Here's how we installed the vertical tongue + groove in our kitchen!
I love the classic look of tongue and groove - It adds so much subtle texture and warmth to a room.
Initially, I had planned on using tongue and groove over our old plaster walls as a work around to ripping them out and replacing them.
But when we had to rip out the plaster for other reasons and replace it with drywall, I was so dedicated to the tongue and groove that we did it anyway. Plus, it helped us avoid having to finish a lot more drywall (quite possibly the biggest test our marriage has ever faced).
Finding Tongue + Groove
Real tongue and groove comes as boards with a "tongue" on one side and a "groove" on the other. The tongue fits in the groove of the board it's next to. Sometimes it has a lap edge, which means the back of the groove side is notched out so instead of the tongue fitting into the groove, the groove just lays on top of it. This is what we found.
I love the look of a v-groove, which is where the wood is cut at an angle at the edges so when the boards are placed together, they meet at a "v".
You can also find wide sheets of wall paneling that would give you a similar look, but that's different than tongue and groove.
Because of how our cabinets were installed, we were looking for a very specific depth of wall treatment. We ended up finding the 1/2-inch boards we needed at Lowes, but they are sadly no longer sold! They were shiplap-style on one side, and v-groove on the other.
If you have some flexibility with the depth you want to use, you'll have a much easier time finding tongue and groove.
Home Depot, Lowes, and Menards all have a variety of tongue + groove boards. When we were looking, Home Depot had the least selection of those three stores. It's also a product that's hard to shop for online, and I found sometimes big box stores don't list this type of product online, so I would recommend actually going to the store and looking at what they have.
The most important thing when buying tongue + groove boards is to make sure they're not warped. If they're just slightly warped, it will create gaps when installed. If they're really warped, you won't be able to use them.
Installing Tongue + Groove
Once you've purchased your tongue and groove, let it acclimate in your house for at least 24 hours. Then, it's ready to install!
Materials You'll Need
- Tongue + groove boards
- Furring strips OR construction adhesive
- Nail gun
- Miter saw (for cutting boards to length)
- Jigsaw (for cutting around outlets/fixtures)
- Table saw (for ripping boards width-wise)
- A level - It's helpful to have a small one and a longer one
Securing To the Wall
The challenge with installing wall paneling vertically (versus horizontally) is that not every board can be nailed into a stud, which is what you want for stability! There are two work arounds for this:
You can apply liquid nails or a similar construction adhesive to the backs of your boards and glue them to the wall. The downside of this is they're hard to reposition, and if you ever need to take a board off, it will be hard to remove and will probably cause some damage once it does come off.
My preferred option, and the one we did. Nail furring strips into the studs and then nail the tongue and groove into the furring strips. The wall paneling is secure, but still easy to reposition when installing, and easy to pry off the wall without causing damage if needed.
Since we couldn't add too much depth, we used lath as furring strips. We nailed them into the studs at the tops and bottoms of the walls, and about every 18-inches in between.
If your walls are out of level in places, you can add shims behind your furring strips to minimize it. (You can see lots of shims behind the furring strips in the above photo - our wonkiest wall!)
Start in The Center
Install your tongue and groove one wall at a time. Before starting, you want to think through the focal point and ends of your wall. Ideally, the tongue and groove will be centered around a focal point (a window, door, etc.). You also want to make sure you have at least an inch on either end of the wall, since anything less looks kind of silly. So think through each board as you go down the wall. Putting a lot of thought into it at this stage will save you a lot of time and anguish later!
Rather than going from one end of a wall to the other, you'll start installing tongue and groove at the center of the wall (or wherever your focal point is) and work your way out.
Mark the center line of your window/door, mark the center line on your tongue and groove board that's cut to length, match up the centers, make sure the board is level (this is maybe the most important part!!), and nail it to the furring strips.
As you work your way across the wall, check the level every few boards to make sure you're not getting off. Even a small amount really shows across longer spans!
How to Do Corners
You want any corners to be neat and clean, without any gapping. As you come to a corner, be checking the level of the perpendicular wall a few boards out. If the wall you're butting into is slightly out of level (which is almost always the case in an old house!), start shifting your boards accordingly. If you wait until the last board, it will be noticeable, but if you spread the gap out between 4 or 5 boards, no one will be able to tell.
Check the level of the walls before you install the corner pieces, and install the tongue and groove first on whichever one is more out of level. That way, the edge of the wonkier board will be covered by the perpendicular board.
It's hard (maybe impossible!) to maneuver a single board into a corner, so you'll want to fit the last 2-3 boards on a wall and nail them on all at once.
Measuring for Cuts
Cutting tongue and groove to length is pretty straightforward, but ripping it lengthwise can be tricky. I messed this up a comical number of times when we were doing our first wall.
The key is to IGNORE THE TONGUE when measuring. Pretend it's not there. It gets covered up, so it shouldn't be included when measuring empty space, or when transferring the measurement onto a board for cuts. It took me far too long to figure this out and my cuts were consistently 1/4-inch short (the exact length of the tongue!).
As Josh told me, "you are very consistent, it's just never right."
If you go to dry fit a board and it's just slightly too tight, try sanding it down rather than going back to the saw.
If you have edges that won't be covered (by trim, cabinets, etc.), make sure your cuts are neat! Sand the cut edges before affixing to the wall, otherwise there will be splinters that you won't be able to not look at (ask me how I know!).
Installing tongue and groove in our kitchen cost about $800 in materials, and took us a full week of working on it every night. I'd say there was a steep learning curve, and if we were to do it again, we could probably do it in half the time. It probably was the same price as hiring out drywall mudding (and a lot more time on our part), but I love it so much more!
Prepping and painting were a bit of a beast. Post coming on that next week!