Which Direction Should Wood Boards on a Ceiling Run?


The direction of wood boards used on a ceiling is determined by the direction of the ceiling joists rather than any cosmetic concern. The ceiling boards are placed perpendicular to the joists to allow fastening the boards securely to the ceiling. Locating the joists can be a challenge if the ceiling has been finished with drywall prior to the addition of the wood boards.

Locating Joists

  • Ceiling joists are structural elements and part of the frame of the home. The ends of the joists commonly rest on load-bearing walls and are generally oriented to run across the shortest dimension of the room. The ceiling joist may serve as the floor joist for a second floor room. Use a stud locator to determine the location of the joists, and mark the locations at the top of the wall if the ceiling has been finished with drywall. Joists are readily visible if the ceiling has not been finished.

Fastening the Boards to Drywall

  • Wood boards are attached to ceiling drywall with a combination of construction adhesive and nails or screws. The nails or screws fasten the boards through the drywall and into the ceiling joists. If the boards were run parallel to the joists, some boards would be between joists and couldn't be fastened to the joists.

Fastening the Boards to Joists

  • If the ceiling isn't finished, the ceiling boards are placed directly against the ceiling joists. The boards are fastened in place with nails or screws, depending on the wood material. The ceiling boards are cut to length so each end splice occurs on the center of a ceiling joist.

Furring Strips

  • One option is available to those who want the ceiling boards to run parallel to the ceiling joists. Nail furring strips, 1 x 4-inch boards, perpendicular to the ceiling joists every 16 inches. This furnishes a nailing surface for the ceiling boards that then can be nailed in place in the same direction of the ceiling joists.


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