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How To Install Shiplap Walls In Your Home – Our Top Tips and Hints

How did you install shiplap in your house? Did you use nails or screws? Was it difficult? Those questions and more have flooded our inbox ever since we first posted about using shiplap throughout the interior of our Simple House project.

Shiplap is actually extremely simple to install, and requires just a few tools. And the benefits of shiplap siding go far beyond the ease of installation!  (See: The Beauty and Ease of Using Shiplap) 

With all of those questions, we thought for this week’s DIY article we would take you through a few of the basics of how to install shiplap walls.

How To Install Shiplap – Simple Tips

Before we begin, there are two ways to get the shiplap look.

install shiplap
True shiplap siding has a rabbit edge. You can also use tongue and groove for the same effect.

You can use tongue and groove boards that fit tight into each other, or true rabbit edge shiplap where the edges simply overlap. We have used both, and when up, you can’t tell the difference. It really is a matter of personal preference.

Tools Needed:  Level, Tape Measure, Circular or Chop Saw, Nail Gun, Nails (2 -3/8″ long)

Top Tip: Although you could hand nail or screw the boards in, a nail gun is the way to go! we used the Porter Cable Framing Nail Gun, but if you don’t own one, it is well worth the inexpensive cost to rent one! It simplifies the entire job beyond belief.

We have found that 2 and 3/8″ framing nails (clipped head) work perfectly, especially to give that classic “rustic look of shiplap walls.” You can use a 2 and 1/2″ to 3″ finish nail if you prefer, but the holding power is not near as good.

Shiplap vs. drywall

Practice with your nail gun on a few scrap pieces to get the hang of it, and to adjust the depth of the nail head to the desired look.

These installation tips are based on installing on open stud wall framing. If you are putting over drywall, first be sure to mark the lines of the studs underneath to make nailing through easier. You will also want to use longer 3 1/2″ nails.

The First Board –  Starting From The Top Or Bottom?

Although you will hear a variety of opinions, you can install shiplap successfully from the bottom up or the top down. Some like starting on the top so you have a full board showing up high, others like the full board at the bottom. We actually prefer starting from the bottom, simply because gravity becomes your friend as you install.

Besides, when you add your final trim at the top and bottom, the full board showing becomes a non-issue.

Starting Your First Board

Begin in a corner with your first board going all the way against the edge. We use a couple of paint stirring sticks under the bottom board to lift it directly off the floor. This allows a little room for leveling off the first board if the floor isn’t quite level. You will most likely find out that most floors are not!

Once you have the board in place, put the level on top of the board and if needed, lift the board up by hand until level, and nail into every other stud 1″ up from the bottom of the board. Continue around the entire length of the wall or room installing the bottom row. You can nail at every stud if you want, but nailing every other stud is more than enough to secure.

shiplap walls
The shiplap walls in the house

Trust me when I say the entire project will run extremely smooth if you simply make sure that your first boards are level. If your boards are not long enough to span the entire length of the wall, cut them to split a stud in half, and nail each board at the end into the 2 x 4.

As you build up from the bottom, it is important for the overall look to stagger your joints. If your first board splits at the 12′ of studs, split the next one at a different joint. If you have a solid line of joints, it draws the eye directly to it and takes away from the overall look.

Building Up

Once your bottom boards are on and level, you are ready to roll. Starting back at the corner, simply place the next board on top. Now it is all about getting the gap even, and a few paint stirring sticks once again make it a breeze.

guest house cabin
Going from the bottom up is the way to go!

Whether you are using tongue and groove boards or true rabbit edge shiplap – the process is the same. Once the next level board is in place insert a few of the paint sticks for an even gap between the two boards. If you are using tongue and groove, you can use a rubber mallet and a scrap piece of lumber if the groove needs pushed down at all.

People have been know to use nickels or quarters between boards for the gap, or to use a level on each board. But the paint stirrers are long and stable, work incredibly well, and make it nearly impossible to mess up. And that is perfect for us! 🙂  

Once each board is in place, put a single nail at every other stud about an inch above the gap in the newly placed board. Be sure to nail on the same studs that you nailed the first board to, so that the nail pattern is consistent. We used a single nail on each board, but some prefer to place two nails per board on each stud point.

Things to Watch Out For

For corners, make sure that the tops and bottoms of each level of  boards match up. This gives a good clean look as you look around the room.

Stagger your joints as you go around on each level. Cut lines that are random look much better than a solid cut line going up the whole wall.

If you have windows or doors, take the  shiplap all the way to the edge, this way trimming out is a breeze with a top board around the frames.

And as a last hint – take your time! Shiplap is very forgiving, and if you mess up, simply take off the board and start again!

Happy DIY’ing!– Jim and Mary.  To receive our Recipes, DIY and Gardening articles each week, sign up to follow the blog via email in the right hand column above, “Like” us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter. You can also check out our new book, Growing Simple, now available on

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