Drop Ceiling Installation Tip 1: Lay out the ceiling grid on paper
Even the pros use graph paper to lay out the ceiling
grid for each room. It helps not only with your
materials list but also with getting equal-size
panels at each side of the room. Include items like
light fixtures and heat registers. The room should
be bisected at the center by either a main tee or a
centered row of tiles. Wade’s tip on ordering materials:
order by even numbers. If a room is 9 x 11 ft.,
order enough for a 10 x 12-ft. room.
Meet the Expert
Wade Sides has been
ceilings for more than
30 years. He started
out working with his
dad while still in high
school. Wade has hung
ceilings just about
everywhere, from residential
to casinos and mega-malls.
With these tips,
$75 worth of tools and
a little elbow grease,
you’ll save about 40
percent of the total
cost of professional
Drop Ceiling Installation Tip 2: Nail up the wall angle
Pick a height so the ceiling tile will clear
the lowest ceiling obstruction, like plumbing
lines or ductwork. Snap a chalk line marking the
top of the wall angle. Nail the wall angle at every
stud with 1-1/4-in. drywall nails. Try to avoid nailing
on or near the corner beads—it’s a sure way to
cause nail pops and cracks. Instead, run the wall
angle long, snip the bottom and then bend it around
the corner. Finish it with a “slip-on” outside corner.
Drop Ceiling Installation Tip 3: Use fence staples to hold the angle tight
Wade uses fence staples to secure the
wall angle between the studs, especially
where there’s a gap between the
wall and the angle. If there’s a severe
bow in the wall, you may have to cut
the lower part of the channel so it will
flex and follow the contour.
Drop Ceiling Installation Tip 4: Run guide strings and drive in the hanging screws
Use strings as a guide to position the hanging screws (lag screws) and to keep the main
tees straight while hanging. Offset the strings 1/2 in. so they line up with the sides of the
tees rather than with the center. Wade wraps the end of the strings around a nail and
uses a spring clamp to secure them to the wall angles. Sight along the string to position
and drive in the hanging screws—they don’t have to be perfectly centered. These acoustical
eye lag screws require a special driver, which can be purchased for about $4 at the home
center where you get your other ceiling materials and tools.
Drop Ceiling Installation Tip 5: Line up the cross tee slots
Once you've figured out the size of the border row,
measure back from the cross tee slots, and cut your
main tees to size. Don't assume the wall is straight.
Instead, run a string and use that as a guide to make
sure all the cross tee slots line up.
Drop Ceiling Installation Tip 6: Pop-in rivets hold the grid square
Once you’ve hung a couple of main tees and locked in 8 to 12 ft. of cross tees, it’s time to
square up the grid. Check the diagonal measurements of at least a couple of the openings.
When everything is square, rivet the main tees and cross tees to the wall angle. “This is
where most people get into trouble,” says Wade. If things are out of whack in the beginning,
the problem will telegraph out across the room. Before you’re done, you may end up trimming
full panels instead of just plopping them into place.
Drop Ceiling Installation Tip 7: Make rivet holes with a grid punch
Drilling your rivet holes works fine, but it's slow-going. If
you've got more than one suspended ceiling project
in your future, a grid punch will save you a bunch
of time. You can buy one through our affiliation with amazon.com
less than $30.
Drop Ceiling Installation Tip 8: Cut the flanges first
The cleanest way to cut the main
tees to length is to cut the bottom
flange first from both directions.
Then cut the stem last. That’ll give
you a clean, flat cut. Wade’s
cutting tool of choice is a pair
of high-quality, yellow-handled
Drop Ceiling Installation Tip 9: Scribe each shadow line with a carpet knife
Cut the border
panels to length and
then rest them in the
track and score the
shadow line with the
knife. Then take the
panel down to cut
the shadow line.
Video: How to Cut Ceiling Tiles
Wade Sides, an editor for The Family Handyman, will show you how to cut custom ceiling tiles and shadow lines along the wall.
Drop Ceiling Installation Tip 10: Use your finger as a depth gauge
Follow the scribe to cut halfway through
the face of the panel first, and then
finish it by cutting through the side. Use
your finger as a depth gauge. Gloves will
prevent the oil in your hands from
making smudge marks on the panels—and, of course, protect your hands.
Drop Ceiling Installation Tip 11: Mark your holes with a drywall circle gauge
Scribe holes with a drywall
circle gauge, and then make
the cuts with a drywall saw.
With just these two tools,
you can cut a wide variety
of hole sizes.
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Drop Ceiling Installation Tip 12: Repair panels with flat latex caulk
Wade insists that only rookies
damage ceiling panels. But when a
panel does get damaged at his job
site, he uses a little white caulk (or
“apprentice putty” as he calls it)
to patch it up. Make sure you use a
flat latex caulk—shiny silicone will
stand out worse than the hole. If
the damaged area is bigger than a
pencil eraser, you may want to set
that panel aside to be used as a
partial in another location.