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The Easiest Way to Install Shiplap Wood Plank Walls

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

  2. 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

  3. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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