pull away shot of the hambel's primary ensuite bathroom with shiplap installed vertically and painted white with greige vanity cabinets, oak and gold accents

If you plan on installing shiplap you need to know these 5 Tips. My caulking finishing tip is especially helpful when you are installing the shiplap boards vertically.

Have you ever thought about installing shiplap? It looks easy enough but if you start thinking about it you may have a few questions like:

What do I do where the shiplap meets the ceiling? Does the shiplap go on top of the baseboards, before the baseboards or after the baseboards? How do I fill the holes in shiplap if I don’t plan on painting it? How do I paint shiplap? What do I do around light switches or other obstacles? What do I do when I hit a corner?

Mike likes to use “Old Work” boxes when using more than one receptacle in a box. He can install these right on top of the shiplap

How about the most basic question of all? Which side of the shiplap board goes into the corner first?

Well, hopefully with my shiplap installation tips I’ve got you covered.

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.

Installing Shiplap Tip Number 1: Save time by cutting multiple boards at once

Gah, does this seem like a no brainer?

4 boards are placed on top of each other and against the miter saw fence to be cut simultaneously and save time
Cutting 4-5 boards at once saves time when you are installing shiplap in a room

Installing shiplap can get pretty tedious. To save time, cut more than one board at a time. When you are cutting shiplap boards that will all be the same length, you can cut up to 5 boards at a time on your saw.

When you are going vertically on the wall – which is my favorite and really only way I install shiplap, I cut the boards all first. Then as I install them I butt them against the ceiling. Because I install the baseboards after shiplap, I don’t have to be very precise with cutting the bottoms.

You can see my shiplap bottoms aren’t all the same length, they’re kinda jaggedy, and that’s okay, as long as the cut isn’t higher than the baseboards I am going to be fine.

This brings up the other question: Which side of the board goes first?

I like to put the overlapping side of the board against the corner and work outwards from there. I am right handed so I work clockwise around a room when I am installing shiplap. This leads me to tip #2

vertical shiplap installed in a primary ensuite makes a beautiful statement and is such a great way to add character to any room.
Start your boards in a corner working clockwise around the room, putting the tongue on the right side for the next board to overlap

Installing Shiplap Tip Number 2: Use two different nail sizes to be safe

I also have a specific nailing schedule that I do. Because I install my shiplap vertically, I nail the boards in first with nails that are only long enough to go through the boards and drywall. I do not want my nails to go past the drywall into the cavity of the wall because I don’t want to hit anything important.

I use the shorter nails first 1″ long is usually safe. Along the tongue part of the shiplap I nail two nails in an X along it every 12-18″. The next board hides those nails when it is installed because it overlaps the tongue.

I use the same shorter nails to tack the next board into the previous board. Before I even get started, I make sure to mark where the studs are located by placing a piece of blue tape to the floor in front of each stud location.

After I have nailed all the boards in with 1″ nails, I swap those out for 1 1/2 or 1 3/4″ brad nails. Then, I nail along the top plate. The top plate is where the ceiling meets the wall. There is always a 2×4 minimum along that seam.

By putting a nail into the overlapping parts I can join two boards to the ceiling plate with one nail, you can either go every other board overlapping edge or every overlapping edge. 

Along the base plate there is one 2×4 minimum to nail in to. I nail the same amount as around the top plate. After that, I go back and nail along the stud locations 3-4 nails spaced out across the board into the stud.

Installing Shiplap Tip Number 3: Measure from the top down

Okay, so this goes along with tip number 1. If you are cutting multiple boards and not measuring, just guestimating like I do, the bottom edges will be variable lengths. This isn’t a big deal as you go, just press the top edge up against the ceiling and move along.

shiplap installed around a light switch is easily done if you follow my favorite measuring tip
By measuring from the top down I was able to get a perfect cut around this light switch

However, if you get to a wall wart – as I lovingly refer to them or outlets/receptacles/light switches/pipe/whatever. Basically anything that is coming between you and putting a board on the wall. Measure from the ceiling down to the wall wart, then transfer that measurement to your board. Measure from the top of the board down when your transfer that measurement.

I like to use a jigsaw to cut these holes out. I cut it right there in the room where I am working. It doesn’t make that big of a mess.

Mark the left, right, top and bottom. Sometimes these objects will fall between two boards. As long as you always measure from the ceiling down and top down on your boards, you will always get your boards to butt up against the ceiling and your holes to fall in the right spots. Make sure you use a straight edge or speed square to mark straight lines to cut the holes with.

For circular cuts, measure the diameter of the pipe, then mark the center of the pipe location on your board and use a hole saw or drill bit to cut the round holes, centering it on your mark.
comparison of vertical shiplap boards with caulking along the ceiling edge and without
You can see how much better the caulked side on the left looks compared to the unfinished side on the right

Installing Shiplap Tip Number 4: Use caulk along the ceiling and shiplap

Cut a small angled hole in your caulk tube. Put a bead of caulk along the seam.

baseboards adjacent to a wall with an uneven surface and needing to fill the gap with caulk when installing vertical shiplap
This seam is in desperate need of caulk

Usually when you are caulking baseboards you wet your finger and run it along the caulk to create a nice seam. With shiplap installation there is a little bit of a difference. You want to remove as much excess caulk as possible, and push some into the grooves at the same time.

I use these dishtowels as caulk rags. I dampen it with water. Wrap it around my finger. Then run my finger across the bead of caulk I just placed along the ceiling or baseboard seam. This pushes the caulk into the grooves, but also removes the extra that accumulates along the seam.

I run my finger along that seam a couple of times until I have the bulk of it removed.

This is it people. This is the best one I have.

Then, here is my big shiplap installation tip: take two 16 or 18 gauge brad nails or 4 – 25 gauge pin nails still attached to each other. Push the ends of the nails into the groove up against the ceiling and pull the nails downward, dragging the caulk down the groove and out.

two 18 gauge brad nails make the perfect width to fit between the gap made by shiplap boards and help create a nice seam between the baseboards or ceiling and when installing shiplap.
Don’t throw these away, save them for finishing the caulk seam in shiplap

On the seam between the baseboards and the shiplap, drag down the groove, pressing the excess caulk into the gap and flattening it out on the top of the baseboard.

joannie is demonstrating how it looks when she is using two brad nails secured together to wipe the caulk between the shiplap grooves.
Two brad nails are the perfect width to get the caulk out of the shadow line made from overlapping shiplap boards

Pull the nails out of the groove.
You will be left with a tiny little bumper on either side of the groove. You can scoop that away with your brad nails or fingernail if there is just a little bit. If there is a lot you can wipe that away with your rag. Clean up the edges of the groove with your nails again and voila, a perfectly finished and sealed joint.

the caulk that is pulled out of the groove by the brad nails makes small bumpers of caulk, easily remove them with a fingernail or another swipe of your flour sack rag dishtowel
These little bumpers are easy to remove and now the caulk is pressed nicely into the groove from the shiplap

This sounds like it takes forever, but it really doesn’t once you get going. The finish you get from doing it this way really is worth it.

Caulked baseboard complete and gaps filled in the shiplap
How good does the seam look now?
I do the same thing when I am caulking along the baseboards or a countertop, just remember to pull downwards in the groove. I even made a reel about it on Instagram. 

Installing Shiplap Tip Number 5: Prepping your shiplap boards for paint

The shiplap mdf boards that are readily available at Lowes and Home Depot come pre-finished. They are primed and painted. If you like the white color they come in, great! All you have to do is grab one of these Varathane sticks in white and fill the holes. No sanding required and the filler fades right in.

inexpensive kitch flour sack towels get handed down to the shop as caulking rags when they are all worn out from kitchen use.
These dishtowels start in my kitchen, when they get stained and worn out they become my favorite finishing rags

It’s rare though that you are okay with the white finish and may want to paint it. In fact, I repainted my shiplap with another white – Benjamin Moore Simply White. These boards come with a sheen and to get the paint to stick to it you need to lightly sand the shiplap.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to go crazy, a light sanding with 220 or 320 grit will be fine – you can even use a pole sander to make the job super quick and easy. But honestly, one pass is enough to give the boards a little teeth and get your paint to stay.

The thing is, when you are installing shiplap, you need to fill all of the nail holes anyways. So grab your favorite hole filler and fill the holes. While you’re sanding those filled holes just run your sandpaper over the rest of the wall as you go.

Honestly, I really like to fill all of the nail holes first, sand them and the wall, then come back and do the caulking last. But you can do it in either order as long as you let the caulk dry before you sand the nail hole filling or you will end up with seedy looking caulk.
Corner detail of shiplap installation and how to install the boards.
I cut the overlapping part off of a board to begin a new wall that has an outside corner. I sand the mdf smooth before painting

Other helpful information for installing shiplap

Handling the layout and slivers of strips of shiplap

When I first started hanging shiplap I worried over the layout and spacing and where the boards would end up and ending up with a sliver, and honestly, sometimes those slivers are just impossible to avoid. I don’t really stress too much over it anymore. I just put the boards up and if I hit a corner and it leaves me with a small thin piece, it doesn’t actually look that bad. In fact, I am 100% okay with how it looks here:

This corner edge is barely 1/2″ of exposed piece, but it made the board next to the shower wall a full board and it doesn’t look bad at all

The boards I like to use are the 1×6 mdf shiplap boards from here. They are not 1 x 6 at all. They are actually 1/2″ thick and 5 1/4″ wide.

Once you subtract the overlap you are left with coverage that is 4 3/4″ – this includes the 1/8″ gap the boards create when they overlap each other at the joint. In other words, the amount of overlap is 1/2″.

If you want to make sure you don’t end up with a sliver you can measure your wall, divide by 4.75″ and adjust your layout if you end up with any decimal point .1 or lower.

Your wall is 29" wide. 

You divide 29" by 4.75 and you get 6.1 

That means that to cover the entire wall you will need 6.1 boards. 

.1 is less than 1/2" wide (.1 x 4.75 = .48). That's a sliver. 

In this case you could cut your first board in half and start your layout with a board that is 2 1/8" wide (2 5/8" if you count the overlapping part), now subtract 2.125 (2 1/8) from 28 and you get 25.875. That's 25 7/8" of remaining wall after you put the 2 1/8" wide board up. Divide 25.875 by 4.75 and you end up with 5.45. Now, you know the rest of the wall will take 5 and a little under 1/2 of a board to finish and you will avoid ending with a sliver. 
sliver of shiplap on the right of this door casing was inevitable because of where the doorway fell on the wall layout
No matter what this sliver of shiplap on the right was going to happen.

Whether painting your shiplap by hand or spraying follow my steps

When painting, using a sprayer, like this one from Graco, works great. You will have to do three separate passes in order to get into the grooves and not have the paint run. Set your sprayer to make one long vertical line centering it on the grooves as you go and paint those first.

By painting the grooves first, you avoid any flashing from the paint. If you painted the grooves after the body of the boards then the over spray would flash.

After you paint the grooves, go back and paint the two coats you need over the body of the shiplap.

but if you are painting the shiplap by hand…

If you are painting the shiplap by hand, work with a 6″ foam or mohair roller and a brush simultaneously. Paint the grooves first with a paint brush (you may be able to squeeze in with a 2″ but a small brush or the tip of a foam brush works faster). Then immediately roll the shiplap board with a roller.

Only brush enough grooves with paint to keep a wet edge. This way, when you roll the shiplap board the brush marks disappear - this is called back rolling. I did it this way for Evie's room where we installed the panels of inexpensive looking shiplap. 

Installing the Shiplap with Baseboards what goes first

I always install my shiplap first, this way I don’t have to be very precise when I’m making my cuts. If the baseboards were on first I would have to measure and cut every single piece individually. Also, I think it looks better to have my baseboards that are installed with shiplap to have the same depth as the walls without shiplap.

My baseboards are only 5/8″ deep. If I installed the baseboards first, then my baseboards would look 1/8″ deep when the shiplap was in place.

If you are taking the time to install all this trim and wall paneling, remove the old baseboards. You can reuse them by re-installing them after the shiplap or replace them with taller/upgraded baseboards.

Three alternatives for handling door casings when installing shiplap

If you are doing a new build, you simply order door frames that can accommodate the extra wall thickness from the shiplap. Standard door frames are meant to cover 4 1/2″ of material. You would need to add 1/2″ – 1″ to the depth of the door frame depending on if shiplap is installed on both sides of the door frame or just one.

That first option wasn’t my option and so I had two alternatives to work with:

After removing the door casings, I could have installed the shiplap right up to the outer edge of the door frame. This would leave the shiplap edges exposed. To hide that I’d add a piece of 1/4″ wide x 3/4″ tall trim against the shiplap.

This would create a perimeter around the shiplap edges and hide the shiplap’s exposed edges. Once that was done, I’d install my door casings against the 1/4″ x 3/4″ trim piece. By adding a very simple extra profile to my door casings I would hide the exposed edges of shiplap.

Here’s the way I handled shiplap installation in my house

I install my door casings first. However, I have a border of 1×2 around the perimeter of my door casings. This disguises the change in depths and helps my door casings still look like they sit past the shiplap.

So either you add a perimeter of trim inside the door casings to hide the edges, or outside the door casings to hide the lack of trim reveal. I don't think either way is wrong. It is just going to depend on what your door casings look like and the style of trim you have.

I really hope you found a few of these tips for installing shiplap valuable and will add them to your practice! This post was created as part of the Fall 2022 One Room Challenge where I am restoring our primary ensuite back to it’s former pre-flood glory. Of course, with a twist, it has to be even better. This is week three of the eight week challenge and we are nearing the halfway mark!

one room challenge logo for shared girls bathroom

If you would like to read more about the challenge or see the incredible transformations being done by other guest designers, click here. If you liked this post you may like my post from last week. It’s all my go to tips for installing baseboards. If you enjoy building stuff for your home, check out my nightstand plans, they’re easy to follow and look amazing when completed. Or if you love a good hack I converted my standard stainless steel dishwasher into a paneled dishwasher here!

If you just stumbled upon us, sign up for our newsletter so you can get updates delivered right to you. Don’t worry, we aren’t the types who send stuff every day…I’m lucky if I get something out once a week.

apartment therapy the official media partner of the one room challenge

Apartment Therapy is the official media partner for the One Room Challenge and I am pretty excited about it because they do such a great job featuring small time and big time designers.

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.

Similar Posts


  1. Loved reading your post. Thank you for all the great tips. Your really explained things well and I think I can replicate some of your ideas. I currently am in the process of shiplapping a bay window. I am using the pre painted mdf shiplap from Lowe’s. I am going to have an area with the exposed end of raw mdf, any tips on giving that exposed in a finished look? Wood filler, prime, paint? Any suggestions are welcome! (I should mention I have all the shiplap up already so at this point I am not willing to take it down to put trim piece for Shiplap to butt up to. Prob a better idea for next time tho)

I promise to reply if you do!