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How to Make a Basement Plywood Ceiling (that looks like wood paneling!)

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Intro by Robin & Steps by Ed

This gorgeous plywood ceiling solved a lot of problems and doesn’t look cheap at all, but we made it with a tiny budget!

We were unhappy with the old ceiling. 14 years ago – in our beginner DIY days – we put up the only easy, affordable ceiling we could think of: cardboard, acoustic ceiling tiles.

Now, ceiling tiles are a great, budget option and they served us well for years.  But they have their challenges.  If one gets damaged – which is what happened to us a bunch of times – it’s really tough to replace it.  Each one slides into the one before it and is stapled.  Easy install the first time = nearly impossible to fix.

basement ceiling idea before
This photo doesn’t show well enough how awful these ceiling tiles looked in person, they sagged in spots and had chipped edges that showed cardboard brown through them.

And, they aren’t much to look at.  In a strange role reversal, this ceiling tile issue bothered Ed more than me.  They drove him around the bend, while I was merely indifferent.  This almost never happens!

We priced out a few available options – including some new products geared toward basement ceilings.  We had seriously entertained a product that would have cost us about $1000 for this approximately 100-square-foot room.  And the more we researched it, the more we leaned away from it.  My big hang-up was that it couldn’t be painted.

I don’t like limits, especially when it comes to colour.  I LOVE colour and this product would seriously cramp my style.

So we resorted to our old standby for idea generation: wandering through the aisles Home Depot and hoping a solution jumps at us.  It worked!

We love when we can discover a new product that we didn’t know existed – especially when it solves our problem perfectly.  (This is precisely what happened with our $50 bathroom floor a few years ago.)

Eurkea!  We found a great product that let us make our basement ceiling idea on a budget – and a wood panelled one at that!  It wasn’t that hard and it turned out really well. It sure doesn’t look like a plywood ceiling!

plywood ceiling materials
Here’s where we met the product we didn’t know we needed: RevolutionPly plywood (less than $25 a sheet!)

We loved how uniform the surface was – it’s very smooth and the colour was the same board to board. 

The striations reminded me of bamboo, while still being subtle and interesting. 

It was much later we learned that RevolutionPly plywood is also from sustainable wood sources. I now want to put this plywood in all the places!!!

basement wood panel ceiling finished bamboo look pin

How is this is a PLYWOOD ceiling?!

I adore how it turned out and I can’t believe how little it cost. 

Less than $150 for the whole room!  Whaa!??!  Yes!

How to Make a Basement Plywood Ceiling
(That Looks like Wood Paneling)

Plywood Ceiling Materials:

Steps for Plywood Ceiling Installation

Step 1 – Strip down to the joists and make a plan.

Our old ceiling was acoustic tile – which meant nailing (or in our case – staple) strips ran perpendicular to our floor joists.

We tore all of that down and cleaned up any stray nails and got a clear view of what we were working with.

plywood ceiling prepping joists

You’ll want to measure and plan out how to cut your RevolutionPly sheets in order to make the seams where you want them (ie: evenly across the room). 

We took a while debating this.  Every room is different, you should probably do the same.

This is actually the hard/time-consuming part and once you have a plan, the rest goes pretty quickly.

plywood ceiling plan
Yes, these really are all the various drafts we went through in planning the ceiling seams. See how frugal? We use envelope backs!

When you know where the seams are going to land between the big sheets, add some 2×4 blocking sections between the joists. This gives you something to nail into on all borders of the big sheets.

Step 2 – Put up the big sheets: begin with all of the hard cuts first.

We had a couple of pot lights we wanted to reuse to accent our faux bricks wall treatment – and for – you know, light.

plywood ceiling potlights
We planned their locations and drilled and jigsawed holes for them in our first sheet.
installing plywood ceiling potlights
Be sure to support the plywood while cutting or drilling – it is fairly tough, but, you know…

Ok – now come the apologies…we have no photos of us putting up the big sheets. It took two adults and two teenagers (our daughter and her friend) and between holding and nail-gunning we forgot to take a photo.

Suffice to say, we put up three 8’x (approx) 40″ sheets, nailing them to the joists and blocking that we put up for the seams.

Step 3 – Measure and rip strips for the raised sections.

This was a balance between minimizing waste and making them a width that was both attractive and functional (meaning, it covered all the seams on the large sheets).

We settled on 6.5″ and ripped our remaining sheets longways into a bunch of raised panel strips.

cutting plywood ceiling panels
Ripping these strips is a two-person job
– the plywood is long and floppy.

Step 4 – Glue and Nail them up!

This is where things get exciting.

We covered the long seams between the large sheets first and then cut smaller pieces of the raised panel strips to do cross-sections.

plywood ceiling install

Use construction adhesive and nails – we learned our lesson from the vertical shiplap.

Be careful with the adhesive, both when applying it on the worktable/bed 😜 and when putting the panel up.

Don’t get it on anything you want to finish natural wood colour or it won’t look natural anymore.
nailing plywood ceiling basement diy
Nail in place – use enough nails to hold up the panels, but no more than you need (Very descriptive, I know – basically only put enough nails in any given sheet to prevent sagging.
Our big mistake was using too many nails, having to fill many holes and sand. 

We screwed up the fill and made spots on the ceiling that didn’t take the finish evenly.

Step 5 – Finish and trim out the plywood ceiling.

We used our old favourite – this Tung Oil.

It took three coats with a light, 220- grit sanding before the final one.

We then trimmed out bookcases with crown mould and used some simple square stock everywhere else.

basement wood panel ceiling square strips before finishing
Finished plywood ceiling – before applying the finish.

You can see a glimpse of the progress of our basement window treatment here too.
basement wood panel ceiling under crown moulding

IMPORTANT: The mistake we made  – and what you can do to NOT make it too.

If you look at the next two photos, you can see the bane of my existence.

I tried filling the tiny, really insignificant brad nail holes with “cabinetmakers putty” (wood glue and sawdust). I was not skilled in its application, nor fully versed in how it would affect the finish we wanted to apply.

Always do a test piece! Normally, that’s exactly what we do.  This time – we jumped in head first.  WHY?!?!?  So many regrets.

So here’s what happened…

plywood ceiling diy
See the little smudges?

(I still can’t get over it – this is a PLYWOOD ceiling!!)

Some of the things that should jump out at you are the light brown spots where the fill/sanding was, let’s say, overly enthusiastic.


When we do this again, we are not going to fill the holes at all until after we finish and even then, only if it actually shows up as an eyesore.

We also plan on using colour-matched finishing fill sticks (only if needed) instead of sawdust/glue mess.

basement wood panel ceiling bamboo look potlights

Such a beautiful ceiling – we’re sad about those darn spots – but your ceiling will look even better with our tips!

Decor sources:

basement window and bedding guest room library

Other projects in our Basement Guest Room-Library:

diy inexpensive ceiling ideas for low basement ceilings
Check out all our affordable DIY ceiling ideas here!

In the meantime, here are more of our DIY basement ceiling options:

  • we used the same material in our adjoining media room – a herringbone ceiling! It’s so beautiful – I hope you love it too!
  • our BHG magazine featured basement bathroom included this simple one made of tongue and groove ceiling planks
  • we made this DIY shiplap ceiling in our log cabin bunkie, but it would work just as well as a drop ceiling alternative for a basement.
  • we’ve got a painted exposed beam ceiling coming soon
  • and I’m figuring out how to turn our storage area ceiling into storage – coming soon!

Even more DIY Ceiling Ideas…

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Wednesday 21st of February 2024

My shoulders hurt just thinking about 3 coats of finish post installation. Any harm in finishing prior to installing?

Robin & Ed Hicken

Thursday 22nd of February 2024

Go for it! We weren't certain how we'd finish this when we devised this ceiling - if we were to do it again we'd definitely do the finish first!


Saturday 23rd of December 2023

Can you use this procedure on a popcorn or textured ceiling? It looks beautiful by the way. Also can you use tongue oil I'm just regular wood furniture to make it more hydrated and will it work on any and every color?

Robin & Ed Hicken

Tuesday 26th of December 2023

Hi Tara - yes! You can definitely use this ceiling idea over popcorn and textured ceilings! But I'm afraid I don't know the answer to your tung oil questions.

Lindsay Passmore

Thursday 31st of August 2023

What was the distance between the 6.5" strips on your ceiling? (It looks like you used a lot more than you would need just to cover the seams where the ceiling panels meet.) Thanks!

Robin & Ed Hicken

Sunday 3rd of September 2023

Yes, we liked the strips good and wide to create the coffered look without losing any headspace (the large panels are actually butted up next to each other, so the strips overlap 3.25" on each side of the seams- again apologies for not taking photos before we started add the strips) . The end result is that we have 25" x 27" 'boxes' on the outside with 30" x 27" boxes in the middle framed by the strips. Hope this helps!


Thursday 31st of August 2023

This is exactly what I was looking for thank you!! Do you think we could glue/nail the revolution ply directly over popcorn? Also how did you handle the seams in your long strips for the raised sections, or are they all under 8'?

Robin & Ed Hicken

Sunday 3rd of September 2023

The Revolution plywood is fairly light, so a combination of construction adhesive and nails would likely hold it. It should be fine to go right over the popcorn ceiling; any minor unevenness at the seams between panels would get covered by the long strips. And we did have a couple seams in our long strips - we just had them land in the center of a panel to avoid having a bunch in the same area, but you could experiment in your space to see where they hide best! Love this as a project to hid the popcorn - Good luck!


Thursday 24th of August 2023

We just finished our basement ceilings (workout room and man cave) and thanks to you and your advice, we pulled it off. Used screws in the perimeters and under the lateral pieces. 1 1/4 - 18 gauge nails for the rest. Debating now if we should do the middle part of our basement because of the many junction boxes. We need to have access to them per code. Any idea on how to do this while keeping the same look? Thanks!

Robin & Ed Hicken

Friday 25th of August 2023

We love to hear that, Alain! Glad to hear our ceiling idea/tutorial was helpful! When we did our room we didn't have to cover any junction boxes -so we don't have direct experience with that. One of the best ways to deal with junction boxes is to move them and use them. Could you move them and use them for lighting? Or a hard wired smoke detector?