How To Add DIY Wood Beams Around a Tray Ceiling

July 18, 2023

Dress up your boring tray ceiling with these easy wood beams! 

These wood beams are an easy way to give some character to your tray ceiling. I also painted our ceiling to add to the cozy feel. 

This beam project is one of my favorite DIYs in this house so far! I work with Minwax occasionally and this project is another one I accomplished using their awesome products. 

Our master has ten foot ceilings thanks to the tray ceiling. This is how the room looked after I installed the new bamboo chandelier in this room:
bedroom with wall of windows
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It has changed so much since then! These beams and the painted ceiling added so much warmth to this space. 

When I see a tray ceiling I see a potential project! I've seen many treatments on these types of ceilings, from adding crown to installing wood to the tray part. 

This was a different take on the typical tray ceiling treatment and we LOVE how it turned out! 

I had help with the first part of this project and because of that I did the steps a little backwards. I would have much preferred to paint the ceiling and then stain the wood after, but because I was at the mercy of someone else's schedule, I did the steps the opposite way I would typically recommend. More on that in a bit! 

The goal was to create "beams" around the sides of the tray ceiling. We had two options -- take the wood and 45 it on the table saw so when we nailed the side and bottom together, it would look like a true beam. 

Or, take the two pieces of  wood and just nail them into each other to create the look of a beam. You'll see the seam where they meet, so it doesn't look quite as authentic.

We went with the latter, mostly because we were using very long pieces of wood -- two at ten feet and two at 16 feet. I don't trust that the mitered corners would have met up perfectly at those lengths. 

I'm glad we didn't go that direction. It would have been WAY more work and the final result looks great without that extra step. 

Add your supports to the ceiling and wall

To start, you'll need something to attach your wood to. The wood "beams" are only two sides -- the bottom and the side. 

So the piece on the ceiling (be sure to attach to studs) was there to stabilize the side board, and the wood attached to the side of the tray ceiling was there to hold the bottom piece in:
fake wood beams on tray ceiling

I hope that makes sense. The arrows are pointing to the pieces that the wood that makes up the beam were attached to. You can see the bottom part of the beam started in that photo above. 

Full size boards aren't needed -- you could even use scrap wood to do this. Just make sure it's the same distance from the tray wall all throughout. 

Install the sides and bottom of your beams

When the bottom pieces were up, the sides could go on -- nailed into the board attached to the ceiling and then nailed to the bottom piece. The arrows show you where to nail: 
Building wood beams

When you're done you have "beams" running around the outside of the tray ceiling.

Like I said...the ideal way to complete this project would be to prep before hanging the beams. I painted the ceiling after the wood was up. 

Painting a ceiling is never fun but it went quicker than I though it would. I used a long painting pole to get the two coats up. 

We moved furniture and put a big painter's cloth over everything as I moved around the room. I did have to climb up and down the ladder a million times to cut in around the wood. 

Painting before the wood goes it up would be SO much easier because you wouldn't have to worry about cutting in.

I painted the ceiling in Westchester Gray by Sherwin-Williams (flat finish!) and then it was time to start the staining process. Even with the wood already installed, it went much easier than I thought it would!

Prep for your stain 

I taped off the ceiling and then started with what I think is a VERY important product, especially on a project like this: 
Prepping wood for stain

I talk about using the pre-stain wood conditioner a lot because it is SO important. Conditioning the wood preps for stain so it isn't blotchy. 

More importantly, it gives you time to stain the wood, which is incredibly important on a project like this that has large pieces you're working on:
Pre-Stain conditioner for wood

It's important to keep a "wet edge" when staining -- which means you want to be sure you don't apply the stain and then let it dry at all at any point. If you do, you'll see where you stopped and started. 

This wood conditioner makes it much more forgiving so you have a lot more time to work in your stain. 

Stain and protect the wood

Right after conditioning, I started with the stain color called Provincial
Provincial wood stain Minwax

Over the years I've found the easiest way to apply stain is with a rag. Gloves are needed! 

You just use the rag to wipe the stain on, then rub it into the wood: 
apply stain with a rag

See that edge where it's wet and meeting the part I had just done? (The stain to the right looks like it's dry but I had just applied it.) If the wood was not conditioned some of that line would stay -- and it doesn't look good! 

Because of the pre-conditioner, it came together nicely. No line!: 
provincial stain on pine

On the first beam, I did the first coat and stepped down to check it out. I usually only use one coat of stain on my projects -- more coats will deepen the stain but I find it's rarely needed. 

I love the Provincial color, but it was leaning a little orange on this pine. I didn't really notice it until I stepped back. 

Because of that, I went back with another coat of stain, but this time with another favorite, the dark brown Jacobean:
Jacobean stain Minwax

You may remember Jacobean because it's the color we used on the hardwoods in our old house

It's a beautiful color! Definitely more brown, which is what I wanted. 

Here's a look at the difference -- Provincial on the left, then with a coat of Jacobean on top on the right: 
provincial and jacobean stain

This is another reason I love working with stain! You can experiment with different layers of colors and get a custom look. You can also mix stains ahead of time to find a color that's perfect for your needs. 

The final step (after letting the stain dry) was to add a coat of polyurethane. I only did one coat since these will never be touched. Thankfully Minwax has a wipe-on poly that was perfect for this project!:
Wipe on poly over stain

Again, you'll need gloves and a clean rag to apply. You can see how the poly on the left really deepens the stain and makes it look even better!

One thing to note here -- when you stain there will be fumes! I had the windows open all day each day and had an air purifier running constantly. We didn't sleep in this room for a couple days. 

(Side note -- if you ever have floors refinished or do a staining project, they can cause a burning smell to come from your dryer or other heat source!)

After all was dry, we were finally able to enjoy this room again...and we are obsessed with the ceiling! It looks amazing and I couldn't be happier with it: 
wood beams tray ceiling

westchester gray ceiling

It completely changes the feel of the whole room. It doesn't darken the room at all -- just adds a warm, custom touch that I like to lay in bed and look at. ;)
DIY wood beams around tray ceiling

Dark gray ceiling wood beams

Because of the ceiling height and having a bunch of windows in here, it doesn't make it feel closed in at all. It does make it feel much more cozy and that's our favorite part: 
dark gray tray ceiling and wood beams

I'm considering painting the dresser now too -- still deciding on that one. Maybe black? 

My favorite part -- the before and after pics! Here's a reminder of how it looked a few weeks ago:
bed centered on windows

And how it looked after this ceiling and beam project! Doesn't that fixture look great against the dark ceiling?:
Dark ceiling with wood beams

Here's the latest look at this room after the hardwoods and my grasscloth wallpaper project
short four poster bed
You can find our four poster bed here

Here are a few tips for this tray ceiling wood beam project: 

  • If you can do the staining and painting before the wood goes up, that's ideal. But it really wasn't that big of a deal to do it after. I thought it was going to be a lot worse! 
  • We didn't cut down the width of the boards -- they are off the shelf and just the length was cut. We used 1x4 and 1x12 boards. We found the long 16 foot boards at a local lumber store (I don't believe the big box hardware stores carry that length but I could be wrong.)
  • The 1x12 used for the side piece didn't go all the way to the bottom of the tray ceiling, which doesn't bother me at all. You don't even notice it. 
I love the power of stain! And I just love the warmth of it against both lighter and dark colors.

See another one of my favorite stain makeovers here!:
Wood planked wall with stain

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  1. This is absolutely fabulous! We are planning to build a house this next year and I think I might have to plan a place to put a tray ceiling just so I can try this!

  2. Pretty! I love the play of light on the ceiling now. Don't paint the dresser, the wood looks beautiful (at least in your pictures)

  3. Dang, girl! You're good! This looks amazing!

  4. So clever to double up!! We added wood like this throughout our home and love the rustic vibe and low cost! We stained before to reduce vapors.

  5. Do NOT paint that dresser! You will regret it! You have phenomenal taste, the dresser is beautiful as is:)

  6. That is gorgeous!!!! You are so creative with your projects. I love how everything in the room blends together. Don't do anything to the dresser, please! Now, about that smoke detector.... I know it's probably hardwired but it needs to be moved to the white part of the ceiling. Or is it just bothering me???

  7. It looked great to begin with but now...just WOW! You never cease to amaze me with your skills!

  8. Love the results and your details explaining the steps. I may attempt this in my loving room. Keep em coming.

  9. Hey Sarah! It looks amazing!! I looove the cozy vibe and the contrast with the light fixture! It is so gorgeous!! Great job.❤️

  10. I think it looks great in your space! I agree with comment above to NOT paint the dresser. I'm all for some wood tones and your master looks bright enough to carry off the wood. Enjoy!!!

    1. Want to add maybe consider some type of area rug that would bring some of the same warmth to the floor. Print, etc. Even just under your seating area perhaps.

  11. I love how the dresser goes with the beams!

  12. Can you do an article about hanging drapes? Are yours 84” or do you buy longer and hem?

  13. I've got to tell you although the finished ceiling looks warm and pretty, I also liked the previous ceiling and how sleek and modern it looked. The dresser wall looks great as well.
    Do you have a tutorial for a (do-it-yourself) beam along a vaulted ceiling? Would love to do that. Nicely done tutorial!


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