3 easy ways to DIY shiplap walls

Published: April 22, 2020

Kids room in coastal style. Daybed near shiplap wall. Interior mockup. 3d render. Photo by Tr1sha/Shutterstock

You’ve probably seen shiplap walls—wood cladding for walls that give a room a fresh, beachy feel—even if you didn’t know what they were called. 

Traditional shiplap is created from boards joined with step-like rabbet joints, which, once upon a time, made a ship sea-worthy and house walls weatherproof.

If you’re not planning on building a boat anytime soon, though, you can easily get the look of shiplap without investing a ton of time and money. Here are three easy ways you can achieve the look on your own.

Sharpie shiplap

For the easiest DIY shiplap look, all you need is an oil-based Sharpie, a metre stick, a level, and a pencil.

1. If your wall is already the colour you’d like, start at the top and use the pencil and ruler to make tick marks every six inches (that’s the most common width for shiplap boards, but you can make them as wide or as narrow as you want).

2. Use the pencil, metre stick, and level to draw lines across your wall.

3. If your wall is longer than 8 feet (the length of many shiplap boards), you can draw the ends of the boards by making a vertical line every 8 feet on every other row. From that line, measure four feet and draw a line on the section above and below it. This gives your “boards” a staggered look.

4. Use your Sharpie to go over your pencil marks, using the metre stick to keep the line straight. And voilà —perfect faux shiplap!

Painted shiplap

For another approach to DIY shiplap, you can use paint. For this method to work best, you’ll need paint for the whole wall (or paint that matches your wall colour), and dark paint for the shiplap lines. You’ll also need a metre stick, a level, a pencil, and painter’s tape.

1. Paint your wall. White is a traditional colour for a shiplap wall, but the effect works nicely on pale colours as well.

2. From the top of the wall, measure down every six inches, making a tick mark. Using your metre stick and pencil, draw lines across the wall.

3. Put painter’s tape above and below the pencil marks, leaving a gap about the thickness of a nickle.

4. Once all the tape is up, paint the gap the same colour as the wall. It will ensure you get clean lines with little bleeding when you paint the gaps black.

5. Once that paint is dry, go over the gaps with black paint.

6. Remove the tape when the paint is still slightly wet. (This also helps keep a clean line. Just don’t get black paint from the tape on the wall!)

Plywood shiplap

If you really want the three-dimensional look of wood on the wall, but don’t want to pay a pile for traditional shiplap, you can use plywood.

For this project, you’ll need ¼”-thick 4×8 sanded plywood cut into 6-inch boards (you can get this done where you purchase your plywood), trim for the top and bottom of the wall (if needed), a brad nailer, brad nails, paintable caulk, wood filler, paint, and brushes or rollers.

1. If the boards are rough cut, sand the edges before installing them.

2. Paint the walls the same colour you’re going to paint the shiplap. There will be a small gap between each board, and the paint underneath will be visible.

3. Once you’ve painted the wall, paint the inside edges of the boards before they go on the wall. This will save you the fiddly work of trying to paint the edges once the boards are up.

4. Mark the wall studs with a pencil.

5. Starting at the top, using a level, nail the boards into the studs. Use coins or traditional tile spacers between the horizontal boards to create a small gap.

6. If your ceiling isn’t straight, you can add trim to the top to disguise any gaps. Trim around the bottom will help create a finished look.

7. Caulk the ends that are next to doors, wall trim, and corners. This will create a seamless look when you paint. Fill the nail holes with wood filler.

8. Paint as desired.

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