How to Build a Tongue and Groove Wall

Alix Adams

Article Posted By: Alix Adams

of A Ruffled Life

How to Build a Tongue and Groove Wall

This tongue and groove wall adds visual insterest to the room, and it’s super durable and simple to clean. It’s also a fairly simple DIY home improvement project.

Alix Adams of A Ruffled Life built it to brighten up her dining room, which wasn’t the most inspiring room of her home. Now it looks terrific.

Here’s Alix’s step-by-step tutorial showing exactly how she installed the tongue and groove wall.

A Tongue and Groove Wall

I love architectural details in homes! When we moved into our house I immediately began to brainstorm creative ways to add millwork details to up the character of our home. We added beadboard to both our kids’ rooms and have LOVED the way it turned out.

Also bonus: Beadboard is very forgiving with sticky kiddo hands! Which is why, when we had to pick a wall treatment for our high-traffic dining room, we decided to go with another durable millwork option: tongue and groove boards!

A wall before installing tongue and groove planks

As you can see in these before images, my dark gray dining room wall was a problem for several reasons. First, that dark gray color soaked up all the brightness of my dining room. It made the whole room feel dark and dingy. Second, every hand print, scratch, and indent was so obviously visible. It needed a face lift and ASAP. Tongue and groove planks were the perfect choice because they are easy to install and the natural-wood look of pine is very forgiving. I decided to paint my tongue and groove wall white in a higher gloss paint so that whipping of hand prints is a breeze!


Step 1

A heating vent before replacement

Work underway to build a tongue and groove wall

This first step is optional and only relevant to projects where you have a wall vent on the wall you are covering in tongue and groove boards (like my wall).

I replaced my wall vents with a home-crafted option. There are lots of online tutorials for this, but in short I nailed a pattered sheet metal to the wall where the return-air vent was and trimmed it out with a 2½ in. trim.

Step 2

Using a frame nailer to attach trim to a wall

Then, with my nail gun, I added 3½ in. trim to both sides of the dining room wall so that the ends of the tongue and groove planks would not be visible.

Newly installed trim

This trim will give the tongue and groove wall a more finished clean look.

Step 3

Alix Adams of A Ruffled Life installing a tongue and groove wall

Time for the fun part…adding tongue and groove boards!

The fun with this kind of millwork is in the name. With tongue and groove planks, each piece has a side where there is a groove cut along the length of the board and a side where a tongue runs the length of the board.
The groove side of the tongue and groove plank
A tongue and groove wall nearly completed

When installing, being by nailing one board to the top of the wall. I chose to install my wall with the tongue side facing up and the groove side facing down. You may choose to install yours in the other direction. For the second piece, slide the tongue side of the second board into the groove edge of the board that is already nailed to the wall. Then nail this second piece to the wall. Repeat this pattern on your entire wall.

Note: If you were to leave the natural wood and not paint the tongue and groove wall, you could nail each board to the wall on the tongue area before adding the groove of the next board. This would hide all nail holes.

Hole cut for light switches in the installation of a tongue and groove wall
On my wall, I had a couple areas where I had to do some detail cutting.

Make sure to cut out the areas around light switches and plugs before installing the tongue and groove boards.

Step 4

A nail hole in newly installed trim

Once all the wood and trim is installed, it is time to patch nail holes and caulk all the small gaps between the tongue and groove boards and the side trim and baseboards.

Putty is used to fill in nail holes and is best applied in a small mound above each hole.

Caulking the edge of a newly installed tongue and groove wall

Smoothing caulk along the side of a tongue and groove wall

Then, using your caulk and caulk gun, apply a line of caulk in all the cracks where it is needed. Most caulk is not sand-able, so after you apply caulk, use your finger to smooth it out.

Step 5

Sanding a tongue and groove wall before painting

Once the wood putty dries, sand it down so that it is as smooth as the surrounding wood.

Now all of your prep work is complete and it is time to move on to painting your new tongue and groove wall!

Step 6

Painting around the light switches on a tongue and groove wall

Painting the recesses of a tongue and groove wall

The first step in painting is to do what painters call “cutting in”. This is basically us cing a paint brush to paint all the more detailed areas where a roller can’t get to. This includes the areas where the wall meets the ceiling and baseboards. It also includes around vents, light switches, and plugs.

Painting a tongue and groove wall
With tongue and groove specifically it is important to use a brush to paint in between the boards because they have a beveled edge that is difficult to reach with a roller. I painted two coats on all these areas (allowing each coat to dry completely) before moving on to Step 7.

Step 7

Painting a newly installed tongue and groove wall

Use your roller to apply a thick coat of paint to the wall, baseboards, and vents. I did two coats of paint and let the first coat dry completely before adding a second coat.

Once that second coat of paint was dry, I re-installed my light and plug covers.

The Completed Tongue and Groove Wall

How to Build a Tongue and Groove Wall

How to Build a Tongue and Groove Wall

I can not emphasize enough how much I LOVE my new dining room wall! The tongue and groove make it feel so structural and substantial in a cool way. Plus the bright white paint opens up the space for a much fresher feel! Every time I walk through my dining room and see my new tongue and groove wall it makes me smile!

Alix Adams has always been a maker-doer. She says that she would literally lose her mind if she didn’t create things. On her blog A Ruffled Life, Alix writes about crafts, entertaining, raising a family and life in general. She lives with her husband and two children near Salt Lake City.

Visit The Home Depot’s Lumber and Composites Department for supplies to build your own tongue and groove wall, or for any DIY project.

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