How to Install Shiplap for Beginners

  • Active Time: 2 hours to install shiplap + 2 hours for painting (but will depend on your space)
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Cost: Totally dependent on the amount of shiplap you need to buy and if you need to buy the power tools. This cost me $100–$60 in shiplap and $40 in paint.
  • Help Needed?: Yes. You’ll need 1 other person to help nail up the shiplap
  • Difficulty: Advanced Beginner

Today on A Girl’s Guide to Home DIY we’re sharing how to install shiplap for beginners. I know, I know–I’m super late to the show on shiplap. But, I love woodwork in homes, and I was desperate to install shiplap somewhere in our duplex. It seemed a little overwhelming since I had never done any sort of woodworking before, so I want to share with you—this is a super approachable project once you get over your fear of power tools! Power tools are super fun and make DIY projects oh-so-much easier.

Once I talked myself into trying shiplap, I convinced myself our baby’s nursery should be 3 walls of shiplap, but my husband was not enthused about the cost. So, we compromised on starting with out breakfast bar. Our breakfast bar was very inoffensive but very without personality. Here’s our breakfast bar before we moved in.

And here’s our breakfast bar all lived in. A new paint color doesn’t really change how blah it is.

before picture of the breakfast bar

Shiplap seemed to be the perfect accent for this small space, so I decided to jump in.

In full disclosure, I had lots of help with this project–I was pregnant at the time and not feeling my best, so I put in a few nails and then did the finishing spackle, caulk, and painting. My dad and husband did all the sawing and most of the nailing. But, if morning sickness hadn’t been an issue, I could have easily tackled this with my husband, even pregnant. The whole project is something you can easily do with one other person, even as a beginner DIYer! A few cuts, a few nails, a little caulk, spackle, and paint, and you have a brand new look for your space!

Before You Start

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Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you click the link and purchase the item. The links are products I’ve used and loved in the past (or something very similar). 

There’s two big steps that I’m going to highly recommend you do before doing anything else in our How to Install Shiplap for Beginners guide: choose your shiplap and measure.

Because this was our first time installing shiplap, we went with an easy to use shiplap by Home Depot. The upside is it’s super easy to install. There’s no worrying about spacing, as they are interlocking, which allows for the space automatically. The downside is it’s a little pricier. There’s plenty of information on DIYing your own shiplap with MDF (medium density fiberboard) if you don’t want to spend that much, but they do require a bit more work (more wood cuts, worrying about spacing between boards, sanding and priming). I definitely recommend the shiplap we used for shiplap beginners, and honestly for anyone installing shiplap. The extra cost is definitely worth the time and work savings.

The next most important to talk about in How to Install Shiplap for Beginners is measure, measure, measure. You need to be sure of your dimensions of the wall you would like to install shiplap on before buying your supplies. That way you can buy the correct amount of shiplap before starting the project. This will definitely help avoid middle-of-the-project trips to Home Depot. Or worse, a middle-of-the-project trip to Home Depot and your shiplap is out of stock. Yuck.

I strongly encourage you to buy a little bit more than you need when you install shiplap. For our small bar, we bought one extra board. If you’re doing a whole room, I’d probably buy several extra boards to ensure you have enough. If you don’t use it, you can always return it after you’re done–or find another place to shiplap!

Supplies & Tools

Installing shiplap is definitely easier if you have a finish nailer, or nail gun. You do not need one, but it’s definitely quicker and easier if you have one. I love my hand-me-down Ryobi Finish Nailer that my dad gave me when he bought a new one for himself. It’s cordless, so there’s no air compressor or cords to worry about. And, it’s not so heavy that I didn’t feel comfortable holding it. It’s not a cheap tool–$150 if you already have a Ryobi battery and charger, or $250 if you need everything. So, if you don’t think you’ll use it for anything else ever, maybe try borrowing or renting one. Otherwise, it’s a great tool to have for other DIY projects, so it’s definitely worth the investment!

If you choose to use a finish nailer to install shiplap, make sure you get the nails recommended by your nail gun (gauge, size, and even brand). My dad’s had issues in the past with the nailer getting jammed with off label nails. So, he now just pays a little extra for the brand name nails to ensure ease of use.

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Ok, done with the commentary. Here’s a list of what you’ll need to install shiplap:

Step 1: Prep Your Space

my dad using his truck bed as a work bench
Best workspace–will travel to any job site needed!

There’s a few steps to prep your space to install shiplap, since you’ll need enough space to cut your shiplap pieces to size and have two people nailing up each board.

We set up two work spaces: the breakfast bar for installation and the back of my dad’s truck for cutting the wood. Make sure your work space is clear of any clutter (goodbye Sadie’s dog bed and toys) or things that will get in your way (I took down my cable wire that I had nailed to the wall).

You should also mark the studs on your wall ahead of time to prep for nailing. We just drew a line down the wall after we found the studs with our stud finder–you’ll be covering the wall, so who cares what marks are made on it?

Step 2: Measure (and Measure Again)

Now, I can’t stress this enough when sharing how to install shiplap for beginners: measure everything at least twice when you install shiplap, if not three times, and write it down. If you live in an old house and walls are a little squiggly (like our 1950s duplex), measure a few places on the wall. It would be so sad to ruin a whole board of your shiplap because you cut it a little too short. Or, have to go back and make multiple cuts on the same piece of wood because your board is too long.

I measured the width of the wall in several places. And, then I measured the length/height at several places. Then here’s where you get to do a little math to figure out how many rows you’ll have and how many boards you need for each row on the wall. We need less than 1 board for each row (yay!). But, if you need more than 1 board for each row, you’ll need to figure out where you need to cut the second board to get the correct width.

And, for the last row, you’ll likely need to shorten the board to fit in your space (unless you’re super lucky and some how you have a perfect number of boards to match the height of your wall). So, know the measurement of where you’ll need to make a horizontal cut for all the last row.

FYI: We did this step before we purchased our shiplap, and then did it again when we got home with the boards to confirm.

Step 3: Cut Your Shiplap to Size

completed shiplap wall
A little sneak peak of the finished product

Once you have your measurements confirmed, you’re ready to cut your shiplap to the correct size. Mark with a pencil on the board the place where you need to cut it, so you have a piece the correct size you need (after you measure twice of course).

For most pieces you’ll be making a vertical cut, to make it fit the row. However, for the last row, you’ll likely need to make a horizontal cut, or rip cut, as well to make sure the board fits in the remaining space.

Take your shiplap to your saw space you set up in Step 1.

Then, put on your eye protection and N95 mask. Align your mark of your board with the site or the laser site of your saw, and make your cut.

Repeat this step for each board you need to cut. Save cutting the last board until you’re done with the rest of the wall, so you can verify your measurements.

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Space for Outlets & Switch Plates: If you have outlets or switch plates on your wall, you will need to cut out holes in your shiplap for those. There’s a more complex way which will give you less seams in your wall. And, there’s a simpler way for beginner DIYers, or for those of you that don’t have a jigsaw (I only have one thanks to my dad’s hand-me-downs). You’ll have more seams in the shiplap, but we’ll spackle those later to minimize their visibility.

More complex/prettier way (you’ll need a jigsaw for this step):

  • First cut your board to length.
  • Then hold the board up against the wall, as if you were nailing it up, above where the outlet is.
  • Mark on the board (you can draw a line the whole width of the board) where the right and left end of the outlet box is.
  • To get the top and bottom outline of the outlet box, hold up a scrap piece of the shiplap to the side of the outlet box and mark horizontal lines on the scrap piece.
  • Place the scrap piece on top of the shiplap where your right and left lines are.
  • Use the lines on that scrap piece to mark your top and bottom lines on the shiplap
  • You’ll end up with 4 lines that you can use a jigsaw to cut out the outlet space

Easier/More Seams in the Shiplap Way (No Jigsaw Way)

  • Measure from the corner of the wall to the right side of the outlet. And, measure from the other corner/end of your wall to the left side of the outlet.
  • Mark those measurements on a piece(s) of shiplap and make your cuts.
  • Nail up the shiplap on either side of the outlet, and make sure the rows of shiplap above and below are nailed up as well.
  • Now measure the length and height of the remaining parts of the wall that need to be covered by the outlet.
  • Mark those measurements on a scrap piece of shiplap
  • Using your circular saw or miter saw, cut the boards to the correct length. Then cut the boards to the correct height.
  • Then nail up your last two pieces. They probably won’t be nailed into studs, but because they’re so small, that shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re worried you can also put a little wood glue on the back of the piece before putting it up against the drywall to help it stick better.

Advanced DIYers: If you want to minimize the breaks in the wood from multiple pieces of shiplap in a row, you can cut the edges of your shiplap at an angle with your compound miter saw to make the break less notable. We did not do it, as I didn’t mind the breaks–I used spackle to minimize the look of ours.

Step 4: Nail Your Shiplap to the Wall

Now you’re ready to install shiplap to the wall! You’re rocking this how to install shiplap for beginners project!

Before you start, decide if you want to have the board you cut horizontally to be at the top of the wall or the bottom. For us, we put it at the top of our breakfast bar, as no one would be looking at the finish under the bar. If you’re doing a whole wall, I’d recommend placing the cut piece on the bottom, as most people don’t look at the floor, but may look up at your walls. It’ll look cleaner to have a full board closest to the ceiling.

my husband and dad nailing up the first piece of shiplap

Next hold up your first piece against the corner of the wall, with your partner. Make sure it’s level, using your laser level. Then, using your finish nailer, nail the shiplap to the wall at 2-3 points at each stud. Finish the whole row before moving on to the next. Don’t worry if the end is a little jagged or is a smidge short–that’s where your corner molding will help.

Once you finish your first row, move on to the second.

Before you start your second row, it’s time for your 2nd style choice when your install shiplap: do you want your boards flush together, or do you want some spacing between them? Our shiplap boards automatically give you “nickel spacing” (nickel spacing is the width of a nickel; penny spacing is the width of a penny). So, you can go ahead and skip this step! Yay!

But, if you wanted to add more spacing between the boards to give you bigger groves, or you’re using MDF to make your own shiplap, you can use a paint stirrer to mark the space between two rows. Just place the paint stirrer in the corner on top of your first row, then place your second row board on top of it. Use the laser level to make sure the board is level, and then make sure the gap between the two boards is the width of the paint stirrer for the whole row. Then, nail up the second row of boards into the marked studs, just as you did the first.

using our finish nailer to install shiplap

Repeat until you get to your last row.

If you’re using more than one board to complete each board, you aren’t going to want each cut board to be at the same place on each row. Think of hardwood floors or offset tiles. You’ll want to offset each row, so it looks more natural. An easy way to do this is to alternate starting with the whole board and the cut board. That way the seam will be in a different spot in the row above and below.

Step 5: Last Piece of Shiplap Instructions

mostly completed shiplapped breakfast bar
Almost there!

The last piece of shiplap is installed the same as the above pieces, except you will likely need to make a long horizontal cut through the board so the width of the board fits the space you have left on the wall.

After you have all your shiplap up, remeasure the remaining space you have left for your last piece. Then mark your board. Take the board to your cutting space and make your vertical cut first. Your space is set up for vertical cuts, and why make a longer cut than needed for your horizontal rip-cut? Then, set your saw space up to make a horizontal rip-cut on the long board. And finally, make your rip-cut.

Then take your board(s) inside and nail them up.

Step 6: Attach Inside and/or Outside Corner Piece

unfinished edge of shiplap breakfast bar
Don’t worry about that ugly edge–that’s what your outside corner piece will cover!

Now that the whole wall is covered, the hard part is over! Now, you’re gonna pretty it up! The inside and outside corner pieces really make your wall look polished. You can see in this picture when only used an outside corner piece. I just caulked the inside corner. Does it look ok? Yes. Would I skip the inside corner piece again? No. For the minimal cost and effort, put corner pieces on all your corners. It looks so much better.

comparing the finished corner and corner finished with caulk
Pretty outside corner and ok inside corner

To install the corner, first measure the height of the space you are installing it (sense a theme here at all?). And, then measure again. Mark your corner molding where you need to make your cut, and take it to your saw space to cut it.

Then using your finishing nailer, nail your corner piece up. We put nails about every foot.

Repeat for any other corner pieces you may have.

Congrats! You’ve now completed the hardest parts (and the part that required a partner) in our how to install shiplap for beginners guide. You can tackle the rest of this solo, or keep your partner around to help save time.

Step 7: Spackle Nail Holes & Shiplap Seams

Now we’re going to continue to pretty up the shiplap, so it looks like they’re all just floating on the wall. Using your spackle knife, apply spackle to every nail hole and every seam in the shiplap and the corner pieces.

Step 8: Apply Caulk

gap between the shiplap wall and butcher block countertop
I’m probably the only person who would notice this under the bar, but it needs to be addressed lol

And, last step in how to install shiplap for beginners before we dive into painting–applying caulk. You can see in my picture, I had a small gap under the bar, between the bar and the last piece of shiplap. Easy fix–caulk! Apply the caulk to anywhere you see a gap between the shiplap and the wall; or, any gap between the corner piece and the shiplap.

applying caulk to the gap between the shiplap and butcher block
We had almost a half inch space between the bar and the shiplap. Caulk to the rescue!

If you haven’t applied caulk before, it’s super simple, and super messy! Cut your caulk tube open at an angle. Squeeze the tube to apply the caulk where you need to. I typically apply about 6 inches at a time. Then use your finger or this amazing DAP caulk applier to smooth out the caulk and remove excess. Then use a wet paper towel to clean up any excess left on the wall. Repeat until you’ve filled in your whole gap.

smoothing the caulk
I love this DAP caulk applier to get the perfect line of caulk.

Make sure you allow the caulk to dry before applying paint or primer (it should say right on the tube how long to wait).

cleaning off excess caulk with a wet paper towel
Clean up any excess caulk with a wet paper towel.

Step 9: Paint (Prime First if Your Boards Aren’t Primed)

shiplap wall primed
One coat down!

Now, it’s time to paint! (If you’re boards aren’t pre-primed liked mine were, make sure you prime first!) I wanted my shiplap white, so I used the same paint from our kitchen cabinets (Sherwin Williams Emerald paint in Whitetail in eggshell). The only difference between this and painting a normal wall is using your brush to get all the groves in the shiplap before painting with your roller.

Make sure you apply two coats, especially if you’re using white. Any little blemish stands out when using white paint, so you want the best coverage possible.

Step 10: Finishing Touches

installing cable organizers
Wire organizers are life savers!

Last step in how to install shiplap for beginners: apply any finishing touches! For us, that was nailing up our coaxial cable with cord managers. And, then staining the bar and installing new hardware under our bar (more on that in a future post!) For you, it may be hanging pictures, or putting switch plate or outlet covers back up.

If you have a switch plate or outlet on the wall you just shiplapped, you may find that the screws for the covers will not reach your outlets/switch plates any more. There’s any easy solution for this–longer wall plate screws! You should be good with 1″ screws (included in this kit), but if your outlet is recessed into your wall, you may need to find 1.5″ ones–you can find them at any hardware store. You may just have to ask someone where.

And You’re Done!

completed shiplap breakfast bar
So much prettier than where we started!

You just learned how to install shiplap as a beginner in your own home! While there were quite a few steps, this was actually an easier project than I expected! And, it made such a difference to our breakfast bar! What do you think? Is there any wall or room you want to shiplap?

3 Comments

  1. I love shiplap soooo much! This turned out wonderfully and thank your for sharing such great tips!

    1. Thank you so much Taryn! It was so much easier than expected (and a lot of fun)!

  2. […] out our posts on How to Install Shiplap and Updating Your Breakfast Bar for other great tips for transforming your breakfast […]

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