How to Install a Shiplap Wall in 4 Simple Steps

Avoid these 10 common mistakes when installing faux shiplap

Disclaimer: this post includes affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission should you purchase any of the products recommended below.

1. Follow the correct order of operations

Install your faux shiplap before anything else in the room – meaning baseboard, crown, and trim. Unfortunately I made the mistake of installing my trim before my shiplap, so I had to notch my shiplap pieces with a jigsaw to make them fit around my windows and doors.

What a pain! This added a lot of time to my project…so avoid this if at all possible!

If you don’t want to rip out all your trim or baseboards before installing shiplap, it’s definitely doable, but will require a bit more patience and finesse.

Start your shiplap above your baseboards. If you have trim, very carefully notch out your shiplap with a saw and use wood filler/caulk to fill in the remaining gaps. No one will even notice from a distance!

2. Make sure your store rips your pieces to the correct width

The big box stores will rip your plywood pieces to 6 or 8 inches so they can be used as faux shiplap. However, sometimes they charge 25 cents/cut and when I got home I realized they ripped some of my pieces incorrectly.

While some strips were a perfect 6 inches, others were ripped to 5-3/4″ instead. That’s a huge difference. Others were off by 1/8″, so the cuts were all over the place.

My advice would be to bring a measuring tape with you to the store and double check their work. Once you’re moving along with the installation process, you’re not going to want to return to the store.

3. Remember to grab outlet box extenders!

Since shiplap adds bulk to your wall, you’ll want to extend the depth of your outlets with outlet box extenders so they remain flush with the wall.

These little blue boxes are super easy to install (just remember to turn off the power supply on your home’s electrical box beforehand). I forgot to buy them in advance and had to run back to the store in the middle of my work…not a big deal, but it did cost me about half a day’s worth of time.

4. Use Tile Spacers instead of Pennies

A lot of shiplap tutorials recommend using pennies as spacers between your boards of 1/4-inch plywood. I found pennies to be small and flimsy. They tend to fall out while you’re trying to hold your piece in place. My mom and I had a few laughs over that…in the beginning anyway. I ended up eye-balling a lot of my spacing in lieu of the “penny method” because it was too inconsistent.

My advice: use something a bit more bulky — tile spacers, actual tile samples, popsicle sticks or nickels!

credit: (left), rambling r
credit: (left), rambling (right)

5. Avoid Spreading Too Much Wood Filler Between Adjacent Boards

A little bit goes a long way. In fact, a lot of people don’t put any wood filler between adjacent boards and that looks pretty nice too. If you end up using too much wood filler you’ll know right away because it will look all clumpy when dry. Simply scrape off the excess with a putty knife.

6. Sand your boards very, very well

Hands down this was the biggest mistake I made. Lowe’s basically shredded my boards, leaving the ends all splintery even after we sanded them with a rough sanding block. A cursory sanding just wasn’t enough. As a result, I was left with boards looking like this:

*quietly sobbing in the corner*
*quietly sobbing in the corner*

The good news is that there’s usually a “good” side and a “bad” side to your plywood. Figure out which side has the cleaner edges and make sure it’s the one facing outward. Also, thoroughly sand your boards to remove every last splinter.

👉 Pro Tip: if you’re ripping the boards yourself on a table saw, place painter’s tape along your cut line. This step will significantly reduce tear out and splintering.

7. Make sure your ceiling boards are level and that your corners line up

I was very careful to ensure the boards along my ceiling were level (rather than flush with the ceiling), because ceilings are rarely level.

I did have to go back and rip down 6 boards, however, when I realized the boards in my corner weren’t lined up correctly:

Luckily the planks can be pulled back off fairly easily; once your board is off the wall, take a hammer and tap the nail back through the board to remove it. It’s a tedious but fixable problem.

8. Paint between your boards as you’re installing them

I highly recommend painting the top and bottom edges of your plywood as you’re installing them in order to avoid dark gaps between your boards. Yes you can go back and paint them later, but you’ll be a tad more limited on space and you’ll probably destroy your paintbrush from repeatedly pushing the tip into a narrow space.

9. Don’t apply adhesive to the back of your boards

Chances are, if you’re accident prone like me, you’ll make a small mistake somewhere along the line and need to pull the shiplap off the wall. Luckily, because the plywood is so thin, this is easy to do even if you’ve already nailed it to the wall. If you use an adhesive like Liquid Nails you’re going to have a harder time pulling it off. Also, you run the risk of ripping off layers of drywall. If you decide at a later date to remove the shiplap all together it won’t be a big deal.

Can you install shiplap over drywall?

Maybe you’ve got your heart set on installing shiplap in your home, but you’re not so sure about ripping out whole chunks of the drywall that’s already there. Good news—you don’t have to!

You can install shiplap right over the drywall. However—and this part is crucial—you must first take the time to find all the studs within your walls and mark them carefully before you place a single board.


STEP 11: Nail the first board to the wall

Position the first board in one bottom corner. (Work from left to right, or right to left, whichever is more comfortable for you.) Align the top edge of the board with the chalk guideline you created in the previous step. Insert two, evenly spaced, two-inch nails into the board directly over every chalk line. The quickest way to do this is with a nail gun, but you can certainly use a hammer instead.

There Is Such a Thing as Too Many Nail Holes (when youre the one filling them)

I had my contractor working with me on the install and we worked out a system where I sanded each board and painted the top and bottom edges and then he put it up on the wall. He installed each board using a nail gun (being sure to get some nails into studs) in addition to applying Liquid Nails on the back of each board. Here’s what it was looking like at this point:

Those suckers are definitely going nowhere which i

Those suckers are definitely going nowhere which is great but here’s the thing… I was the lucky one that got to fill and sand each and every one of those nail holes before I painted and oh my gosh there were soooo many nail holes and it was sooo time consuming. I’m pretty sure we could have cut the number of nails used in half and those boards still would have been super secure. Thank goodness I had team of helpers to help me knock out the nail filling (ok the furry one wasn’t much help but my daughter sure was!):

STEP 9: Find and mark the vertical studs in the wall

Locate the vertical studs beneath the drywall and pop a chalk line over each one. The easiest way to pinpoint the location of the studs is with a stud finder. Standard wall studs are spaced either 16 inches or 24 inches apart, and you’ll need to locate and mark each one to serve as your nailing guide.

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Plain wood paneling is not technically shiplap but makes a beautiful interior wall with the shiplap look. You can invest in real shiplap boards for your walls, or simply use plywood paneling, which is often done on home design programs.

AC plywood makes a great shiplap wall, as the A side comes pre-for quicker, easier installation.

7. Style

Lastly, it’s time to style those babies! Style the space with decor and accents that go with the overall look you’re wanting. In this space, we wanted to incorporate a modern farmhouse style and used these wooden mirrors and lighting to incorporate that look.

2. Find Mark Studs

Next, you’ll want to determine where the studs are. Use a stud finder and mark off with a pencil where the studs are so you know exactly where to nail into the shiplap boards. Once you locate the studs and mark them with a pencil, take your level and make a vertical line on the wall where the stud is. This way you will know where the studs are all the way up the wall and the shiplap will never fully cover your mark.

How to Install Vertical Shiplap

At the beginning of your vertical shiplap project, measure the installation area to estimate supply needs. Open your vertical shiplap boards and place them in the room for at least forty-eight hours before installing so they can acclimate to the conditions. Then, you can move on to installation with these instructions:

  1. 1. Prepare the wall. Remove everything from the wall and clear furniture from the area. Remove outlet and light switch covers, baseboards, and crown molding.
  2. 2. Locate the studs. Use the stud finder to locate the studs. Mark each stud location.
  3. 3. Make holes for outlets. Before you start to install shiplap boards, identify where you will need to cut holes for outlets, light switches, and other spaces on the wall. Draw a template on paper to help you get the openings correct, then use a jigsaw to cut the boards accordingly.
  4. 4. Use furring strips. If you’re not using construction adhesive, install furring strips horizontally every two feet, from ceiling to floor.
  5. 5. Measure. Measure the height from floor to ceiling for the first board. Cut the board to length. Measure every two or three feet since there can be variations in the wall height.
  6. 6. Use adhesive. Apply construction adhesive to the back of the first board over the entire length (but skip the adhesive if you’re using furring strips). Press the board firmly against the wall, ensuring it bonds to the wall from top to bottom. If you’re using furring strips, use the nailer to attach the first board to the furring strips.
  7. 7. Work across the wall. Position the next board using spacers to create a nickel gap between the two pieces. Work across the wall until you cover it all.
  8. 8. Fill holes. Use wood filler to fill the nail holes.
  9. 9. Apply paint. Paint the vertical shiplap to your preferred color. Most people opt for a light, neutral paint color, such as eggshell.
  10. 10. Install the baseboards. Use nails or construction glue when adhering the baseboard to the bottom of the shiplap boards. Reinstall any outlet covers or light switches you removed at the beginning of the project.
  11. 11. Apply caulk. Using a caulk gun, apply caulk along the top of the board planks where your shiplap wall meets the ceiling and along the edges where it meets the other walls. This seals the edges and gives the finished product a smooth look.

Shiplap Prep: Paint Your Walls Do Your Math!

Prep work for a shiplap wall project is key! First off, you want to paint the walls in the room the same color that you’re going to paint your shiplap. Why? Because there’s a small gap between the boards where you can see the wall and you definitely don’t want a different color showing through. Seeing this lovely light blue wall color (which is what they looked like before doing this project) between the white boards wouldn’t have been such a great look!

I also painted the top and bottom edges of each sh

I also painted the top and bottom edges of each shiplap board before it went up on the wall because I knew it would be a little nightmarish to try and paint the edges by sticking a paintbrush through the small space between the boards once they were hung. Truth be told it took me a LONG time to pre-paint them so I’m not sure if this part of my prepwork was a time-saver or not in the end.

The other prepwork that’s a definite must is a little bit of math – you want all of your boards to be the same height rather than getting to the end and realizing that you’re going to have an awkward thin strip at the bottom. So measure the space between the crown molding and baseboard and figure out a good height to cut the boards so that they fill the space exactly. Just don’t forget to take the spacing in between the boards into account when making your calculations! I ended up going with a height of 6 ¼″ for mine.

Things You’ll Need

  • Stud finder
  • Pencil
  • Chalk snapline
  • Level
  • Tape measure
  • Hand saw
  • Interior use Heavy Adhesive paste
  • 2 in (5.1 cm) nails or screws
  • Hammer
  • Nail or screw gun (optional)
  • Nickels or scrap plexiglass
  • A rag
  • Caulk
  • Caulk gun


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