Ceilings - Paneling

Instead of more traditional material such as acoustical or ceiling tiles, some homeowners prefer a tongue-and-groove paneled ceiling. This provides a warm, attractive finish especially suitable for vaulted ceilings.

Pine tongue-and-groove is a common choice. It is cheaper and easier to obtain than other wood choices. Plywood planks are also popular. Some are available in tongue-and-groove styles that have a pine veneer top milled to look like old-fashioned bead board, suitable for both flat and sloped ceilings. Select cedar or redwood paneling for rooms prone to moisture, such as bathrooms and saunas; or lightweight, easy to install mineral fiber planks that resemble wood.

Panels are typically 3/8 to 3/4-inches thick and are sometimes attached directly to ceiling joists and rafters. Note: if you use paneling that is thinner, check your local building code first; some codes require installing wallboard as a fire stop behind ceiling paneling less than 1/4-inch thick.

When purchasing tongue-and-groove paneling, get about 15-percent more than the actual square footage of your ceiling. Why? Because the tongue portion of each panel slips into the grooves of adjacent boards; square footage is based on the “reveal;” This is the exposed face of panels after they have been installed. To calculate the reveal – fit two pieces of paneling together and measure the exposed surface.

To determine how much paneling you will need, divide the distance from one to the other and then divide by the reveal surface of the two boards. For a sloped ceiling, divide the overall distance between the top of one wall and the peak of the ceiling by the reveal surface area, then multiply by two.

If you decide to panel a ceiling in your home, do the following:

  • Using the reveal calculation of two pieces of paneling, make a control line to indicate the top of the first row of paneling. At both ends of the ceiling, measure down from the peak an equal distance. Make a mark to represent the tongue edges of the starter boards, and then snap a chalk line through the marks.
  • If the paneling isn’t long enough to span the entire ceiling, plan the locations of the joints and stagger them in a 3-step pattern to make joints less obvious. For best results, select boards of similar color and grain for each row; make sure that each joint falls in the middle of the rafter.
  • If boards span the ceiling, square cut both ends. If boards will be pieced, a 30-degree bevel cut on adjoining ends will form a scarf joint and will be less noticeable than buttjoints.
  • Use a compound miter saw to ensure that paneling cuts are clean.
  • Attach paneling using 2-inch barbed flooring nails with spiraling shanks; although heads are larger than finishing nails, they hold better. Compensate for the larger heads by blind-nailing. Be sure and toenail each one.
  • Attach face-nails at joints and locations where more support is required (i.e. first and last boards).
  • If the ceiling peak is not parallel to the starting wall, compensate for the difference by ripping the starter piece at an angle. The leading edge of the starting piece, as well as every piece that follows, must be parallel to the peak in order for the project to be a success.

Getting started

Because layout of paneling is critical, use the reveal measurement to calculate the width of the final board. If it measures less than 2-inches wide, trim the first (starter) board by cutting the long edge that abuts the wall. Leave about 1/8-inch gap between the end of the wall and the board.

Position the starter board so the grooved (cut) edge butts against the side wall and the tongue is aligned with the control line. Attach the board nailing through its face about 1-inch from the grooved edge. And then blind nail the board to the rafters using a 45-degree backward angle; use a nail set to drive nail heads beneath the surface of the paneling.

Making sure scarf joints fit together snuggly, cut and install remaining boards in the starter row. When connecting scarf joints, drill pilot holes if necessary to prevent splitting. Drive two nails through the face of the top board at an angle to make sure nails secure the board behind it.

Use a hammer and scrap piece of paneling to seat the grooved edge over the tongue of the starter board; be sure subsequent rows fit snuggly together. Fasten by blind-nailing. As you continue to work, make sure rows remain parallel to the peak. Correct alignment using slight adjustments to the tongue-and-groove joints. Snap additional control lines if necessary.

When you come to the final row it may be necessary to rip the boards for proper fit; bevel the top edges so they will fit flush against the ridge boards. Complete the other side of the ceiling; cut and install the last row of paneling; form a closed joint under the ridge board.

If desired, install trim or crown molding along the walls; outside and inside of corners. Bevel or miter-cut back edges to better accommodate ceiling slope.

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