DIY Wide-Plank “Shiplap” Wall

When we were designing Oliver’s nursery, the first decision we made was to do a horizontal planked wall. We actually did a similar wall treatment to the bathroom of our old house that we liked so much we wanted to do it again, but that time we did vertical wainscoting. This time we were inspired by a sort of casual, beach shack look. The horizontal shiplap style is everywhere these days (thanks Chip and Jo), and while real shiplap technically has a grooved edge that allows the boards to overlap, our method mimics the look for cheap and easy…. and that’s how we like our DIYs!

For our planks, we bought big old plywood sheets, and had to get them cut in half at the hardware store in order to fit them in the car. All the plywood we needed came to less than 40 bucks. We did this a while ago, honestly, and I can’t necessarily remember the size of the boards we bought. I think they were 8 ft x 8 ft, and we had them cut down to 8 ft x 4 ft. Once we got the sheets home, we primed them before doing anything else.

We also primed and painted the entire room. We put a single, rough coat of the blue paint on the wall, even though it would be covered in wood, because you would be able to see a bit of the wall between the planks. We didn’t want to see white in between the cracks, but there’s no reason for the blue to be perfect.

We had to decide how wide we wanted each plank to be. With our plywood being 4 feet wide at this point, it seemed easiest to get 4 planks at about a foot wide. We debated a while about whether or not this was too thick. Half a foot seemed small, and figuring out the math to do a non-even number was too confusing at the time. Kerry was especially hesitant about going with the wide planks since it wasn’t the look she had in mind, so I had to work at convincing her. I thought it would look good and be a unique way to do a shiplap-like wall that isn’t the same as everyone else’s. So we ultimately decided to just go with 1 foot by 8 feet planks. The wider the board, the fewer the cuts, and the faster the wall gets done.

The most important thing to remember when getting these boards up is to level. Make sure it’s perfect. We actually put the top board up first and just followed the line of the ceiling. By the time we were putting the second board on, it was very un-level. So we had to rip the top board down and re-do it using the level. If you start off slightly off-level, it’ll just get worse and worse as you go. So it’s important to check the level at every … level. Every … shiplap? What I’m trying to say is just keep checking to see if it’s level.

We had drawn lines in pencil down the wall to mark where all the studs were, and I used my air compressor to drive some 2 inch nails in the boards at every stud. We wanted to make sure the vertical lines at the end of each board didn’t line up with each other. This was generally pretty easy because our boards were 8 feet long, and the room is 11 feet(ish). So the first board was 8 feet. The next was 3, which left us 5 feet leftover. So the second round started with that 5 foot board. The next board was then 6, which left us with 2 leftover, which we used for row number 3. We basically just kept this up, and it pretty much always worked so that we never had any issues with boards ending at the same spot on two consecutive rows. It also helped give us that beach shack look we were going for in the room.

When it comes to spacing in between each board, we did the same method we did at our old house, which is to use a nickel for spacing. A nickel is a good width in that it leaves a little bit of room so you can see the separation between the boards, but it’s not enough space that you see the rough edges of the plywood. It’s also really nice to use the nickel for some leverage if you need to adjust the level of any particular boards. We have a small table saw so I had some trouble getting perfectly straight cuts on 8 feet of board. Since the boards weren’t super straight, sometimes there is only a nickel’s worth of space between the boards and sometimes there’s a little more. It’s nice to put the nickel in as a starting point, and then if you need to adjust the spacing a bit, you just wiggle the nickel up and down until you’re level again.

There is an electrical outlet on this wall, and for this it’s necessary to use a junction box extender to make sure the outlets are flush with the extra wood. We picked the extender up at the hardware store and they’re really self explanatory to install.

I tried to make the cut around the outlet as simple as possible. Rather than cut a hole in the middle of a plank of wood, I cut a piece to end at the side of the outlet, and then cut a notch in. This way I only had to cut out three sides, not four. Then I had a new plank start immediately after the outlet. This worked out well because … and here’s a pro-tip for you … electrical outlets are almost always installed next to a stud. They might always be, I don’t know for sure. You’d have to ask an electrician.

Once we got all the planks in, the corners looked a little rough. A quick round of caulk goes a long way, on the edges and to fill in the nail holes. The top two boards in the below picture have been caulked, and the bottom two haven’t. It’s such a cleaner look once the corners are filled in. You can also see in this photo how the blue wall is visible between the planks and why we painted that wall before putting up the wood.

It took pretty much a whole day but we eventually got all the boards up. We are so glad we went as wide as we did. It might be a little unique to have such wide planks for a “shiplap” look but if we had done 6 inch wide planks, this would have taken two whole days. If you’ve got time for that, go for it. But with one little kid already running around the house, we try to work as quickly as possible. One day is long enough for us.

Since the boards were already primed, all we had to do now was paint them the final color. Two coats later, we added the furniture and just like that Olly’s room was all put together.

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