Shiplap Ceilings – A Different Look
Shiplap boards are manufactured to form a watertight surface. The term may have originated in shipbuilding circles to describe a waterproof type of construction. Shiplap boards of varying widths have been used in construction for decades.
They are inexpensive, easy to mill, and simple to install. Best of all shiplap siding creates a waterproof barrier from the elements. Shiplap boards are manufactured three inches wide to twelve inches wide. They are usually ¾” thick and available in random lengths.
One edge has the face rabbeted out and the other edge is rabbeted on the back. True shiplap fits together tightly. Channel cedar siding is a form of shiplap but the rabbeting is different widths. This leaves a distinctive space or channel on the face of the boards.
Why a Shiplap Ceiling?
Shiplap ceilings are used for decorative purposes. Shiplap adds the look and feel of real wood. Depending on the material chosen (see next section), a ceiling can be made to look rustic or modern. Use it as a stand-alone ceiling look. Or match the room’s decor.
Most shiplap is 3/4” thick. Making it a good option for renovations. It will go over conventional ceilings and textured ceilings and retain its shape.
Shiplap products have some small soundproofing and insulating properties. For better soundproofing and insulation, it is a simple job to install rigid foam board insulation before the shiplap. Longer fasteners or furring strips may be needed for a secure shiplap installation.
Strapping or furring strips will also be needed if the shiplap is being installed parallel to the ceiling trusses or joists. This provides backing for fasteners. The strips should be installed perpendicular to structural members at 16” or 24” on center. The minimum size of strapping should be 1 x 2. Thicker and/or wider strips help prevent warping.
Types of Shiplap Ceiling Material
Shiplap material is available in many sizes, shapes, and different types of material. Here are some of the most popular.
Solid Wood Shiplap
New shiplap planks are available in sizes from 1 x 3 to 1 x 12. The most popular boards are 1 x 4, 1 x 6, and 1 x 8. (As with most lumber the actual lumber will measure something like ¾” thick x 5 ½” wide.) Actual coverage varies depending on the amount of overlap.
Natural wood shiplap comes in many textures and colors. Different types of wood offer different wood grain patterns. Wood is easy to paint or stain. Natural wood shiplap is available in softwood or hardwood. Some of the more popular options include:
- Softwood Varieties. Redwood, cedar, pine.
- Hardwood Varieties. Poplar, acacia, golden teak.
Reclaimed Wood Shiplap
Shiplap was one of the favored building materials for siding, sheathing, and roof decks. Finding it and salvaging it is not difficult. Old houses, barns, and factories provide lots of product. Reclaimed shiplap can be refinished or left natural to match any design.
Plywood is a good alternative to natural wood or reclaimed wood planks. The veneer on plywood has wood grain and knots that make each board look like solid wood. The available choices of wood veneer combined with paints and stains provide multiple finishing options.
Good One Side plywood is often used to manufacture shiplap boards. Running a sheet of ¾” plywood through a table saw will provide eight 1 x 6 (nominal) boards 8’ long. Putting a dado blade on the saw and running each board through two more times will produce the rabbeted edges of shiplap.
There is no need to rabbet the edges. Just paint the ceiling with the same paint as the plywood. Install each board against the other using either nickels or dimes as spacers. With the same background color, it is virtually impossible to tell the difference.
MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) Shiplap
MDF is manufactured wood made of sawdust and glue. The boards can be bought unpainted, primed, painted, or with a melamine finish. MDF shiplap boards are available in various lengths. For a smooth unblemished finished-looking ceiling, MDF is a great choice. It does not have knots, cracks, or woodgrain.
MDF is easy to paint. But next to impossible to stain because stains cannot be absorbed by glue. Using MDF for ceilings in bathrooms is not a good idea. It absorbs water readily and swells. Once swollen, it will not return to its original shape. Moisture Resistant MDF is available.
PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) Shiplap
PVC shiplap boards are a better choice for any high-moisture or high-humidity rooms. PVC does not absorb moisture. It is the same material as vinyl windows and similar to plastic plumbing pipes.
PVC shiplap is available in many colors. The finish options include matte, semi-gloss, or gloss. Making it a good choice for any ceiling in the house. PVC is more pricey than most other shiplap options.
Composite lumber shiplap requires two people for installation. It is heavy and very flexible. It is available in a wide range of colors and has a soft wood grain appearance. The composite is dense and heavy. It adds a significant amount of mass to the ceiling–making it an excellent sound-suppressing acoustic material between floors.
Metal shiplap-style wall panels can be used as siding, soffit, or ceiling covering. They are rich in color and easy to install with hidden fastening systems. Available in multiple colors and patterns from different manufacturers.