Did you catch the sneak peeks of the board & batten that we installed in the middle bedroom at our beach house on Insta Stories? The picture below was also in last week’s podcast shownotes, where we discussed the wallpaper – and we got TONS of requests for a tutorial so here we go. I am not kidding when I say this was an easy project. Completely beginner-friendly – and it makes such a big impact in the room (especially since we added wallpaper above it – we’ll break down that process in a future post).
This is actually our third house where we’ve installed some sort of DIY board and batten. We did a really affordable treatment (only $57!), and then we made a “fancier” version in our current house by adding some extra molding details within the boxes.
Both of those projects were in hallways, so this latest project was our first go at using board & batten in a bedroom – and we tried a couple of new techniques this time which helped it turn out especially well for this space. This time we used different wood for the vertical battens AND we took the treatment higher up on the wall, both of which helped it feel more substantial and really added to the final impact. Especially once that wallpaper went up.
This truly is one of those projects that anyone can do because it’s really really straightforward. The final cost will depend on the size of your space and the chosen height of your molding, but ours was about $194.
Tools & Materials
It only took us half a day to install ours, but because of various drying times between caulk, spackle, primer, and paint – it wasn’t completely done until the next day. But again, it’s not a super time-intensive project. Maybe six solid hours of work broken up across a two day period? So here are the basic steps.
1. Plan Your Placement & Spacing
We cover our planning in more detail in this post, but the important thing here is to determine the HEIGHT of your top rail, and the SPACING of your battens. We used a measuring tape and blue painter’s tape to mock ours up in a few different ways to help us determine what our eyes liked best.
We ended up selecting the wider 18″ spacing of the battens, and aimed to place our top rail about 20″ down from the ceiling. We knew we wanted ours to be tall in the room, partially because we planned to install wallpaper above it and wanted to minimize the amount of paper needed & we were also mindful of things like where it intersected with our door and window moldings too. You probably don’t want it to exactly line up with the top of your doors & windows for example – but you also don’t want it to almost hit those and look off. We spaced ours so it looked intentionally lower (see the doorway in the photo above).
2. Mark Your Studs
Next use a stud finder to locate and mark the placement of your studs all around your room. We’ve fallen hard for this magnetic Stud Buddy because it’s very trustworthy (you sweep it across the wall until the strong magnet catches on the nails in your studs – and it holds in place since it’s magnetized so you can mark things hands free). You can mark your studs with a pencil or use pieces of painter’s tape like I did. I put one high and one low, just to be safe.
This is important because you’ll want your top boards to be held securely into the wall and hitting a stud with your nail gun is the best way to do it.
3. Prep Your Baseboards
This step may vary depending on your current baseboard situation. In our beach house the baseboards are just a 1 x 6″ board with a piece of decorative trim along the top. The 1 x 6″ provides the perfect bottom rail for our board and batten, so we just needed to remove the decorative piece so our battens could sit flush against it.
After scoring the top edge with a utility knife (you can also use the sharp corner of a spackle knife or painter’s tool) we pried off the small decorative piece on top. The scoring is helpful to minimize damage to the drywall behind it. You know, so you don’t end up peeling off paint with your molding.
And speaking of damage, after removing this piece you may have some clean-up to do to make the wall as smooth as possible behind it. We had to scrape off some of the remaining caulk and even patch a few nail holes with spackle.
You may not need to do any of this if your baseboard is different. But you also might consider replacing your existing baseboard with a 1 x 6″ board if you don’t already have a good bottom edge for your new wall treatment and like how ours looks. It feels really nice and balanced. Our own home’s upstairs hallway has thinner baseboards which is why we used thinner lattice strips in our previous board and battens (it’s smart to work with the proportions of the baseboard so it all looks good together), but now having done it both ways, I think the more substantial baseboard & thicker battens that we did in the beach house bedroom is our preferred look.
4. Install Your Top Rail
The first step is hanging the top rail (the 1 x 4″ board) vertically around the room. Because you’ve already determined your height and marked your studs, this is a pretty easy process. An airless brad nail gun like ours makes its pretty fast too, so I highly recommend grabbing one if you don’t already have it on hand (the one linked above is refurbished!).
Just also be sure to keep a long level handy as you do this to make sure you are keeping your boards level as you go (ours is 48″ long, and this is the exact one that we have). Our beach house is 115 years old, so none of the ceilings or floors are perfectly straight (wonky walls = character… right?), so you may want to match your level to the slope of the ceiling instead of blindly going by what the level says. That will help your final install look the most level to your eye (since your eye registers the ceiling slope as level and wants the board and batten to be parallel with that).
I didn’t capture a picture of this, but you obviously have to cut your boards to the right length. We use our miter saw for this, but you can cut by hand if you’d prefer, or even get Home Depot to make the cuts for you if you have worked them out beforehand. We didn’t do any angled or mitered cuts in the corners, so it’s pretty straightforward. The only angled cut we did was on the wall you see above where we had to use two board pieces to span the whole wall. The angled cut helps to hide the joint more than straight cuts, but it’s not necessary.
5. Install You Vertical Battens
Now that you’ve warmed up your measuring, cutting, and nailing muscles, it’s time for the main event: installing your vertical battens. It’s certainly not rocket science – especially if you’ve already determined your spacing – but the back and forth of this process can get a bit tedious. Personally I like to measure each one before I cut it just to be safe (again, our walls aren’t perfectly level). This helps to ensure that your battens fit as perfectly as possible.
The other thing I highly recommend for this step is that you create a “spacer” out of scrap wood. You can see mine in the photo above (it’s between the two middle battens floating below the top rail). This is just a quick way to make sure each vertical batten is precisely spaced without having to break out a tape measure each time. Since my 2.5″ wide boards are 18″ apart from center to center, my spacer is cut to 15.5″ wide, and I just place it between each batten to make sure they stay spaced that way all the way around the room.
Some people apply some sort of glue or caulk behind these battens, since your nails aren’t always hitting studs. I don’t like to do that because of the extra damage it would leave on the wall if we ever decide to remove the wall treatment. I’ve found that between a few nails up and down the board, your caulked edges, and the paint, the battens stay put just fine (just don’t hang anything really heavy on them like a coat hook unless you’re sure that one goes into a stud or has otherwise been reinforced).
6. Mind Your Corners
Perhaps you’ve ironed this out in your planning step, but sometimes the spacing can get a bit tricky depending on the length of your wall. We generally tried to center one batten in the room, and then install them evenly at 18″ until we got to the corners (or a door or window). You know, if that last one got “cut off” in the corner, so be it.
But we discovered through some trial and error that the corners looked best when two “full” battens met each other. By full I mean that they didn’t overlap in the corner, which would’ve made one look skinnier than the other.
So as you can see in the photo above, this meant not pushing our corner battens fully into the corner – instead they floated off the corner ever so slightly so none of the corner battens overlapped each other – and they both appeared full size instead of one looking slimmer than the other.
7. Add Your Top Lip
We didn’t do this for our first attempt at board & batten in our last house, but when we added the upstairs hallway molding here at our current house we found that we really like the look of adding a top “lip” or ledge. It helps it feel more substantial and also creates a spot where you could lean artwork or line up a ton of little wooden peg people (ask us how we know that). For ours we used a 1 x 2″ board just nailed along the top. We don’t plan to lean anything on ours, but if you do (particularly something heavy) you may want to consider using screws instead of or in addition to your nails.
8. Spackle & Sand The Nail Holes
You’re gonna want to fill all of your nail holes before you paint. Ever since we recommended this 4-in-1 spackle tool on our podcast months ago for patching nail holes, a lot of you have told us it’s perfect for a job like this. And you guys were right. Makes it so much faster.
Any regular spackle / wood filler and a putty knife would do too, but it was MUCH faster to use this thing because we could just squeeze a dot of spackle out of the tube and then flip it around to smooth the spackle with the flat edge on the back of the tube. It was so nice to not have to juggle a tub of spackle and putty knife.
The 4-in-1 spackle thing does have a sanding pad on the cap, but we still went back with a regular sanding block because it was easier to go over larger areas more quickly that way. No matter how smooth you feel like you get things when you spackle it on, it always helps to rub each spot a little bit to dust off any small ridges or bumps.
9. Caulk Your Seams
You’ll also want to take the time to caulk all of the seams where your boards meet the wall (or one another). It will help disguise any bows in your wall and will really make the board and batten look like it’s part of the wall – not just something nailed on top of it.
We love this Extreme Stretch caulk because it resists cracking and separating when the temperature or humidity in your house changes. Our local store was out of it so we used this fast dry stuff instead, which is also pretty good – especially if you’re eager to get painting.
You probably won’t need a thick line of caulk for this project, so be careful not to cut too much off the tip of your caulk tube (even better if you can cut it at a slight angle and keep it nice and small). That will help this part go faster and you’ll stay cleaner (you can always cut off more if needed).
We found it was fastest to squeeze out a thin line of caulk around all four sides of a particular “box” all at once, rather than stopping to smooth each side one at a time. And having a cup of warm water nearby always helps when you caulk (dipping your finger into that cup before smoothing the caulk line will yield a smoother result – and it keeps the caulk from sticking to your finger as much).
10. Prime & Paint
You might be thinking that the priming step is unnecessary since our boards came pre-primed (and our spackle has a built-in primer)… and it may be. But we always think it’s the safest bet to do one coat of primer over areas where you’ve caulked or spackled. It just helps to prevent your final paint job from “flashing” (you know, where from certain angles you can still detect a change in sheen over your spackle spots?). We’ve had more than a few projects annoy us because we noticed those shiny flashing spots AFTER we’ve painted and in that case we had to go back and prime and paint all over again. So yeah, better safe than
That photo above was taken after everything was primed (which is why the finish is a little blotchy – that’s typically how it goes with primer). But thanks to that “just in case” coat of primer, it only took us one coat of paint to get it looking perfect. That always feels pretty dang lucky.
We used the existing trim color (SW Pure White in Semi Gloss) because we wanted that beachy look of bright white trim, but this type of wall treatment would look good in any number of colors… even in just a glossier sheen of your wall color for a tone-on-tone look.
So there’s the board & batten tutorial for everyone who has been waiting for it – and for anyone who wants to see the room completed (and learn all about how we hung the wallpaper & read our tips for that process) that’s coming! We just have to take some photos with the good camera & write that all up for you (we even made a video tutorial for that one). In the meantime, here are some other DIY wall treatment projects you might want to try:
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