How to Install Tin Ceiling Tiles


Tin ceiling tiles can provide an authentic Victorian look to both classic, and traditional decor. They are also a solution to camouflage severely damaged ceilings. The downside is that the installation is quite difficult. Following is just some very basic information about doing it yourself, along with some alternatives.

Things You'll Need

  • Ladder Chalk line Tape measure Gloves Tin snips or electric shears 1-inch common nails with head Sawhorses Heavy planking Prepared 3/8 or 1/2-inch depth plywood ceiling Nail furring strips Cornices for ceiling edges or wood crown molding Wide angle chisel Oil-based enamel paint only Quality 3-inch paint brush, smaller brushes Turpentine Paint rags Denatured alcohol Liquid solder for any gaps at corner edge

Tin Ceiling Must-Have Facts and Prep

  • Know that tin ceiling tiles come in several sizes, for example, 3 x 6 12-inch, 24-inch, and other panels sizes but these are fairly standard. A 24 x 24-inch panel will cover 4 square feet. There are three versions for true tin tiles--snaplock, drop-in and nail up.

  • Understand that the original tin ceiling tiles are created from .010 gauge tin-plated steel or aluminum alloy. The tin will rust, and the aluminum resists corrosion. Whatever the makeup, the metal edges on them are extremely sharp and you will be subject to many cuts if you don't wear gloves or handle correctly. For that reason, vinyl gloves are not recommended.

  • Keep in mind that primed tin panels can be painted first, with two coats. For intricate designs one color is suggested. For the simpler tiles, they can be antiqued to achieve a patina, just as you would with any other antiquing project--wiping a darker glaze over the paint to accentuate the cracks, crevices and details. Lighter colors are suggested as the tiles are intricately embossed and anything too dark will detract from the design patterns. There are also pre-finished tiles (much more expensive) that simulate copper, chrome, brass, steel and white.

  • Know that traditionally, tin ceilings are installed onto plywood substrate. You will need to erect scaffolding by using sawhorses and heavy planking. You will need to be able to work at a higher level.


  • Locate the center of the room. Using a chalk line, if you divide the ceiling into a half, then quarters, you can begin in the middle. (Look for 90-degree angles.) It is highly suggested you work from the center of the room out.

  • Keep in mind that the cornice pieces will be installed first. Doing it this way ensures the flange opening will be nailed to the plywood and the edge of the cornice is attached to the wall with strapping supports or the manufacturer-supplied aluminum strips. One caveat, there are also directions that suggest you apply molding after ceiling installation (check with your manufacturer).

  • If you lay out the ceiling pattern on the floor first, you will have an idea of the pattern. Also there are nibs (also called nipples or buttons) which you will see help to fit panels together. The lap panel design should move in the same direction, so the seam faces the back. The cut sheet should be towards the wall where it is hidden by cornice or wood molding.

  • Attach the sheet using nails. An expert tip is to angle the nail for more strength in hold. Seams can be sealed by tapping with the head of a wide angled chisel.

  • Your metal shears will be used to cut around holes for light fixtures.

Tips & Warnings

  • Anaglypta vinyl wallpaper can be painted to look like metals--hammered copper, for example. American Tin Ceiling has snap-lock tiles that are screwed directly into either a drywall or plaster ceiling (no plywood or strapping Armstrong has a ceiling that can be installed as a drop panel system, for crooked ceilings. Think about border or filler panels with a small matching pattern that can complement the larger main panels. This will help to lead the design to the walls.
  • Most manufacturers have extensive installation instructions---you can generally order these first (or get them online) to see if this is too overwhelming for a DIY project. Tin ceilings should be installed on dry, substantial ceilings. The tiles will are not meant to help with moisture problems.

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