How To Install A DIY MDF Shiplap Wall On A Budget

Before You Start A Shiplap Wall, Find Out What Shiplap Is?

Before we start building the shiplap wall, we need to know where did shiplap originate from, right! Shiplap derives its name from the ships as they used to use it in ships for waterproofing so nothing can get behind the ships.

Shiplap is around for years however, it was not part of our decors until 2013, and credit goes to one of my most favorite HGTV star Joanna Gaines. She blew people’s minds away with her show “Fixer Upper”. 

In very simple words we can say shiplap means that one board laps over the next board.

The shiplap is made of simple wood boards 6 to 8 inches wide and with the desired length. There is a width of a penny-like gap between due to overlaping.

In the technical language, the gap is due to the tongue and groove, As the shiplap boards rest on each other to overlap and interlock due to the tongue and groove.

however, you can’t have the tongue and groove options with your DIY shiplap so let’s just call it a gap between two boards. Or call it a simple planked board with a slight gap between them.

shaiplap wall

Why was shiplap used in old Homes?

As there is an old saying, “Necessity is a mother of invention”. The same goes for shiplap.  Shiplap started out as a need to protect homes due to bad climate back in 1911. You can see a lot of shiplap walls in, and on, old homes. It was not the designed element, rather a need. People were using shiplap for siding and ceilings. They were mostly used in barns or sheds for cladding.

Cladding means wall covering to protect against the weather. Shiplap was used prior to the invention of drywall.

Overlapping joints between the shiplap boards used to be considered the strongest solution against bad wind and preventing water from getting into the house. However, in today’s interior design world we just use it for the purpose of making walls look pretty. 

Note: Real shiplap will always come with a tongue and groove which helps them to rest on top of each other, hence overlapping them together while leaving a small gap between them

barn house
old home with vertical shiplap siding

Why Do You Need Shiplap Accent Walls?

As we know, accent walls are the way to go in these days in the interior design world. An accent wall is different and stands out as a wall in a room with a different color or texture than the other walls. It can be a focal point as well. Interior designers love to add accent walls in bedrooms, living rooms, or any other room in the house. Most of the designers use shiplap accent walls to add an elegant farmhouse look. Either rustic or modern, it goes with both.

Cottage style or modern homes both can use shiplap equally as it’s not out of style for either of them.

Ever Since Joanna Gaines introduced the timeless style of shiplap accent walls on her tv shows, people are really into them. These accent walls are the easiest and sometimes cheapest way to add so much charm in your home. They are budget-oriented if you go with DIY projects. 

Will Shiplap Shrink Or Mold In Bathrooms?

In my personal experience with my own shiplap accent wall, I don’t see it shrinking, so it depends on the wood. We used plywood. However, timber wood can shrink if you don’t protect it with special treatment. Treated timber is the way to go. 

A lot of designers have been using shiplap in bathrooms. However, I wouldn’t like to add it right behind the sink as sometimes when you wash your face, water splashing can ruin it. 

If you really want to add them behind the mirror then instead of going with a rustic look, you should paint the shiplap boards with mildew-resistant paint. Rustic looks can be protected with a clear coat of sealer. Use a brush to apply the sealer as it can protect your shiplap boards from moisture. 

Where To Buy Cheap Shiplap Board ?

This is the most common question people search for, but there is no specific or fixed answer to this. It depends upon your needs and what types of shiplap boards are you going to use in your home. Premade Home Depot shiplap is a bit pricier than you would make from scratch using inexpensive plywood or MDF wood

We have done our own wall for $60 dollars for the home office Nook

Shiplap modern style
Only $60 we spent on this wall!

How To Install DIY Shiplap Wall In 9 Easy Steps

Since you know what shiplap is, you must be wondering how to apply them on a budget. So, here is a detailed tutorial for you to get a great look on a dime. 

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Required Tools 

1- Ready Your Walls 

The first step in order to install shiplap is to make your walls ready. By saying this I mean clean them and get rid of any nails or anchors from any previous holes. Fill your holes using wall filler with a putty knife. 

Removing the baseboard is an optional step. I don’t always prefer to remove it. However, it depends upon the room and especially the wall you are working on so just use your best judgment. 

I filled all the holes before I started to paint.

2- Painting The Walls Before Hand

I can’t stress this step enough. Otherwise, it’s gonna make your life pretty difficult. Paint your walls after you are done prepping them. Use the same color paint you are going to use for your shiplap boards unless you are going to use rustic shiplap boards. Then you can use whatever paint color you are going to do in the entire room.

paint before shiplap
I went with blue gray tone

3- Proper Measurements

Get the proper measurements of your wall you are going to use for shiplap. You can’t buy boards until you know how many you are going to need and the only way of knowing it is to get proper measurements. Here is the rule of thumb I recommend:

Length of the wall x height of the wall = the total square feet of the wall you are going to use.  

Total square feet + 10 to 15 percent to add for any waste, or mistakes, to cover-up

Pro Tip: Standard shiplap boards come in 8 to 10 inches so if you cut your own, go for 8 inches. They look much better than the 10-inch one. 

4- Finding And Marking Studs

A center-line stud finder is the best investment you will ever do for this project. Placing your nails where your studs are is the best way to secure anything on the wall. A stud finder makes it very easy to find all the studs in the walls. Studs are usually 16 to 24 inches apart on your walls.

measure the wall with stud to place shiplap
This stud finder (Amazon) is a must have tool

5- Draw the lines for your reference

While finding studs mark them with a little dot, then draw lines through those dots so you would know where your studs are. 

Use a chalk line to draw long vertical lines, or use a pencil.

draw vertical lines for shiplap
My husband drew the vertical lines after he marked all the studs

6- Cut Your Shiplap Boards (Optional)

If you are not going to buy premade shiplap then here is how to cut your own boards. We purchased our plywood at Home Depot. We bought big sheets of plywood and then cut them at home using a saw to about 8 inches wide. 

You can also have someone cut them for you at Home Depot as long as you have a complete estimate of your measurements. 

Pro Tip: Don’t buy too thin of Plywood or MDF wood.

7- Start Applying Shiplap Rows With Spacers

Now is the time to apply your shiplap boards but keep in mind that you have to be very careful applying your first shiplap board as it has to be perfectly aligned and straight as all other boards are aligned upon the first one. 

I recommend using a level to draw a straight line in a horizontal direction from end to end and place your first shipboard right on to that horizontal line.

Note: In each row, place a dime or penny as a spacer to create the real look of authentic shiplap. You can also use a framing square (Amazon).

8-  Finish With Baseboards 

We never took our baseboards out as this is an optional step and it totally depends upon you, but it’s not a bad idea to take your baseboards out and start from a clean slate. If you do remove your baseboards, place the first shiplap board on the bottom of your wall. 

At the end you can place your baseboard back or leave them off.

9- Give Final Touches 

Once you are done placing all your boards, then the next step is doing the final touches.  

Go over the wall again. Check all your boards. Cover the nails using a putty knife and wood filler. If you need to give a quick coat of paint again, go for it. 

give final touches to your shiplap wall

Here is the cost breakdown for our accent wall:

  • 2 large boards of Plywood for $44 (22 each) from Home Depot
  • A pack of nails for $15
  • Paint

Before-And-After Shiplap Wall

Here you go with a side-by-side. As I said we bought two large boards of MDF /plywood wood from Home Depot. We spent $40 on that, plus $20 on other supplies. Everything else we already had on hand, such as all the tools.

Thanks to Joanna Gaines to discover this for us and thanks to HGTV as well!

cottage style shiplap
This is in our little boys room. You can also check out this DIY desk we built.

Here is a very good video Tutorial by Jenna Sue!

Related Project: DIY Wallpaper Installation

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4 thoughts on “How To Install A DIY MDF Shiplap Wall On A Budget”

  1. I love this! What a clever way to do an accent wall 🙂 I like your choice of colors….it matches perfectly with your overall color scheme. Did you cut the plywood with a table saw or with a hand held circular saw? I want to do this in the dining room and saw a prefab shiplap wall board over at the hardware store. It looks like you created a much more cost effective way to achieve this look.

    1. Hi Sarah, Thank you! We used both saws. My husband cut most of them with the table saw and then he used the handheld circular saw at the end. He said the handheld one was better to used. Shiplap is expensive otherwise. We are going to do another full wall in the house as well. I would love to see your wall!

  2. Your wall looks amazing! It really brightened up the space, too. Thank you for the step-by-step tutorial. I want to try this one day so I’m pinning! Also, thanks for sharing the history behind the shiplap. I always wondered where it came from and how it was used so long ago.
    Your daughter is adorable! The perfect little model.

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