Tools & Materials
Picture a warm spring afternoon – you, on the front porch glider, lemonade in hand, gently swaying back and forth. This is the life, right? Until, that is, your gaze drifts upward and there it is: builder’s grade plywood.
Visions of lazy afternoons lounging in your own shaded haven have now been overtaken by how to avoid looking at the dreary underside of the porch roof. Rather than averting your eyes, grab your tool belt and start planning your next project: a new beadboard ceiling.
Paneling the underside of your porch roof with wood is strictly an aesthetic endeavor, of course. But with a little know-how and a lot of patience, it’s a way to add a touch of tradition and charm to a covered entryway – or to a bathroom, kitchen, or mudroom, for that matter. And it makes for a much nicer view when you wake from that rocking-chair slumber.
Tip: To calculate the number of strips you’ll need, measure in inches the longest span of the porch, divide by the width of the beadboard you plan to use to get the total number of boards, then add 10 percent to cover mistakes and offcuts.
Beadboard Ceiling Overview
Most porch ceilings are covered, at the least, with plywood—which is the perfect substrate for a high-grade finish like beadboard. However, if for some reason the joists of your porch roof are exposed, don’t fret; you can either put up sheets of plywood first or, if your joists run parallel to the house, tack the beadboard right to them.
Here, carpenter John Fitzpatrick of Stone Ridge, New York, shows how to install the beadboard simply and quickly. The process doesn’t require a lot of complicated engineering, but you do want to be very careful with your measurements so the boards look neat and even.
One thing you’ll really want to consider is renting a couple of nail guns and a compressor, if you don’t already have them. Sure, you can stand there all day hammering tiny little finish nails over your head. But you’ll thank yourself many times over if you spring for the pneumatic guns—fasteners will go in quickly, straight, and without splitting the wood. And you won’t be left with hammer dents and a bunch of nailheads that need setting and filling before you can paint the ceiling.
Using preprimed beadboard will also limit your labor on this project. If you want to be extra vigilant, you can take a page out of This Old House master carpenter Norm Abram’s book and also prime the ends of the boards after you cut them. This seals the wood against warp and rot—a good idea in an exterior application. Then, once your ceiling is nailed up and finished, put a fresh coat of paint on everything—for the Victorian-era look, make it sky blue—and your classic porch is done.
Cut the beadboard to length
Measure the depth of the porch front to back at the end where you will start installing the beadboard. Subtract ½- inch from this measurement to account for the ¼-inch gap you want to leave around the perimeter of the ceiling to allow the wood to expand. Using a miter saw, cut a piece of beadboard to this measurement.
Trim the first board
Before you put up the first piece, calculate how many boards it will take to cover the ceiling. Measure the actual width of several pieces of beadboard and average these out to get the true width of the wood after shrinkage. Divide the width of the porch ceiling by the true width of the beadboard to get the number of whole boards that will cover the ceiling.
If the last board will end up being less than 2 inches, then you will need to trim down both the first and last board to make the ceiling look evenly spaced. To do that, add the width of the last board to the width of a full board. Subtract ½ inch to account for the expansion gap. Then divide by two. This final figure is the width of each end board. Using a jigsaw, trim the first board to this width.
Saw off the grooved edge
When trimming the first board to width, be sure to cut off groove side of the board. That will leave the tongue edge for nailing.
If your calculations from Step 3 show that the last board will end up wider than 2 inches, start with a full board.
Tip: When using a jigsaw, you can prevent chipping on the face of the board by first scoring your cut lines with a utility knife or by cutting on the back side.
Face nail the first board
Position the first board on the ceiling, groove side (or the side you cut) against the wall, ¼ inch away from it. Using a pneumatic gun and 2-inch finish nails, face nail the board to the plywood underlayment every 12 to 16 inches. Position the nails ½ inch to ¾ inch from the outer edge of the beadboard so they can be covered later by the lattice trim.
Tip: To keep the beadboard looking smooth across the ceiling, don’t put nails too close together or the wood will contour to dips in the plywood. Instead, keep nails at least a foot apart to let the weight of the board pull it down level.
Toenail the rest of the boards
All the boards, including the first one, should be nailed every 12 to 16 inches through the tongue for the most secure assembly. Position the pneumatic gun at the back edge of the board’s tongue, then angle it away from the tongue and to one side. This will keep the nail from pulling out and from blocking the tongue when you fit the groove of the next board over it.
Measure for and cut the next board. Slide its groove over the tongue of the previous board. If necessary, tap it tightly in place with a hammer on a woodblock. Nail it through the tongue as detailed above. Continue installing beadboard in this manner.
Tip: Use a scrap of beadboard as your woodblock so you can fit the groove over the tongue and keep the tongue from mushrooming when you hammer it.
Trim beadboard around openings
If you come to a light fixture or speaker, you’ll need to cut an opening in the beadboard. For a square opening, measure the distance from the edge of the last board (not including the tongue) to the edge of the opening. Then dry fit a piece of beadboard in place, letting it overlap the hole. Mark the beadboard where it meets the opening’s sides.
7. Mark cut lines on the boards
After marking the beadboard at the sides of the opening, mark the distance between the last board and the edge of the hole onto the face of the board. Take the board down and use a square to extend your marks to meet each other. Notch the board with a jigsaw. If the opening is big enough, install cut boards butted against the sides of the hole, then finish with another notched board.
For a circular opening, dry fit each piece individually and reach into the hole with a marker and trace the shape of the opening on the back of the board.
Tack up the trim
Finish installing beadboard to cover the ceiling. Trim the final board, if necessary, from the tongue side. Install lattice trim around the perimeter of the ceiling, tight against the siding to cover the expansion gap. Cut the pieces of lattice with a miter saw.
Using a brad nailer, tack the lattice to the beadboard. Again, nail the trim every 12 to 16 inches, and make sure to only nail into the beadboard, not the wall, so that the trim will expand and contract with the rest of the wood.
Once all the trim is in place, paint the whole ceiling. Because brad nails are so small, the paint will cover their holes in the lattice.
BUYING GUIDE: Beadboard
Beadboard is sold as 1-inch-thick tongue-and-groove boards, offered with different widths between the beads. Which one you choose is a matter of personal taste; you can even mix them together to make a pattern. You can also get less expensive plywood beadboard, which comes in 4-by-8-foot sheets and can be nailed right to the joists, or faux beadboard made from cellular PVC, which is more stable than wood in an outdoor setting.
White pine 3 ¼-inch beadboard, 37 cents per ft.; hemlock 2 ½-inch beadboard, 63 cents per ft.; and aspen 1 ½-inch beadboard, 64 cents per ft.; all from Reliance Specialty Building Products. PVC beadboard, $1.55 per ft., from AZEK Trimboards. Plywood beadboard, $37 per sheet, from The Home Depot.
BUYING GUIDE: Solid Flooring
For a plainer profile, install tongue-and-groove flooring on your porch ceiling, then paint or stain it. Or choose a flooring made from a wood that stands up to the weather, such as teak or cedar, and either get it prefinished or leave it unfinished for a more rustic look. Because the flooring won’t be walked on, you can get away with boards as thin as 3/8 inch. Try to order long pieces to avoid seams.
Red oak flooring, about $77 a bundle (19 sq. ft.), from The Home Depot. Prefinished ⅜-inch Bellawood Santos mahogany, $5 per sq. ft., from Lumber Liquidators. Vertical grain cedar, $1.39 per lineal ft. (to find a distributor go to realcedar.org). Unfinished ⅜-inch Bellawood Brazilian teak, $2.45 per sq. ft., from Lumber Liquidators.
BUYING GUIDE: Engineered Flooring
For an exotic-wood ceiling without the cost or weight of solid boards, use engineered flooring, which combines a finished veneer of wood over a base of plywood. You may, however, be stuck with seams on your ceiling, as engineered flooring is often sold in bundles of varying lengths. Because some companies don’t guarantee their products for outdoor use, they’re best used on an enclosed porch.
Island Chestnut, $10 per sq. ft., Horizontal Bamboo in caramel, $8 per sq. ft.; and Heritage Hickory in topaz, $14 per sq. ft.; all from Mannington Mills.