Guest Post – Don Oystryk
There are two traditional options for basement ceilings: permanent systems (usually drywall), or commercial suspension systems. The first one is impractical, and the second one is repulsive. So when it came time to do my own (the previous owner had installed drywall which hid several wiring horrors), I toyed with the idea of a wood ceiling, and worked through several designs before settling on this one, which consists of square plywood panels, center & corner blocks, battens, and perimeter supports.
The result has enough detail to make it interesting without being too busy or complicated. It allows quick and full access to all the stuff in your joist spaces, and once disassembled, there is no ‘grid’ system left in place to get in the way. It can be left unfinished (as I did), or varnished, stained, or painted. And it takes away only about an inch of finished height. Cost wise, it’s comparable to a standard suspended ceiling. I used 4’x8’ sheets of ½” G1S pine plywood, 1”x6” pine boards, and decking screws.
Surprisingly enough, the aggravation factor was extremely low: joists were well spaced and level throughout, with only a few trouble spots that required leveling shims, or additional attachment blocks. Overall, nowhere near as much trouble as I thought it might be, and more practical and attractive than anything else I could have done.
After four years and lots of humidity variation from summer to winter, there has been no significant panel or batten warpage. During that time, I’ve had to remove panels twice, once for ductwork, and once for wiring, which I could not have done with a permanent installation.
The plywood should be stiff enough to resist sagging or warping, but not so heavy that it’s hard to install or remove: I used 1/2” material. Each sheet was measured, marked, and cut in half using a circular saw and straight edge, but if you have a large number to do, a jig might be quicker.
For added support and architectural interest, I installed square blocks in the center of each panel, fastened with screws and glue. As before, if you have a lot to do, a jig would be helpful.
Like any other panel or tiling job, you need to examine various layout scenarios to see how the pattern will interact with other features like walls, beams, and ducts. Also take into account any adjoining rooms and how the pattern might continue into them. Once you’ve decided this, you can install the support blocks on the joists. If your joists are unevenly spaced, bowed, or not square to the walls, you may have to add additional support blocks where panels meet at a joist. Here, the line marks where two panels will meet, and you can see that there isn’t quite enough joist to securely fasten the left panel.
Here you can see several center and edge blocks. The center blocks will accept the center screw of each panel, and consist of 2”x4” blocks attached flat between the joists.
Your starting wall might not be straight, or square to your joists, so before you begin putting up panels, check this relationship and adjust your starter-row panel lengths accordingly.
Now that you have your layout confirmed and triple-checked, and your starter row trimmed if necessary, it’s time to start putting up panels. I started in the middle of the 19’ feature wall. Each panel had 1 cut edge, which I put against the wall where it didn’t matter, and each panel got 1 screw in the middle, and 12 screws around the perimeter. This was a one-man-show, so I recruited some extra help in the form of two temporary wall supports and one temporary clamping-block. This first panel is critical, so take your time and true it up according to your layout scheme before you fasten. Think about the guys who built the Great Pyramids.
Once the panel is fastened, remove the wall supports and screw them loosely onto the panel (using only one screw at the edge) to temporarily support the next panel. Notice that the cut edge is toward the wall where it doesn’t matter, leaving a factory edge to accept the next panels factory edge. Of course, if your panel cuts are all perfect, you won’t have to worry about this.
Now just continue putting up panels, keeping factory edges firmly together, but not too tight.
When you arrive at one of those marginal fastening areas, you’ll be happy that there’s a block waiting for you.
Once all your panels are up, you can install the perimeter supports. I used 1”x2” pine.
Finally, install the corner blocks with one fastener, and batten boards with two fasteners. This is more than adequate given that the panels are already being held in place by their own fasteners. I used 1”x6” pine for the corner blocks (same as the center blocks), and 1”x3” pine for the battens.
Here is the finished ceiling, with a very simple coffered look.
Thank you Don for taking the time to put this project together for everyone else. We all appreciate it. Be sure to let him know what you think of it in the comments below. Don has also been featured in several magazines and has some of his imaging content published as well. (see Spring 2014 Update at top of this link)