I’ve seen a lot of tutorials on faux wood ceiling beams – there are some great ones out there – but I didn’t see any of them build a beam the way that I did with a veneer. This is not contact paper. This is real wood, but a thin slice of it – like lunch meat.
Wood Veneer for Ceiling Wood Beams
Very few diy’s have dabbled into the world of veneers with edge banding and I’d venture to say most diy’s don’t think of using veneers at all. It’s a shame because they can elevate your end result from just the typical diy grade “home-made”.
Using a veneer on your faux beam will get rid of the edges you normally expect when you join the three sides together. Veneers are very simple to work with – as long as you are working indoors where the moisture and temperature is controlled and is the same environment where the beam will be installed. Here is a link to where I buy mine (I don’t make anything if you click on it) Veneer Suppplies
My veneer was $26 and I only used half of it to make a 14′ x 5″ x 10″ beam. So $13. I’m going to use the other half to make a faux beam mantle over our fireplace. Guess what else? That wasn’t even their cheapest veneer – they have $13 birch veneers – so my cost would have been $6.50 for the faux beam – that’s cheaper than a big mac and fries. Make sure you check their “Bargain Bin”.
Building the Ceiling Beam
I’m going to write this tutorial as though you are making a 16′ beam – even though mine was 14′ – because the cost is the same and you can adjust your own measurements accordingly.
Some of the links I share are affiliate links, and if you purchase through them it won’t cost you any extra, however, I may be paid a small commission. That small support helps me keep the lights on and we appreciate all of it.
Table of Contents for Building Faux Wood Beam
- Supplies to build the beam
- Supplies for finishing the beam
- Supplies for installing the Beam
- Building your beam
- Adding veneer to your faux wood beam
- Attaching the beam to the ceiling
What you will need to build the beam
- 1 – veneer at least 11″ x 96″ x 1/42″– you can use the entire veneer for one beam this way
- 1 – sheet of 3/4″ 4 x 8 PureBond Plywood with a Maple, Oak or Birch Veneer (just buy whatever matches the sheet of veneer you bought) I get my PureBond at Home Depot
- 2-3″ wide cheap paint brushes or foam rollers
- 6 – 36″ long 3/8 or 1/2″ wood dowels or whatever you have around the house I used skewers – but you’ll need more to support the veneer, however they’re cheap I buy them from the dollar store. Cut the dowels into 6″ long pieces (this isn’t totally necessary if you have an extra hand to help you when you are putting the veneer on your wood, but it does prevent frustration)
- 1 – pint of DAP Weldwood Contact Cement (you can also use the spray but I think painting it on is cleaner. But if you opt for the spray you don’t need the paintbrush) You don’t use much and the pint will probably last for all of your veneer needs.
- KregJig or other pocket joining system
- 35-40 1 1/4″ screws
- If you do not own a KregJig or pocket joining system – 4 packs of 4″ metal mending plates and 1 1/4″ 16-18 gauge brad nails
- A bunch of heavy books or weights
- Optional 90 Degree Kreg Clamp
- Blue or Green Painters tape
- Wood glue
Supplies for Finishing the Beam
- Sandpaper 150 – 220 grit
- Stain/paint, polyurethane or other sealer
- Sharpie – similar color to your stain/paint
Supplies to attach the beam to the ceiling
- 2 – 2x4x8
- 16 – 4″ long lag bolts (Mike used 16 I would have used half that…)
- 1 3/4-2″ long 16 or 18 gauge finish nails
- Drill or Impact Driver
- Finish Nail Gun
Special tip: when you are making your joints, use wood glue this will create a permanent bond that won't separate. Wood glue doesn't stain or finish well, so make sure you wipe up any drips completely that gets on your 10" boards exposed sides.
Building your Beam
Step 1: Cut your boards and get your build site ready
Rip your sheet of plywood to 4 – 10″ x 8′ long boards. This will leave you with a 8″ remainder. Rip (to cut the board lengthwise) that to 2 – 3 1/2″. The 4 – 10″ x 8′ long boards will create the sides of the beam and the 3 1/2″ boards will create the base for the veneer. If your finished beam is shorter than 16′ cut your boards now to finished length, cut both evenly.
The depth of your finished faux beam is based on the 3 1/4" board. If you would like a thicker beam, make this board wider. Anything from 3 1/4-10" makes a nice size beam.
Example: for a 14′ beam, cut all six boards to 7′.
Step 2: Creating the length of your beam
Take two of your 10″ x 8′ long boards and drill pocket holes with your KregJig 3-4 holes on the short end. Set one of those boards to the side.
Then, you are going to butt-join two of your 8′ boards together to make a 16′ long board. Grab one of the boards that doesn’t have pocket holes and one that does. These two boards will get joined together.
Spread glue on both edges that will come together (see illustration above). Clamp one board to a stable, flat surface, then put the glued edges together, clamp the other board to the same surface, and join with your pocket hole screws.
Using clamps will help you get as flat of a seam as possible. This seam isn't visible once it's in the ceiling but if it bugs you - you can always add some bling to it and cover it up. They make these rubber bands that look like beam joining hardware, or you could make. your own with some bar metal and self tapping bolts.
Repeat this step to join the other two boards. You should have two 10″ x 16′ long pieces now ( or whatever length you were going for). Be careful moving these pieces around right now, they aren’t very strong until all three sides of the beam are together.
Keep working on a flat surface – preferably elevated. I put two 8′ long folding tables together in my garage with some plastic sheeting on top.
If you don’t own a KregJig then use 3 mending plates and glue – butt-joining two ends together – use clamps and be careful not to screw all the way through to the other side. Repeat.
You should end this step with two 10″ x 16′ long boards
Step 3: Creating the Faux Wood Beam Skeleton
Working along the long edges of your 3 1/2″ x 8′ long pieces drill pocket holes with your KregJig every 8-10″ starting 1 1/2″ or so in from the end.
Turn them over and make pocket holes the same way on to the opposite long edge. Goal: KregJig pocket holes along both edges but on opposite sides. So that if you turn it over the top and bottom of the board look the same with holes along one edge…clear as mud?
Here’s an illustration to demonstrate (and you can always comment or dm me for clarification):
Step 4: Joining the belly of the wood beam together
Take one of your 3 1/2″ boards and at the end, create pocket holes with your KregJig the same way you did on your 10″ boards but with two holes instead of 3-4.
Butt join it to the other 3 1/2″ board the same way you did the 10″ boards.
See how the board on the left in the above illustration has KregJig pocket holes on one end? Go ahead and join them together so that you have 1 - 3 1/2" x 16' long board. If you don't own a KregJig join the two ends with 2 mending plates using the same process as before.
Step 5: Joining the wood beam skeleton together
Lay one of your 10″ x 16′ long boards flat on the table. With the KregJig pocket butt-joint holes on top (this way it is inside your beam not on the outside). Place your 3 1/2″ board perpendicular to your other piece to make a long “L“. Lift and spread some glue along the joint before joining permanently.
Make sure you align your KregJig holes that are on the butt ends to be on the inside. The ones on the outside should be in the air on the top.
Join the two pieces together at a 90 degree angle being careful to make your seams line up as flush as possible. I used my Kreg 90 degree corner clamp for this – but you can do it without one if you are patient (I guess I’m not patient).
This will give you a 16′ – “L“.
If you don't own a KregJig pocket joinery system, finish nail the two sides together to the 3 1/2" piece so that their exposed sides are flush with the top edge of the 3 1/2" piece and the 3 1/2" piece is sandwiched between the two. Make sure you use wood glue between all of your joints.
Step 6: Finishing the skeleton of the faux wood beam
Lay your other 10″x16′ long board, again with the KregJig’d pocket hole butt-join up, flat on the table, parallel to your other piece. Take your 2×4’s and line them longways upright, on their short edge on top of your 10″x16′ piece, placing them on either side of the long edges of the 10″ x 16′ board.
This will give you support when you carefully – hopefully with another person, flip your “L” on top of the 10″x16′ long board.
You are literally just flipping it over 180 degrees – not rotating, just flipping it like a pancake so that the joined 10″ x 16′ long “L” is on top and the unjoined 10″ x 16′ long piece is on the bottom and the KregJig holes on the 3 1/4″ x 16′ long piece are on the outside bottom. Do you see how the 2×4’s act like a resting support for the joined pieces? This keeps the top from sagging and putting pressure on your joints – although it is pretty sturdy at this point.
It is possible to place the 10" x 16' board on top of the "L" assembly, but you will need to use the 90 degree clamp as you join the pocket holes in order to create enough back pressure to keep the seams flush as you go. If you are joining with nails you can also use this method but you won't need a clamps as the weight of the board is enough to bring the two together.
Step 7: Join the final boards together
Join the two together. Be sure to get the outside edges flush. When I join long pieces like this I start in the center and work my way out – moving my clamps as I go – checking for flushness (is that even a word?) by running my hand along the seam I am making.
You should now have a beam 5″ x 16′ long.
Step 8: Prepping for the veneer
Grab your sander and sand all three sides. 150 grit is good enough. End with the 5″ x 16′ long section on top. It should be resting on the table like staples in a stapler. This is where you will apply your veneer. Don’t worry about filling your exposed KregJig pocket holes with wood putty the veneer will go right over them – you won’t be able to see even a shadow or outline of them when you are done.
You want the 5″ x 16′ side to be as smooth as possible (aside from the pocket holes), this way the seam from the joined boards doesn’t telegraph through.
When you are satisfied with your sanding, wipe everything down with a tack cloth.
Adding the Veneer
Step 1: Cutting your veneer to size and adding contact cement
You are now ready to use that veneer!
Size your veneer panel up to your 4 3/4 x 16′ long piece. You will want your veneer to overhang 1″ or more on either side of your beam. Mine was 96″ x 12″ long so, I cut it in half long ways with scissors and laid the other half on top of the beam – butt-joining the two edges of the veneer together and lining the grain patterns.
You can use painters tape to hold the two cut edges together. Flip the veneer over so that the top side is facing down.
Get your can of contact cement and your paint brush and brush or foam roller and paint it onto the side of your veneer that will attach to the beam.
This stuff is sticky – your veneer edges may curl inward as the grain expands – don’t worry – just use some scrap wood or your dowels to keep them from touching.
Follow the directions on the can – you are going to let this dry. You do not want any glued edges to touch anything – your veneer will stick to it then pull apart when you try and remove it from whatever it’s stuck to.
Once the dry cement is dry it will only stick to dried contact cement.
Step 2: Apply contact cement to your beam assembly
While it’s drying, paint the contact cement onto the 5″ side of your beam. Wipe up any drips quickly with a damp cloth and make sure to keep dust out of your glue.
Let it dry. I know. It doesn’t seem right. Just trust me and let it dry.
Step 3: Join the veneer to the faux wood beam
When enough time has lapsed for the glue to cure and the surface is just the tiniest bit tacky it feels a little like sandpaper – not sticky – but dry and satin, it is time to join the veneer to the beam.
If you are doing this alone use the dowels. If you are doing this with a friend and don’t want to fight, use the dowels. Evenly space them along the 5″ side you have dried contact cement on – laying them perpendicular to the beam.
Take your veneer and with the glue side down line it back up on top of your beam.
It is so important to let your contact cement dry first. It feels so counter intuitive, but it is the best way to get a permanent bond.
Working from the center out, remove your first dowel and press the veneer onto the beam centering as you go and making sure not to create any voids.
Do not try and re-position it after you’ve connected the two surfaces together – it’s too late. That’s why it’s so important to center it first, work slowly and being patient.
Remove all the Dowels
When all the dowels are removed and the veneer is completely attached, run your hand over it using a good amount of pressure as you go paying special attention to the edges and curving the veneer over the edges to really seal the two pieces together. I like to use a pencil or screwdriver for this stem, just running the edge along the edge of the seam, pressing and bending it against the two boards.
You want your veneer to bend over the edges a little to help create a nice “straight edge”.
Take a rolling pin or heavy book and press down and rub it along the veneer to join everything together.
Step 4: Let your veneer acclimate and rest
Lay your “weights” on top of the veneered beam and let it sit overnight.
Step 5: Removing the excess veneer
Using your sander, remove the excess veneer from the edges. Just rest it at an angle over the edge and run it back and forth over the edge until the excess comes off and you are left with a smooth edge.
Change your grit to 220 and run your sander over the face of the veneer a couple of times to smooth it out and get it ready for your stain. You can go over your 10″ sides too if you want.
Here’s a close-up of the end after sanding the veneer down:
Step 14: Stain and seal your beam
Finish it however you like. Because this is wood, it is possible to dent it up a little bit if you want it to have a more rustic look. I kept mine smooth.
I used Rustoleum or Varathane stain oil based stain. I like to use a brown and a black to get a really multi-dimensional or “rich” black. The two stain colors I used were Dark Walnut and Ebony. I finished with Varathane’s brush on poly in a satin.
After the stain:
After the polyurethane:
Attaching the faux wood beam to the ceiling
Let’s attach the beam to the ceiling.
Using a stud finder, locate the center point of your ceiling joists or trusses and note the measurement. Mark your 2×4’s Then predrill your 2×4’s with the lag bolts so that when you lift them into place they will line right up with your ceiling joists or trusses (whatever you have). Mike used 2 lag bolts per joist.
It took three people to lift our beam into place. Two people on either side holding it up and me with the finish nailer nailing it into the 2x’s. For extra points, add wood glue along the inside top edge of your faux wood beam so that it will join to your 2×4’s permanently.
Grab your Sharpie
Before I put the brad nails into my nail gun I colored the nail heads with a black sharpie. Brown sharpies are another great alternative to black if you didn’t choose a dark stain. This disguises the nail heads in the wood.
I put a nail in about every 4-6″. You can’t even see them. I used 2″ long 16 gauge nails.
Now stand back and admire your work. I know there are a lot of steps involved – but honestly this is a very simple and quick build. I did the whole thing in two days – including finishing and hanging the beam.
Good luck and tell me how it goes!!!
Disclaimer: Working with power tools and DIY projects can be dangerous and post inherent risks. While we work hard to ensure the accuracy and effectiveness of the tutorials along with the information displayed on this website, Hambels Get Real cannot be held responsible for damages or losses sustained or incurred in the course of your project or in the use of the item you create.
This post was written in 2014, all the prices at that time were correct. Since this post remains one of my most pinned and read posts, I feel it is necessary to say that in 2022, there has been a tremendous change upwards and downwards on prices of wood and wood supplies and I cannot guarantee the accuracy of the cost of of building this beam due to the volatility of pricing, however, all prices are relative to one another and as the costs of these supplies go up so does solid wood and this tutorial still remains as one of the most inexpensive ways to build a faux wood beam.