Canadian Woodworking

Wood paneled ceiling

Author: Jim Shaver
Photos: Lead Photo by Don Nausbaum
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: April May 2005
Wood Paneled Ceiling
Wood Paneled Ceiling

Incorporate wood paneling into your ceiling for a spectacular look.

A number of years ago, on a visit to Toronto’s Casa Loma (the palatial former residence of Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt), I was intrigued by the vast amount of woodwork in the castle; the many paneled rooms and applications especially appealed to me. Coincidentally, at that time I was looking for a simple project to enhance my family room; something with an element of warmth and style that would be both visually pleasing and unique. So, with the inspiration of Pellatt’s residence, I decided to integrate wood panelling into my own castle’s family-room ceiling.


At the time I owned no woodworking tools. I figured that I could borrow the tools I needed (mitre saw and air nailer) and if it didn’t work out, I could just hire someone to clean up my mistakes.

I decided on a series of recessed boxes, framed with small mouldings and corner blocks. Each framed box would have a full sheet panel of wood to cover the open ceiling recess. I wanted the frame moulding to extend up against the walls. To accomplish this, I first measured the room, to find centre, as everything else would be based on this centre point. When dealing with such a large surface area, proportion (such as the scaling of the box sizes) is very important.

Using a tile-layers technique to define the center of the room, I transferred the room measurements to scaled paper so that I could draw out a plan. From the plan I tried different sized squares to see what size best suited the room. I settled on 24″ boxes. I was able to fit in 35 boxes: 15 full size and 20 edge boxes. The trick is to size the edge boxes so that they are of approximately the same dimensions around the edge. This is a similar method to what tilers use when putting down ceramics. Balance is important, so paying attention to detail now is most important to the final look.

I snapped chalk lines on the ceiling to define where the 2x4s would be located. The skeleton of the project is a series of 2x4s attached to the ceiling with 4″ screws driven into the ceiling joists. I used the centre line and edge lines for the 2x4s to define the final box sizes. I also defined and marked the ceiling joists, to facilitate attaching the 2x4s.

Each box is essentially a portion of a 2×4 framed with 1×4 (¾” x 3 ½”) oak and 1×3 (¾” x 2 ½”) oak. The panels are all ¼” oak ply with 1 ½” x 1 ½” x 2″ corner blocks that are cut at 22 ½º to form a point. I applied corner blocks and 1″ moulding along the oak framing that covers the 2x4s.

It is important with this project to prefinish your wood prior to assembly, so labeling your drawing and the pieces is important. I used a Minwax Cherry stain. Once the framing was up I laid out my 1×4 oak pieces and mapped a layout to face the 2x4s so as to give symmetry in the location of the butt joints. All the oak was attached with a nail gun. Working overhead can be difficult, so the nail gun was a welcomed tool.

If I were doing this again I would buy ¾” oak plywood and rip it into 8 foot strips 3 ½” wide. That would save on the cost of hardwood.

Once the 2x4s were all faced, it was time to frame the interior of each box with 1×3 oak. Paying attention to the configuration in the box I aligned all my cuts so that the exposed end grain would all be in the same direction, and easy to touch up later. Once that was completed I installed the oak panel, using construction adhesive. I had several sheets of oak ripped into squares and I wanted to avoid a look that would be too continuous, so I mixed the location of the panels on the ceiling but made sure the grain direction on the panels was all the same. To add detail to each box I then added in the corner blocks and installed moulding between them. When the boxes were all complete I added a final wall moulding that ran around the room to tie the ceiling to the wall. After all the assembly was completed I used coloured putty to cover the nail holes.

This ceiling was my first serious woodworking project. Now, seven years later, it still adds a warmth and feel to the room that separates it from the rest of the house.

It’s a relatively easy project, but done right the results can be spectacular.

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