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New Woodworker Conquers Enormous Coffered Ceiling Project

There are a few ways to get a start at woodworking. One way would be to pick a number of small projects, gain some experience and confidence as a woodworker; then slowly graduate to more complex work. The opposite of this would be to pick a monster project and just go at it. Determined to pull it off, sticking with it until success becomes real.

GWW15I know a thing or two about monster projects. Take for example the renovation of our foyer which took three years to complete (my fault – I over-engineered it; a recent photo of it is here).

Another ambitious project was the construction of a coffered ceiling in our living room. This was 100% overhead work with lots of parts to fit. I once said that any project which involves frequent ladder work is automatically no fun.

So it was with surprise that I got an email from Holly showing me photos of her coffered ceiling projects.

Why surprise? I think I lost count of the number of rooms she has added a coffered ceiling to. If I counted correctly, she added five coffered ceilings to her home. Five rooms; five coffered ceilings and she is a beginning woodworker. Thats right, bold and italic font – that is how impressive this is. New woodworker, monster project, and she did a fantastic job.

Coffered construction in process.

Coffered construction commenced.

Here is Holly’s first email to me…

“Hi Jeff! I stumbled upon your blog last summer while researching how to build a coffered ceiling in my basement. I wanted to replace the existing suspended ceiling grid and acoustic tiles and figured surely I could make something myself and use the grid like “studs”.

In any case, I looked at the plans that you did in your home and got lots of great ideas. If you can believe, I’m almost done. I have one more room to go and its the first room you enter as you walk in so I want the joinery to be as perfect as it can be. I’m a total novice and have had to purchase every basic tool there is because we had no woodworking tools. I know I could spend lots more money on tools, but now I’m almost done.

Would you consider looking at a few pictures and giving me your opinion?”

Holly, I think by now you know my opinion – AWESOME! We traded a few emails and I got a better idea of her extensive work. She added a coffered ceiling to her basement bedroom closet, moved on to the basement bedroom itself. Next was the bedroom bath and then she re-worked the bedroom closet. Holly just completed the living room ceiling and has another room to add a coffered ceiling as well. Sounds like she will be a coffered ceiling ninja when she finishes working in her home.

I ended up asking Holly a few questions, sort of interview style. Here is how it went…

Me: Your coffered ceiling looks awesome. Completing a project like this is a big undertaking. What was the most challenging part of construction?

Holly: As a novice, I had no idea that walls aren’t straight, corners aren’t always 90 degrees, the ceiling grid I left in place because it was already level wasn’t necessarily level everywhere. So getting around those humps was one of many challenges I faced but likely the biggest.

Me: What tools did you use while building the ceiling?

Holly: Since I altered the process used going from room to room, I’ll just describe what I did initially for the bedroom.

  • Table saw to cut the beadboard
  • Miter saw to cut beams, drip molding and final trim.
  • 18 gauge pneumatic nail gun to build panels.
  • 16 gauge cordless nail gun to affix panels to grid.
  • small electric corded sander to smooth joints.

Me: It is rare to find two rooms the same size in a home. Did you have much trouble laying out the beams in your coffered ceiling?

Holly: The bedroom is rectangular, so that was pretty straightforward. I chose a layout that visually I liked, then I started doing the math using the beam width as the constant and adjusting the beadboard size to fit the space left.

Me: What was the most rewarding part of your project?

Holly: Stepping back and looking up to see that it turned out exactly how I envisioned, as well as reflecting on everything I learned during the process.

Before photo.

Before photo.

Before photo.

Before photo.

After photo.

After photo.

The beadboard is a very nice touch and the crisp white paint – excellent. Holly had only a little exposure to woodworking when she made the decision to do this ceiling work. Taking on a project of this scope and doing this level of work takes guts; no other way to say it. Nice job Holly; and she has more woodworking to do. She said, “once this darn ceiling is done I can’t wait to start something new to do.”

Holly has started a blog called “DIY Girl Cave” – check it out by clicking here.

Page 1 021415The woodworking plan Holly mentions is my very first plan titled How to Add a Coffered Ceiling to Your Home. Since very few rooms are the same size and shape, this plan serves as a framework for building a coffered ceiling. I go over the construction details on how I built a coffered ceiling in my home, list the tools used – even how to adjust the spacing of coffers to fit your home. This is my most extensive plan; 27 pages in length.

As with all my plans, this one is available as a free, instant download. To get more information, you can visit the plan plage by clicking here.

* * * * *

This blog post is part of Tom Iovino’s Get Woodworking Week initiative. Get Woodworking Week highlights projects by new woodworkers in hopes others will join the craft.

Have a question or comment about this post? Leave me a comment below; but I also like email. Use my contact form to send me an email (click here).

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8 Comments

  1. Finally took the time to read your tutorial on coffered ceilings. The document itself, let alone the actual ceiling, is amazing. I think you have missed your calling as a teacher. While I am now inspired to try a similar project my aching back is reminding me that it doesn’t share my interest. To cut down on the tremendous amount of piece-by-piece overhead installation do you see any reason why some of the beam construction could not be done on the floor then lifted into place and secured, assuming you have a helper? Of course this raises the chance of making a monumental measuring error, but isn’t that why painters caulk was invented?

    Keep the various project updates coming. I really enjoy them. And DIYGirlCave your finished product rivals Jeff’s. Nice work!

    • Denjhill, a little back trickery may be needed. Just tell your back that you will build your coffered ceiling a little at a time and then have plenty of pain meds on hand. 🙂

      There are a number of ways to go about a ceiling such as this. A Google search will return web pages with a number of videos and articles; most of them approach such a project differently. I did it this way because I did not have a helper and I knew there would be mistakes.

      I definitely think you could create this ceiling with larger sub-assemblies, especially if there are precautions taken to compensate for any unforeseen issues like a wall having a bump in it. And having a helper makes lifting larger assemblies possible.

      I say you should go for it. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Wow, this is simply amazing! I don’t think I will ever get to woodworking projects as HUGE as this. I am still in the furniture revamp and tasks.

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