 12″ wide wood planks and…

Shiplap wood plank walls in a powder room

…the other in a powder room that has narrower 8″ wide wood planks.

What is Shiplap?

Shiplap or wood planked walls are a classic way to add interest to a wall. They are also very “trendy” in decorating right now, made popular by Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper.

Real Shiplap, like tongue and groove, has a special rabbet or notch cut on the edges of the board.  These rabbets allow the boards, when installed horizontally, to self-space themselves and keep water from getting behind them because they fit so perfectly.

The DIY budget decorating option to Shiplap is to use thin plywood boards and have them cut at the home improvement store to resemble real Shiplap.

I like the look of wood planked walls, but only as an accent.  I feel it makes a room look closed in when done on all 4 walls. I like the interest and texture planked walls can add to a space, plus it is a very budget friendly DIY that will add a lot of impact to a room.

Since I like white walls, I have painted both the wood plank accent walls in my house, classic white, but you can paint them any color you wish.

dark shiplap painted walls

Photo: BHG

As you can see in these photos…

Dark painted shiplap wall

Photo: Table & Hearth

 …dark colors can add drama to a room and look fabulous.

Shiplap wood plank wall tutorial

I also prefer the more modern look of wider planks with no vertical seams. Installing the planks so no vertical seams show up can be done when the wood planks you use are as long as the wall you are going to cover.  Both my walls are under 8 feet across, so a 4′ x 8″ piece of plywood allowed me to have one long plank and not have to randomly stagger the planks which creates vertical seams.

How to Figure Out How Wide to Get The Shiplap or Wood Planks Cut?

The size of the wood planks you choose is totally up to you and the height of your wall.

I used 8″ wide planks in the powder room and wider 12″ wide planks in the kitchen. Both were cut from  sheets of 4′ x 8′ plywood underlayment.

How to measure a wall for shiplap wood planked walls

The easiest way to figure out the width of each plank is to do some calculating. Measure the height and width of the wall and then draw it out on a piece of paper. This will help you figure out how many wood planks you will need and what size will work best so you can use up all the plywood with no scrap leftover.

To use an entire sheet of 4 x 8 plywood underlayment that is available at the home improvement store for under $15 and have no scrap wood leftover, you can’t go wrong with 8″ wide planks.  You will get 6 planks that are 8 inches wide by 8 feet long.

You will also need to figure what size to get the plank that will go at the bottom of the wall cut. It probably will need to be cut a narrower size to fit. You also need to figure in the thickness of the spacer you are using. I used nickels and added the thickness of that to my calculations.  For instance, on the wall in the kitchen there are 7 horizontal spaces between the planks. I multiplied 7 x 1/6″ (thickness of nickel) to get 7/16″. I added this in when figuring what width to get the bottom plank cut.

How to Add Wood Planks to a Wall to Create the Look of Shiplap

supplies needed:

  • Sheets of 1/4″  4′ x 8′ plywood underlayment. (Get them pre-cut to the size desired at Lowes. It has one reddish side and one light wood tone side.)
  • Finishing nails and nail punch. (A nail punch is used to bury the nail head into the wood so you won’t see it.) 
  • Hammer
  • Outside corner molding or trim molding for inside corners
  • 4 – 5 coins to use as spacers between planks, nickels work best
  • Spackle and putty knife
  • Sanding block – 220 fine grit
  • Bubble level
  • Pencil
  • Painter’s tape
  • Stud finder
  • Work gloves
  • Paint with a primer in it. (I used a satin finish.)
  • Paint brush, roller and roller tray
  • Small artist’s paint brush
  • Scrap pieces of cardboard
  • Optional: Jigsaw, paper, scissors ( To make a template to cut out holes for outlets, light switches and vents)
How to cut plywood to make shiplap planks for walls
  1. Get the 1/4″ plywood underlayment cut to your desired widths at the home improvement store. This may cost a few dollars for the cuts, but will save you a lot of time and effort.
  2. Since the planks have been ripped with a basic saw blade, you will need to sand the edges when you get them home. I used a sanding block with fine 220 grit sandpaper on it to smooth all the edges of the planks. Wear work gloves since the edges may have fine splinters along them.

Before you Start to Attach the Shiplap Wood Planks to the Wall

  • Paint the wall the same color you plan to paint the wood planks. Let dry.
  • If you have the room in your home to set up the planks, you can paint the edges with a small roller before hanging them. I painted the edges after hanging the planks since it was too hot to paint outside and I didn’t have room to set the planks inside to paint them before hanging.
  • Attaching the planks is best done with two people when you are installing long pieces.

Figure out if you need to add any molding to the wall where the planks will end.

How to Plank a wall-2

For the accent wall in my kitchen, I butted the cut ends of each plank into the left side corner and didn’t use any molding to finish it off. On the right side, I used a piece of outside corner molding. I attached it first before adding any planks. I used finishing nails and a nail punch to attach it.

How to Plank a wall-5

Once all the planks were on the wall, I ran a line of caulk between the end of the planks and the outside corner molding.

TIP: Smooth a just applied line of caulk by running an ice cube along the caulk.

If you need a piece of molding for an inside corner, you can add that after all the planks are on.

The easiest way to shiplap or wood plank a wall

1. Using a stud-finder, mark where the studs are on the wall with painter’s tape. Place the tape along the ceiling so that as you start to cover the wall with wood planks, you can see where to line the nails to attach the planks to the wall. I used two finishing nails along each stud, one on the top and the other on the bottom of each plank.

2. Place the first plank against the ceiling and use a bubble level to make sure the bottom edge is level. Nail it to the wall.

3. To evenly space the planks, use nickels in-between each plank. Use 3 or 4 across the plank to make sure the spacing is level and even. Once you have a plank nailed in, remove the nickels.

4. Use the level to make sure each plank it level before nailing it in. Keep adding planks to the wall and nailing them in until you reach the bottom. If you did your calculations right, you will not need to cut any of the planks to fill in the last bottom section of the wall. If your calculations were off, you may need to cut the last plank to fit the wall.

How to Plank a wall-2

5. Spackle all nail holes in wood planks and corner molding. Let dry and then sand smooth.

How To Cut Out Shiplap Wood Planks for Outlets, Switch Plates and HVAC Vents

How to cut out outlets and switch plates when installing a wood plank or ship lap wall
  1. To figure out where to cut a wood plank that will go over where an outlet or opening will be, use paper to make a template. Tape the paper to the wall and use a pencil to mark the size of the opening. Cut out with scissors and check that you cut it out correctly.
DIY shiplap wall tutorial and tips to make installation fast and easy

2. Tape the template to the plank and mark the opening with a pencil.

DIY plank wall tutorial

3. Use a drill bit to make a hole inside the shape so a jigsaw blade will fit into it.

How to Plank a wall

4. Cut the shape out with a jigsaw.

5. Attach the wood plank to the wall.

How to Paint Shiplap or Wood Plank Walls

How to install a wood horizontal plank wall the easy way
  1. Since the wood is bare, use a paint with a primer in it to paint the planks.
  2. Use a stiff small artist paint brush to apply paint along the space between each plank.
How to add wood planks to a wall the fast and easy way.

3. Remove any excess paint in the spaces between the planks by running a piece of cardboard inside the space.

How to Plank a wall-4-2

4. Use a short napped paint roller cover to paint the planks. Two coats will be needed since you will be painting over bare wood. Let dry. Touch up if necessary.

DIY shiplap wood planked wall step by step tutorial.

Now that the shiplap wood plank wall is done, I need to paint the walls around it. :-)

The easy way to add Shiplap or planked walls to your home. Full step-by-step tutorial shows you how. Tips and tricks that make it easy.

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  1. Allison Byrne says:

    Hi Diane!

    I’m thrilled to have found your page. Love your style! I was wondering if you could tell me what color paint you used in the bathroom with the shiplap walls. It’s the one with the darker side on top. Possibly a slate color?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Allison – On walls: Glidden Diamond paint. It is a new super durable primer + paint sold at Home Depot. Color: Fossil Grey in a satin finish.

  2. Matt Thomas says:

    Hey Diane!

    2 questions!

    1. Is it OK to install over drywall?

    2. I want to install shiplap inside of an arched “niche” in my entry way. How do I cut the plans for the arch?


    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Matt –

      Here are my answers to your questions about shiplap.

      1. Yes – you can install over dry wall. Attach the screws into the wall studs.
      2. I would make a pattern with large pieces of paper. Tape the paper into the niche and outline the shape using a pencil.Remove and use this as a pattern/template to cut the wood. I would use a jigsaw to cut the curved shape inside the arch.

      1. You said screws, but in your article you used nails. Did you install over drywall with nails or screws?i

        1. Diane Henkler says:

          Hi again Matt – I responded to your email, but just in case you didn’t receive it. I meant to say finishing nails, not screws.

  3. Charlene white says:

    Want to install shiplap but my walls are over 8 feet long. What can I do to accomplish this look.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Carlene – The only way to get a seamless look would be to use wood that is as long as you wall. As you know that is hard to come by. You could stager the planks as if you were laying wood on a floor. You would see the vertical seams but if you spaced them right, it would look OK, just not like long pieces of Shiplap.

  4. I just last week finished a small mudroom type area by my back kitchen door where I installed shiplap such as you have here, in a horizontal design. Now I would like to add some shiplap in a breakfast nook in the kitchen. but in a vertical design. Since this area isn’t too far from the other shiplap I installed, maybe 13 feet or so away, I would appreciate your opinion as to whether or not you think the two shiplap areas would fight each other with one being horizontal and the other vertical. The mudroom area is about 2/3 of the way up the wall, whereas the horizontal area in my breakfast nook would only be about 1/3 of the way up. I really wish I had done the coat area vertically now, but I don’t want to have to take the whole wall apart to change it as it is complete already with trim and paint. But, I’m not sure I want the shiplap under a chair rail to go horizontally, too. What do you think? You are so good at decorating that I’d appreciate your thoughts. Thanks much!

  5. I agree that too much of the shiplap gives it a closed in feeling. However, if you have a really large room then I think it works okay. (See Joanna Gaines) In my house I have ceilings which are only 7 1/2 ft. high, so with that in mind, I had my underlayment cut into 6″ pieces. That worked really great for me and looked very nice when it was finished. I only did a back entryway in the shiplap, mudroom style. I also added a simple coat rack, just a 1/2″ x 3″ board across the middle, with stylish coat hooks for when my grandson comes….It’s just a place where he can hang a hoodie or jacket and the backpack in which he brings his tablet and toys. It worked out really great! Since the planks were much shorter than yours, I was able to paint the edges before installing. I forgot one piece tho’ and had a terrible time painting it afterwards. I was thankful that I had at least painted the wall behind it white before starting my project. Anyhow, as always, I so appreciate your beautiful work and the inspiration you give us all. It’s a great encouragement to us women who are DIYers. Thanks again!

  6. I am ready to start my project in my kitchen, and wondered since my walls are only 90″ high, should my planks be cut smaller? I think 12″ might be a little too wide as it wouldn’t give me many planks. What do you think?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Tegmapat – You can use any width. I used 12″ on my kitchen wall and 8″ wide planks in the bathrooms. Both are 8ft high ceilings. If you went with a little less than 10″ for each plank you could get 9 planks of equal widths on the wall and not have to cut one smaller at the bottom on the wall. Just make sure to get the exact height of the wall and get the wood panel cut so that each plank is just a nickel width less so you can add the width of the nickel spacers to the overall measurement of each plank. I hope this makes sense.

  7. Janice Lewis says:

    Hi Diane,
    In the instructions you said. “Place the first plank against the ceiling and use a bubble level”. I’m wondering why you start at the ceiling. I would have thought it would be best to start at the bottom. Especially if you are spacing with nickles or another spacer that you could balance easily on the lower board.
    I am going to do this over my kitchen counter and really appreciate your instructions!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Janice –

      The reason to start at the top is that you can use the full board and work your way down using the same size (deep)boards. When you get to the bottom, a full board may not fit, you will need to cut it to fit to cover the remaining wall space. If you start from the bottom and need to cut the top board to fit the remaining space to cover the wall, you ruin the shiplap look since the top board could will be a different size. When the odd sized board needed to fill the wall is at the bottom you don’t notice it.

      The only way to make sure every board can be placed on the wall will be the same size is to measure the height of the wall and then divide to get an equal number. Then make sure to add the 1/8 thickness of the nickel spacer to figure out how deep each board needs to be to cover the wall. I found it easier to just say I want my boards to be 10″ and then place them on the wall starting from the top and then cut the last board to fit. I hope this makes sense.

  8. We live on Lake Murray too and are also working on a fixer upper. We just added a ship lap wall today and have 2 more to go. (Not all in the same room). Thanks for the paint tips and maybe we’ll meet some day.

  9. Linda Weeks says:

    Your work is awesome. Well done! Now you can take a break! <3!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Linda – Ed was on a trip, so I took some time off the last few days. It felt nice to sit back and actually get a few books read. I hope you are enjoying the summer and staying cool.

  10. In my family room, we need to replace the ceiling, and I’ve been wanting a wood ceiling there. I haven’t done much research on what people use for the ceiling, but after seeing your tutorial Diane, I was wondering if this could work there. We live in a farm house and currently have a drop tile ceiling which recently got damaged. Any thoughts? Thanks for sharing all your new projects. I’m appreciate that you show us ways to keep the cost down too.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Michelle – Planking the ceiling the way I did my walls would work and be very affordable, but I think it would look better and easier to install if you used bead board sheets or tongue and groove planks. If you already have a drop style ceiling, Armstrong has come out with a wood look ceiling, you may want to check out. Here are the links to the bead board ceiling and wood look:

      Pinterest Board filled with ideas:

      1. Laura Adams says:

        The designer/builder on one of my favorite rehab shows (Big Beach Builds), uses outdoor siding panels on the ceilings she does. They come with a planked look already built in, in 4’x8′ sheets. The planks look to be about 8″ wide. Her ceilings look great!

  11. Mary Heicher says:

    Hummm…where can I use this?
    The hubby will kill me if I add one more thing to the to do list. lol
    I absolutely love how this looks.
    I was rather fond of the picture with the boards painted black,
    It’s so dramatic.
    You have the best diy blog ever. I’m always using your ideas.

  12. I really like the 12 inch. Looks great. Thanks for stating the planks resemble ship lap. Most call it ship lap and it isn’t .Many more cuts go into the true ship lap. You always do a great job.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Karen :-)

  13. When I previously owned homes and did renos of this type, one issue was adjusting outlets, and similar, so the switches and covers would end up flush with the new surface. (Faux brick was especially tricky.) Your results look very tidy and aligned. Your fix for this? Loving the planks. Might be my fave of what you’ve done so far being I’m all about simple, architectural details which are an homage to vintage.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Cam – The fix for adjusting the outlets so they would be flush with the new surface was to turn the power off and then loosen the screws on each switch, move them out about 1/4″ and then tighten. My husband did that. It took him about 10 minutes. You can also buy longer or shorter switch plate screws at the home improvement store if needed. For the HVAC vent, nothing had to be changed.

  14. Great idea, Diane. Did you take the last board all the way to the floor and then add baseboard over it? Or just run it to the top of the baseboard and caulk it. I’d think you’d have to be awfully precise with the cutting to do that, though. Also, can you give an example of “darker colors”, please?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Sharon – I left the baseboards in place and cut the last board so it would fit on top of the baseboard. It did take some precise cutting and double checking measurements before cutting. :-) I will look for the dark painted shiplap wall photos I have seen and add one to the post.

      1. Oh that’s so nice of you, thanks!
        I just had a thought… half bath doesn’t have baseboards, so if I ran them to the floor, would a baseboard stick out too far if I added on top of the lap board? That’s what I’ve done with the beadboard I’ve installed and then a little caulk and it’s great. But beadboard is pretty thin.
        Thank you so much for all your help!

        1. Diane Henkler says:

          Hi Sharon –

          I just added two photo of planked walls painted in dark colors to the post. As far as adding the baseboard after you attach the planks, that will work fine. The wood I used was only 1/4″ which is the same as most bead board sheets.

          1. Awesome, thank you!

  15. Melissa Leach says:

    I really like this, thanks for sharing the tutorial. I never thought of a dark paint color for a SHIPLAP focal wall. Hmmmm.

  16. Thanks so much for another fabulous tutorial. I have used many of your ideas!! Fun to see your new home!!

  17. Two thumbs up Diane and Ed!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Connie :-)

  18. This is THE BEST shiplap tutorial ever! Thanks so much. I am getting ready to do a big wall and with your instructions I think I can tackle it! Ü

  19. Christina in FL says:

    Diane, I love the wall and the clean white boards. Stupid question: Would it be easier to paint the boards before putting them up? I saw the stiff brush painting between the boards and totally cringed. lol I’ve never contemplated doing a plank wall but it looks so great. Beautiful job!!

    1. I did this same method on a bath wall and laundry wall. After sanding the edges of my boards I painted both edges and the one side of each board. This way one they were hung and holes filled and sanded, I painted the entire planked wall again. So much easier than painting the edges after they are hung.

      1. Yes, i was going to suggest the same thing — a foam roller would make this part of the project go much more quickly!!

        1. Diane Henkler says:

          Hi Laura – Thanks for sharing your tip. I thought about painting the edges first, but it is way too hot here to set up the long boards in my garage where I paint big items. To stay cool, I decided to paint them after they were hung. I will add this to the post for readers who have the space to set up the boards to paint before hanging. It will be easier. :-)

      2. Diane Henkler says:

        Hi Dianne – Thanks for sharing how you painted your planks. I thought about painting the edges first, especially for the very long boards in the powder room, but I didn’t have a place to set them up inside to paint. :-( It is in the high 90’s here outside and in my garage where I usually paint big items. Way too hot to paint. I will add this to the post.

    2. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Christina – I should add to the post that painting the edges after the planks were hung does not take too long. The reason I did it this way is that I didn’t have any room to set up the long boards inside my house to paint all of them. I normally paint large items outside but it is in the high 90’s here and way too hot to paint outside.

  20. Stunning!! I love your ideas to cover one wall only and to limit it to an 8′ wall. Thanks for another great tutorial, Diane.