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How to make and install custom faux ceiling beams

Supplies

Tools

We started our plan by first finding the studs. Our stud finder wasn’t working on our slanted ceilings, so we drilled small holes until we hit a stud. Another strategy that we hadn’t thought of until after the holes were drilled is to use a magnet to locate the screws. Mark the studs with pencil so you can keep track of them.

We then took a look at our walls and considered the vents and light fixtures that we already have. We didn’t want to run into any of those elements and had to mount the beams to studs, so this limited our design.

For our beams we spaced three 0.75×5.5×3.5 (actual dimensions) faux rafters approximately 4-feet apart. We also measured our ceiling length for a faux ridge board. You should get a pretty good estimate of the amount of lumber you’ll need to get by multiplying the number of beams by your dimensions by the length of your ceiling. For our project we needed 17 8-foot 1×6 sections. Each side of the faux rafter took two 8-foot boards to make and the faux ridge board took five 8-foot boards in total.

A note on purchasing wood: Check out your local lumber yard! Hardwood can be much cheaper at a lumber yard than your local big box hardware store. Some lumber yards are specifically for commercial use, but do your research ahead of time to see if it is open for the public. The people who work at the lumber yard are very knowledgeable and a great resource to help you select the correct wood for your project. You’ll want S4S wood for this job (they will know what you’re asking for!) and a lot of lumber yards will help you make rough cuts if you’re worried about the lumber fitting in your vehicle.

We went with red oak, but any variety of wood will work for this project.

Process

First, let’s take a look at the structure of each individual beam. Each beam is essentially a 3 sided box.

Make your cuts

This is easiest if you cut your smaller width boards first and fit check on the ceiling.

1. Start by cutting your pieces down to size. We cut the width first. Since we bought only 1×6 lumber, we had to rip some of the boards in half. You can skip this step if you bought lumber for the sides already ripped with the width you need.

2. We then measured the angle that the vertical wall makes with the pitched ceiling with a bevel gauge. You could alternatively cut several scrap pieces at different angles on your miter saw and check the fit until you get something that is flush. This is your “bottom.”

3. Cut your measured angle on one of the smaller width boards right at the end of the board and write “bottom” on it.

4. For the “top,” even if your pitched ceiling is not 90-degrees (but was intended to be 90-degrees), cut the angle at the other end at your measured length to 45-degrees. This should mitigate fit issues down the line as each top edge will end up being the same height (which would not be the case if you cut them both at different angles).

Repeat steps 1-4 for the other side.

5. To make the wider board lay your narrower board on top of an uncut board and clamp down. Make a mental note in your mind which side of the wide board will be visible and which will be on the “inside” of the beam.

6. Transfer the top and bottom angles using a bevel gauge or very carefully with a straightedge.

7. Our miter saw was not quite big enough to make the full width bevel cut, so we cut down to where the saw stopped, and then finished the cut with a pull saw.

Assemble the boxes

1. Make pocket holes on the inside of the narrow sections every 12-18 inches

2. Clamp one narrow board to the wide board making sure to line up the bevels on the top perfectly and screw in place.

3. Work your way down the narrow board making sure to line up the edges to take any warp out of the narrow board.

Repeat steps 1-3 for the other side.

4. Sand or plane down any places where the seams don’t perfectly line up.

5. Finish the beams with your stain of choice. We kept ours natural and sealed with polyurethane to protect the wood from the natural light it will get in our space.

Installation

1. Measure and cut blocks out of scrap material that will fit snugly (~1/32” interference) inside your faux beam. You’ll need at least two per beam.

2. Pre-drill holes for screws to prevent splitting

3. Screw the bottom block into the stud in two places (top and bottom of beam). Make sure your screw is long enough to go through the wood block and into the stud. You’ll have a little wiggle room on where you place your blocks because they don’t need to be perfectly placed directly over the stud.

4. With a partner, position the beam over the bottom block and tap into place. There will be a little resistance if you properly sized your block, but don’t force it! If you’re having trouble getting your beam to fit on your block unscrew and take 1/2 a saw blade width off of it and try again.

5. Have your partner hold the beam in position on the bottom while you go to the top of the beam with a block and screws and a finish nailer. Place the top block at the peak of the ceiling inside of the beam and screw the block into the stud.

6. Shoot 3-4 nails through the beam into the block on the top and bottom. If you have more than two blocks you’ll want to mark where they are with pencil during a dry fit up to make finding them for nailing easier.

Repeat steps 2-6 for your other faux rafters. Repeat again for the ridge board (if desired) after measuring the distance between each rafter and making a 3-sided box in a similar fashion as the previous section.

Finishing

To finish, caulk the seams where your wood meets the wall and fill any gaps in your wood with wood putty. Wait for the wood putty to dry, sand and stain to achieve the best match for your wood.

Cost Breakdown

The cost of this project varies a lot depending on the size of your ceiling. We ended up spending $425 on beams. Our neighbor let us use his trade discount to purchase the wood at coast at a lumber yard. The difference was ($3.13/lf vs $4.34/lf at Home Depot). In contrast, commercial semi-custom faux beams range between $300-$500 for each 8-foot beam.

DIY beams is a great route to go if you’re looking to save some money and up for the project!

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