Installing Shiplap Over Drywall. (Why & How?)

It’s true- shiplap is cool. It adds texture and dimension to any room, has an undeniably cozy aesthetic, and the effort to benefits ratio is attractive to DIY-ers everywhere.

Residentially, shiplap has traditionally been used as exterior watertight siding. It features a rabbet cut on the top and bottom of the board that, when assembled correctly, keeps out water, critters, and wind. It is not the same as tongue and groove paneling, though the intentions of both designs are similar.

Installing Shiplap Over Drywall

Shiplap Over Drywall

Do You Need Drywall Behind Shiplap?

Technically you don’t need drywall behind the shiplap panels. You can install the shiplap directly onto the studs. However, if you are installing shiplap in your furnace room or garage, the local building codes may require you to have fire taping. This is a layer of sheetrock with fire-resistant tape fixed on the joints and covered with at least one coat of joint compound.

100 years ago, if used indoors, shiplap was installed directly onto the studs. You could certainly still do that today if you’re finishing a room for the first time, working on a new build, or had to remove an existing wall for some other reason.

Can You Put Shiplap on Drywall?

Today, shiplap is frequently retrofitted in homes that already have existing finished walls. These walls most commonly will be drywall.

Proper shiplap made of either wood or MDF, on its own, is certainly stronger than drywall. It can handle more wear and tear while retaining structural integrity, and the kool-aid-man is much less likely to be able to smash through a wood-paneled wall vs. drywall.

It is not necessary to install shiplap directly onto your studs. If you are updating a preexisting wall, you’re far better off simply hanging it over the drywall that’s already there. Otherwise, you’ll have to remove a whole bunch of drywall first, which is messy, time-consuming, and can become pricey to haul away. The benefits of having both far outweigh the hassle of stripping down to the studs first.

Benefits of Shiplap Over Drywall

  • More energy efficient – Drywall will help further insulate the space receiving the shiplap, potentially decreasing energy costs over time, which is especially helpful in under-insulated or older homes.
  • Better soundproofing – This is a big one! Drywall plus shiplap plus potential interior-wall insulation will all work together to dramatically decrease the sound traveling through the walls of your home, which everyone appreciates!. As you add additional layers to a wall, you are increasing its mass and therefore its ability to reflect the sound waves and convert that energy into heat rather than audible noise.
  • Easier to cut out for electrical outlets and switches
  • If using faux shiplap (not recommended), drywall is an essential part of the paneling’s success. Faux Shiplap made from strips of plywood has no overlapping edges. Without drywall behind it, you’ll see right through the wall to your insulation or the room next door, kinda defeating the purpose of the “upgraded” wall.

How to Install Shiplap on Drywall?

Tools You’ll Need

  • Measuring Tape
  • Screwdriver
  • Utility knife
  • Pry bar
  • Stud finder
  • Standard 4’ Level or Laser Level
  • Jigsaw and blades
  • Nail Gun (Battery-powered or Pneumatic with compressor)
  • 5” Nails for Gun
  • Circular saw or Chop Saw
  • Shiplap
  • Flooring Protection (plastic or drop cloth)
  • Pencil
  • Chalk Line
  • PPE – Eye protection, ear protection, dust mask
  • Installation Instructions

    1. First, prepare the workspace. Move any furniture out of the way. Remove art, lamps, area rugs, and anything else that could minimize your freedom of movement, or be damaged. Remove switch plates, outlet covers, and vent covers, and lay down flooring protection. You don’t want to scratch wood floors, and you don’t want to damage the carpet or allow a ton of dust to fall unnecessarily into your carpet. Don your PPE.
    2. Remove all baseboards and any existing trim. Use your utility knife to cleanly slice through any caulk seals, and a thin-edged prybar to pop it off the wall. If you move slowly and deliberately, you’ll be able to reinstall it later without spending money on new trim! Move these pieces out of the work area so they won’t become damaged.
    3. Get out that stud finder and mark the wall on either side of each stud. This is important for later on! Don’t be tempted to only make one mark that vaguely indicates the stud’s position. Use your level and chalk line to mark vertical lines from ceiling to floor to show the exact positions of the studs in the wall. You’re now ready to start prepping the shiplap!
    4. Use a miter saw or circular saw, and cut your first piece to size for the wall. If your wall is longer than the length of 1 piece, start with the edge at one end of the wall. Make sure to use a level or a laser level and get this first piece in straight. If you’re working alone, use your measuring tape to put a tick on the wall where the top of your first piece will fall. Then use your level to scribe on the wall, the line the first piece should rest upon. If the first piece is level, the rest will follow suit. If you skip this first step, things can get wonky.
    5. Nailing shiplap to the wall

    6. Break out your nail gun and if applicable, compressor. The market now offers battery-powered brad nailers or finish nailers that are perfect for tasks like these, but many homes still have perfectly fine pneumatic nail guns/compressor duos that will do the same job. Load with 1.5″ nails. For more information, see our guide on how to load a brad nailer.
      You could also use a hammer and hand nail the shiplap panels to the wall
    7. Line up the piece on the wall, and shoot in your first two nails before releasing pressure from the board. If you only shoot one nail in, the board may tilt, and you’ll have to reset. Two nails will hold it in place so you can thoroughly secure it to the wall.
    8. With proper shiplap, you can use fewer nails and have a cleaner look by shooting into the boards where they overlap at the top and bottom of the piece.
    9. This is where the two parallel stud lines come in. Make sure to measure and cut your pieces of shiplap so that they only come halfway into the width of the stud. This means that if a piece could be longer but the end falls into the gap between two studs, cut it down. It should fall halfway onto a stud so that the end is secure and not freely flapping, and so that there’s room left remaining on the stud to secure the start of the next piece, and so forth.
    10. Measure and cut, working your way up (or down) the wall. Some folks prefer to start above, as they feel that a “ripped” or partial board is less noticeable along the floor than at the ceiling. However, most feel that moving from the bottom up and not fighting against gravity is the more efficient approach, especially when working alone! It can be very challenging to hold trim up and shoot it in from 8’ or higher in the air. When starting from the bottom, you’re able to just rest each new piece on the level one below it.
    11. Horizontal shiplap wall

    12. Use your jigsaw to cut out any necessary holes in each piece to allow for electrical boxes and switches. Make sure to measure the exact size of the electrical stud-mounted box housing the switch or outlet. If you cut too large or too small, you won’t be able to reinstall your switchplates cleanly, and you’ll have to go back and redo the cuts. This can be costly as well as very annoying. When measuring and marking each cut, don’t forget to check three times before starting your cut. We’ve all made a mistake at some point, somehow reversing one of our measurements and having to start over, and it’s never fun!
    13. When you are installing shiplap on two walls meeting at a 90-degree inside corner, it is critical to line up your seams/grooves on each row when you start the second wall. Not taking the time to check could result in a vertical corner seam blemished by two staggered lines where the two walls meet. This will create a distracting and amateurish result and not provide the clean, professional finish we want. Of course, if the damage is done and you’re really only off by about ⅛”, you can always install cove molding vertically in the corner to cover up the rough joints.
    14. Putty the nail holes if desired, or leave them alone for a more rustic look. Reinstall switch plates or vent covers with your screwdriver. Your wall is ready for painting or whatever finishing touches you desire!
    15. Shiplap Wall Installation

    Installation Tips

    • Trim your Edges – Instead of obsessing over perfect cuts or 1/16 differences in the boards, just use vertical trim to tidy up your edges. There are a variety of options out there- take to the internet to find a style you like, and save yourself time and stress over slightly imperfect work!
    • Measure for Mistakes – Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to order less than 10% extra of your material. It’s an industry standard for a reason: mistakes happen. You can always return unused material if you truly are a perfectionist that made zero mistakes. That being said, getting almost to the end of the project and being 2 boards short isn’t worth it!


    Shiplap Adhesive

    There are two schools of thought for using adhesive behind each board before nailing, and it’s clear where I fall! I don’t advise adhesive. It isn’t necessary, it’s an extra cost upfront, and it’s a pain in the butt if any part of that nailed and glued-in wall needs to come down in the future. If you are nailing into studs with a nail gun, there’s no chance of the panels just deciding to fall off of the wall one day.

    Can You Glue Shiplap?

    The only reason I could see for using adhesive is, if you truly want zero nail holes and are planning to apply pressure to every single piece to get a nail-less finish. To me- not worth the effort and not the point of shiplap!

    Shiplap Materials

    What Are the Different Types of Shiplap?

    Shiplap typically comes in either wood or MDF.

    • Wood has a more rustic, textured feel, and is traditional for a reason!
    • MDF should not be used in bathrooms, laundry rooms, or other high moisture areas as it’s much more moisture-sensitive than wood (we’ve all seen swollen MDF baseboard in bathrooms- yuck).

    However, it does have a smoother surface and is easy to work with, so if you want a very clean look, it may be the way to go!

    Best of luck with transforming your space.