How Can I Finish My New Wood Ceiling?

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Applying a finish to wood ceilings prevents darkening with age and damage from smoke and grease stains. The species of wood used determines which finish to apply. Finishes applied to wood ceilings also protect the wood and make cleaning less labor-intensive. Experiment on scrap pieces of the ceiling wood with different products and finishes to determine the best fit for your room.


Beadboard Ceilings

Beadboard is a milled, tongue-and-groove lumber product used in homes on walls and ceilings since the late 1800s. Finish beadboard with stain, clear varnish or paint.

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Prime and paint beadboard with an acrylic enamel. After priming, roll the paint onto the beadboard ceiling and use a brush to touch up any voids in the grooves. Beadboard is slightly rough in texture and fuzz from a standard paint roller will be an eyesore. Use a good-quality foam paint roller on beadboard to avoid this. Also use a foam roller to apply clear varnish to beadboard.


Knotty Pine Ceilings

If left untreated, knotty pine ceilings will darken over time and become hard to clean. the untreated wood absorbs moisture.

Apply orange or blond shellac to knotty pine to retain the natural color of the wood. Apply two or more coats of shellac and finish with a coat of water-based polyurethane. Use satin polyurethane for a low sheen.


Cedar Ceilings

Moisture in the air will stain unfinished cedar. Apply a coat of water-based polyurethane and sand with 280-grit sandpaper, then apply a second coat. If a third coat is necessary, sand first and then apply.


Be careful when stirring the polyurethane, as any air bubbles will transfer to the cedar ceiling and mar the appearance. Any bubbles transferred to the cedar will require sanding and another application of polyurethane.

Cherry Ceilings

Finishing cherry ceilings brings out the natural characteristics of the wood. It is labor intensive, but well worth the effort.


Apply a coat of light-brown stain and allow it to dry. Apply a shellac and smooth with steel wool. Apply brown mahogany gel stain, wiping to blend, and allow it to dry. Finish the cherry ceiling with two to three coats of satin polyurethane.

Barn Board Ceilings

Weathered barn boards are grayish in color. Any finish applied to the ceiling will darken it slightly. Apply a grade of clear polyurethane formulated to use on hardwood flooring. This seals the wood and simplifies cleaning.


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