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Ceiling Tongue and Groove

A Handy Way to Install a Ceiling Without the Hassles of Drywall


tongue and groove board

Millstead 2 In. x 6 In. x 12 Ft. Whitewood Tongue & Groove Board

Copyright The Home Depot
Most ceilings are made of entire sheets of 4' x 8' drywall, or larger, screwed to the joists of the floor above. While attractive, they are also difficult for many DIY ceiling installers to do right. Making your ceiling tongue and groove is one alternative to the traditional drywall ceiling, and there are many perfectly good reasons why (as well as some why not). Let's look at this in more detail.

Pros and Cons of Drywall Ceilings

Drywall ceilings, without the aid of a lift, are two-person jobs--and even then, are difficult to install. Standard 4' x 8' sheets of drywall exceed 52 pounds, but weight is the least of your worries. These sheets are unwieldy. Bang in a few screws, and the person holding the sheet is free to let go, allowing you both to fill in the rest of the screws.

But your job is only half-done. Next, you'll be mudding the joints, with gravity fighting your every move. Be sure to sand those joints extra-perfect, because every flaw on a drywall ceiling shows.


  • Nearly flat, smooth surface can be achieved.
  • Easier to paint than tongue and groove.
  • Traditional to most houses, therefore will not attract unwanted attention at time of house sale.
  • Very difficult for two DIY installers to manage sheets in that position; impossible for one DIY installer to manage. In both instances, we mean without the aid of a drywall lift.
  • Requires "upside-down mudding" of drywall joints, also difficult for beginning DIYers.
  • Threshold of perfection for finished joints is very high, since light catches drywall joints at an angle that will expose all imperfections.

Pros and Cons to Make a Ceiling Tongue and Groove

The tongue and groove pine ceiling is the ultimate one-person ceiling project. While the going is slow, it's no problem to lift and smack single lengths of pine board into the neighboring board. You can then face-nail or blind-nail the boards.


  • Easy to lift individual boards.
  • Attractive, rustic appearance that may be appropriate for some houses.
  • Conforms to less-than-perfect surfaces.
  • Difficult to paint.
  • Not as sound resistant as drywall.
  • Slower to cover the ceiling than you would with the large sheets of drywall.

What You Need to Install a Tongue and Groove Ceiling

The kinds of pine tongue and groove boards you may buy at a Lowe's, Home Depot, or local lumberyard would be a width of 5 1/2", lengths anywhere from 8' to 12', and thickness of 3/4". Longer don't necessarily translate to better, because then you're trying to manage an exceedingly long board and that can get out of hand.

You probably will have no need to go thicker than 3/4", but if you're feeling ambitious or have a particular need, you can even go as thick as the Millstead 2" x 6" x 12' Whitewood Tongue & Groove Board pictured here.

Due to the fact that you are nailing onto the ceiling, your arms get tired quickly when using a hammer. Try a power nailer for the job.

How to Install Your Tongue and Groove Pine Ceiling

First, I'll note that when I've installed a tongue and groove ceiling, usually about half-way through I'll wish that I had gone the traditional drywall route. It's slow and painstaking, but in the end it does look pretty good.

Face-nail the first piece at your first wall. Don't worry about gaps, because you can cover those with trim.

Gently, with a rubber mallet, encourage the second length of tongue-and-groove to go into the first piece. Using a scrap piece of tongue-and-groove (eight inches or so), smack it the rest of the way in. Then blind-nail that piece.

At this point, you'll discover something interesting: these pieces are not perfectly straight. But by beginning at one end of the piece and gradually working your way down the line, it is possible to straighten out all but the worst pieces of T&G.

Continue all the way to the end. Rip the last piece to the correct dimensions and face-nail it in place.

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