How to Make an Inexpensive Plank Backsplash

How to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashOur home was blessed by amazingly sleek walls and ceilings—no orange peel or popcorn textures in sight! Except for the one wall I couldn't avoid—the one behind the stove. It was covered with a textured finish that couldn't have felt more out of place (in my mind, at least). Removing the cabinets above the stove area further exaggerated this problem texture because I now had a wall that was half smooth and half textured.

Instead of wasting pounds of sandpaper, replacing the drywall, or attempting to skim-coat over it, I decided to cover up the textured wall with a plank backsplash. This little project turned into the easiest and least expensive change in our kitchen that made such a dramatic change. Check out how I made our plank backsplash below!

How to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashHow to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashMy first choice for a kitchen backsplash was white subway tile. I know, I know—the darling of kitchens all across Pinterest. I wasn't up for the price tag or work involved with preparing our wall and installing tile, though, so I decided on a more rustic plank backsplash. Instead of vertical planks you see in wainscoting or beadboard, I wanted to do something a bit wider and horizontally oriented. Of course, this meant I couldn't go out and buy a sheet of wainscoting without compromising my vision or having an awkward seam where I pieced together the boards. So I decided to make my own planks of wood for the project.

How to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashI selected lauan plywood as my material because it is thinner than 1/4" plywood, takes paint well, and—best of all—is really inexpensive! One 4' x 8' sheet of lauan is about $15 at most hardware stores in my area of northeast Ohio. I used 1 1/2 sheets of lauan for this project. In case you're interested in the cost of my particular kitchen backsplash, I broke it down for you below:

Cost of Materials:
-lauan plywood: 2 sheets at $15 each = $30 (I only used 1 1/2 sheets)
-construction adhesive: $2
-caulk: $2
-primer: $10 for a quart (I used leftover from our cabinets)
-paint: $15 for a quart (I used leftover paint again)
-finishing nails: $2

Total Cost: $61*

*My personal cost of $36 was lower because I didn't need to buy paint or primer.

How to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashI cut the plywood into 4 1/2" wide planks by setting the fence of the table saw to the correct distance from the blade, then pushing the plywood through with the assistance of Phil to catch the wood. The lauan is so flexible that the middle kept bending up, so I had to get kind of close to the blade to keep it down. This was really unsafe. So if you do that, you should use a piece of scrap wood or something to hold it down. I made sure to keep my eyes on my hand until the spinning blade had come to a stop. It's easy to not notice your hand move as you pull the scrap wood away from the table. Be careful! Another safety tip is to make sure the blade is as low as possible while still being able to cut the wood.

How to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashHow to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashWe had a big pile of planks to work with after about a half hour of cutting the plywood into pieces. I lightly sanded the edges of each piece, then got started on putting them on the wall!

How to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashHow to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashI used construction adhesive to put the planks into place and a nail gun to secure them. Because I wanted the planks to be staggered, I did cut some of the planks shorter with a miter saw for variation. If you have smaller areas to work with, like I did around my window, cutting those planks might give you just the variation you need.

In addition to cutting some pieces shorter, I had to cut out holes for outlets and switches. I did this by measuring the space and then cutting the planks with a jig saw.

How to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashIf you don't have access to a nail gun, you could certainly use a hammer and nails! We had borrowed an air nailer, so that's what we used.

How to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashAfter all of the planks were in place, it was time to get painting! This took a long time. We worked until 4 AM on this part because I just wanted to get it done, and that was the only time we had available to do it! Oh, man. The worst part was waiting for paint to dry in between coats.

We did two coats of primer followed by two coats of semi-gloss white paint. I selected semi-gloss because it wipes clean very well—a great quality for a backsplash!

Note: I didn't realize that the next step (caulking) would make the area around the gaps too matte, leading to me having to do a light coat of semi-gloss paint over where I had caulked. So that means you should either buy paintable caulking and caulk before painting the planks, or if you choose to paint first (as I did), make sure you're prepared to brush over the area where caulk gets on the panel fronts because that stuff doesn't completely wipe away. You may need to use oil-based paint to cover the caulk.

How to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashThe next step was caulking the gaps between the planks. I had left about a 1/8" gap to give interest to the backsplash. That space needed to be filled because of two things: I didn't paint the wall behind the planks, and the gap was deep enough to be an issue with food and other matter getting stuck in it.

To caulk, I applied a ribbon of waterproof caulking to the gap between planks, smoothed it into the gaps with my finger, then squeegeed off the excess with a caulking tool. This left residual caulk on the planks as noted above. To avoid that, you could tape off the planks or brush over the dried caulk with oil-based paint. Do not use a damp cloth to clean off the caulk because it won't get rid of the residue, and it could compromise the integrity of the caulk.

When caulking this backsplash, don't work on too big of an area at a time because the caulking will start to set up and you won't get as nice of a groove in the gaps.

How to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashHow to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashAfter the backsplash was up, we put up the shelves. If there are any weird gaps around the cabinets or the shelf brackets, feel free to caulk that space too! It will make a big difference visually.

How to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashIf you ever need to fill nail holes in this backsplash, it's as simple as sanding the area, applying wood filler, sanding again, and then priming and painting with leftover paint. To make sure you have leftover paint on hand, you could store some in a small jar and keep it in a kitchen cupboard.

How to Make an Inexpensive Plank BacksplashNo more textured walls! Just simple, somewhat rustic planks that set the tone for the rest of the kitchen. What a difference a little cover-up makes, eh? -Mandi

Update about the exhaust hood: So many of you have asked about the exhaust fan, so I thought I should probably include something about that in this post. We removed the hood above the stove, but we are not getting rid of an exhaust system from the kitchen. Instead of a hood, we are installing an exhaust fan in the ceiling, similar to what you might see in a bathroom. You can't see the gaping hole in many of the pictures I shared. The shelf above the stove is high and narrow enough to not be an issue with steam, and the fan will be a little further out from the wall above the stove area, which will pull steam slightly away from the wall and into the ventilation, leaving the house. The switch for the fan can be seen beside the outlet above the wood canisters. I'll talk more about this decision later, but I won't be sharing about how to change ventilation because quite frankly, I won't be doing that work myself. Dad to the rescue!

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Spring of the Signature Collection.

  • I too am suffering from dark brown cabinets and I really love the look of planks. Your kitchen is gorgeous. Thanks for the tutorial!

  • Mandi, your kitchen makeover is incredible! I would just want to live in the kitchen. Very dreamy. 🙂

    Nicole / theanchoredsoulblog.com

  • Where did your cooking hood / vent go? And how are you going to avoid smells and grease from spreading if you’re doing without? Just wondering..

  • This looks really good and what an improvement to the before pictures! But what about practicability? Concerning dreadful kitchen grease aren’t tile or glass backsplashes not the better choice?

  • the after picture looks so much better!! So much brighter and welcoming

    xo, erica
    sweet-endeavors.com

  • Holy huge difference! I love it! This obviously took a ton of work but it totally paid off and your kitchen is super gorgeous now. Nice work! xo, Sarah

  • Mandi, what a wonderful job! I think I will have refer to you as “Wonder Woman”. Your use of power tools, the good use of assistance when needed and the cost of the project are outstanding. Kudos…

  • Um, this is pretty amazing. I love this plank backsplash, first time I’ve ever seen it. It reminds me so much of my great-grandmothers home. This is awesome. I’m planking my kitchen lol.. I’ve always wanted subway tile for backsplash but this is just as good. Thanks for sharing! I feel like I need to create a bookmark folder for all of these projects that you guys do so that I can easily find them.

  • Wow, this looks amazing! I may actually like this better than subway tiles. I can’t wait to get the full kitchen tour.

  • Amazing!! Fabulous job- it looks so much better!! I have two questions though: What did you do with your fume hood? Do you still have one? And also, you mentioned how to cover up the nails in the planks- how many nails did you put in each one/how far apart were they?

    Again, looks really great! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Great project, Mandi! Another safety tip for power tools- beware of anything that dangles off you (hair should be tied back, sleeves pushed up, shirt tails tucked in). Hope you’re enjoying your beautiful new kitchen!

  • this is seriously amazing, Mandi.
    has have you had to wipe it down (did you use an epoxy or gloss so it would be scrubable as a backsplash)?
    thanks.

  • OMG I love!

    Question: Where did you get the brackets that are supporting your open shelving? I’m in the middle of a kitchen renovation right now and I NEED those!!

    thanks for sharing!!

  • I think if I were to use this, I’d use dark grey or black caulk, and tape off the sides so I could give further dimension and interest to the backsplash 😀

  • my thoughts exactly, I mean it’s pretty, but the open shelving all around the stove would be a disaster in my house since i actually cook at my stove. those lovely shelves and jars would be covered in kitchen grease/dust in a week.

  • Most beautiful kitchen in the world! And thank you for leaving your phone cords out like a normal human being. My favorite thing about Mandi’s blog is that her photography and her home are gorgeous, but never staged.

    Thanks for keepin’ it real. 🙂

  • In my home I have just drywall with semi-gloss paint (pretty similar to what Mandi’s done since she painted the planks with primer then semi-gloss) and it cleans pretty easily. Tile is fantastic, but if it doesn’t fit your budget I think this is a really pretty alternative that is still pretty easy to wipe clean. Just my two cents, not that you were really asking for it. 🙂

    -Emma

  • I love this idea. And I love the price tag and the way it looks, it looks so simple and easy to clean. I noticed you do not have a vent for the stove top. Is it there but I can’t see it or did you just not put one in? We don’t have one and I don’t like it but curious how you are handling it. Thanks.

  • What a great improvement to your kitchen! I had been planning on doing this in my bathroom to add some drama to a small wall that is kind of sad and out of place. You did a really great job!

    -Lara

  • I only very briefly mentioned this in my post about reconfiguring cabinets, but I’ll bring it up in more detail in the final “reveal.” I had thought about getting a sleeker, minimal hood vent, but instead I decided to do a fan vent in the ceiling right above the stove, with a switch for the vent beside stove. Think: what you see in bathrooms, but on the higher end of power, rather than the low end. I won’t go into detail about replacing ventilation, because quite frankly, I won’t be doing that myself. Dad to the rescue! But don’t worry- we’ll be having ventilation above the stove.
    -Mandi

  • I grew up without fancy backsplashes in my family home and in most of the homes of my friends. My parents just have an eggshell finish paint job on the drywall in their kitchen and it’s held up well through the years without repainting. The textured backsplash wall you see in my before pictures was the WORST for cleaning grease that splattered onto it, so I was really ready to get rid of that. The planks are so sleek and easy to clean, though. I’m happy with the decision, and in face believe it might be easier to clean than tile because the grout in tile can easily get stained with red sauce splatters.
    -Mandi

  • Good questions! In fact, the hood vent is the question of the day, and while I mentioned it in previous kitchen posts, I didn’t in this one, so I think I’d better update the post. 🙂 Here’s my answer copied and pasted from a few comments above:

    I only very briefly mentioned this in my post about reconfiguring cabinets, but I’ll bring it up in more detail in the final “reveal.” I had thought about getting a sleeker, minimal hood vent, but instead I decided to do a fan vent in the ceiling right above the stove, with a switch for the vent beside stove. Think: what you see in bathrooms, but on the higher end of power, rather than the low end. I won’t go into detail about replacing ventilation, because quite frankly, I won’t be doing that myself. Dad to the rescue! But don’t worry- we’ll be having ventilation above the stove.

    As far as the nail holes go, I think I mentioned how to deal with drill holes, like if you had hung something heavy, put up a bolt and later decided to move it, leaving you with a big hole in the wood. You can use wood filler and prime and paint over where the hole was. As far as covering nails, though, I didn’t do anything special. I just primed and painted over it, and they’re barely noticeable. I don’t think I would’ve been bothered if they were somewhat noticeable, though, but that’s just my personal preference. We drove in the nails to be approximately 1′ apart, but we weren’t precise about the nail placement. Because the lauan is so lightweight, we didn’t bother with making sure the nails went into studs.

    -Mandi

  • I used a water-based semi-gloss paint and it wipes down very easily. I used water-based paint for easier cleanup and also because oil-based paint fumes are pretty awful.
    -Mandi

  • I should have mentioned this in my post, and I’ll share more about it in the grand reveal. I will still have an exhaust fan, it will just be in the ceiling instead of in a hood.

    -Mandi

  • Yeah we’ll still have an exhaust fan, but it’s going to be in the ceiling instead of in a hood. I’ll share more about that later. 🙂

    -Mandi

  • Thanks for your sweet words! Those cords are actually from the under shelf lights, though, not from our phones. Our phone cords are black and much uglier. 🙂 We just haven’t mounted the under shelf lights yet.

    -Mandi

  • This looks lovely, I’m all for DIY in your own home, especially when you get such fantastic results! But I just want to point out that using a table saw in this way is EXTREMELY dangerous.
    Any table saw you buy these days must come outfitted with a blade guard (to protect your hands as you guide the sheet material through), which the saw above does not have. You can also use a push stick to guide the material through which will keep your hand out of the blade’s way. Lauan is fairly flexible (as Mandi mentioned with the middle popping up around the blade) and cutting 4×8 sheets alone is frankly unsafe, especially if you don’t have a catch table behind your saw. A catch table, or extra person helping you will fix the popping up in the middle problem. Please just be very careful with table saws, most shop injuries occur at the table saw, and there are really simple ways to protect yourself!

  • It’s AH MAY ZEEN. Love everything about it. This is a complete side note and fairly inconsequential given the project, but I’m going to be the obnoxious one and ask if you would mind sharing where you got that dish towel? It’s lovely.

  • Love. Love. Love. Love, most of all, how you’re so matter of fact about being thrifty. Your unique ‘not flashy’-ness is so inspirational to me right now. Thank you.

  • Definitely! As I mentioned, I did have someone assisting to catch the wood, but it was still bending a bit. We paused for a moment for him to take the picture, so he can’t be seen. We unfortunately couldn’t rig up a catch table because all of the table saws we had were being utilized as drying racks for our cabinet drawers and doors at the time. I also want to clarify that I did mention that the way I was cutting this in the photo was incredibly unsafe and that I recommend using a piece of wood to push down the lauan as it bends up, which I freely admit I didn’t do. It’s one of those things that I wish I had shown in the photo, but while editing these, I decided it wasn’t worth driving back to my parents to re-stage the photo when a simple explanation would suffice.

    One safety tip I should’ve mentioned, though, and will edit to include now, is to keep the blade as low as it could go while still cutting the lauan, so if—heaven forbid— I did cut my finger, it at least wouldn’t fall off! There is a LOT to be said about power tool (especially tools with blades) safety and use, but that would warrant a lengthy post all its own, and I don’t know if anybody would want to read something like that.

    This table saw I was using is actually built by my dad to suit his specific purposes, hence the lack of safety measures in its constructions. (To this day, my mom will still go out and check on him every half hour or so, because she worries about him losing a hand.) I grew up using power tools and including the table saw with his supervision, but this doesn’t mean I’m better off than anyone else, though. Rather, I think my ease and familiarity makes me more likely to act carelessly, which is why I mentioned I always make it a point to keep an eye on my hand until the blade comes to a full stop. Anyway, all powertools should be treated with respect, but saw blades specifically. They’re like weapons, in a way, but used with caution are amazing tools that have completely transformed my abilities as a female DIYer. I wish more women would confidently use power tools, and I’m sad every time I share a more complex post and people comment about how their husbands or male friends would have to do it for them. We are women— hear our power tools roar!

    -Mandi

  • This looks beautiful!! I had to look three times to make sure the part you were talking about was actually planks and not tile! What a gorgeous kitchen!! The countertops are fantastic btw.

  • This is a fantastic idea! I love the alternative to the subway tile (which really is stupid expensive). You get the same feel with a much better price tag. I’m in love!!

    xoxo
    Taylor

  • Mandi, you always have the 100% BEST DIYs on A Beautiful Mess. So thorough and helpful! And I really, really appreciate you including the specific costs for this DIY, because otherwise it can be hard to estimate exactly how much these projects will cost.

    Keep on keeping on, Mandi!

  • I’m really digging this, I may just copy it exactly. I was thinking about doing subway tile and I actually thought that’s what you put up at first glance. I currently don’t have a fan above my cooktop, and it’s kind of amusing to me that people think they need it. Unless it has ventilation to the outside, it literally just pulls up the air and blows it out the top.

    Thanks for sharing Mandi!

  • Beautiful! Thank you for sharing in such detail. I was wondering what you did where the backsplash meets the countertop and at the top around the window. More caulk?

    It’s great to see this. I spent a lot of time looking for this type of information a year or so ago and this is definitely the best/most detailed I’ve seen.

  • Hi Mandi, the kitchen looks awesome! I wish I was able to do this to my rental. Oh well, that day will one day come. I’m actually here to comment on the safety issue of cutting thin lauan on a table saw. You are right- very dangerous!! Next time, invest in some saw horses or build custom ones that are the exact same height as your table saw. This will help support the lauan. If you want to get fancy, they even sell saw horse type contraptions that have a rolling pin mechanism on top which helps guide the wood as you cut. Sorry I don’t know the names of them. I used a table saw with them a lot in college and it makes using the table saw way less stressful!

  • I’m not the biggest fan of the lauan grain, but if it was a simpler grain, like what you’d see on maple, I may have been tempted to white wash it. 🙂

    -Mandi

  • I used a chisel to remove the tile from the drywall. I didn’t bother to repair the wall much since it was just going to be covered with the plywood.
    -Mandi

  • Thank you! Yeah, we just used caulk in the corner. I actually need to go over it again because some of the caulk settled into the groove.
    -Mandi

  • Thanks! Yes, we actually have many saw horses but they were all being occupied as drying surfaces for our numerous cabinet doors and drawers that had just been painted earlier that day. My dad has a couple of those rolling stands (not sure what they’re called, but it’s a conveyer belt style roller atop a heavy duty pedestal) that we tried to use to help the wood along, but the lauan was still too bendy for those to work. We would’ve needed a table surface or a makeshift table made of plywood resting on something like saw horses, and just didn’t have the means to do that because of all of those things being occupied, unfortunately. We definitely took our time and were very mindful/watchful of all things— especially hands! 🙂 I thought I should still include pictures of the process, though, and add that readers should be much more careful than I was.
    -Mandi

  • Would it be possible to do something like this over existing tile? I too would love to cover our old off white tiles with bright white subway tile, but it’s just not in the budget.

  • THANK YOU! This post saved me so much $$$! We’re in the midst of an unexpected DIY renovation due to mold remediation in the kitchen. I was about to spend hundreds on a backsplash, but we have leftover Luaun plywood from fixing the floors. I’ve got caulk, white semi-gloss paint – this will cost us $0 and it looks AWESOME! You are superwoman, and your kitchen looks gorgeous. Where is your cabinet hardware from?

    Thanks a bunch!

  • This idea is brilliant. I’m writing an article about cheap DIY backsplashes for a new RV makeover blog I’m starting, and I wanted to include a cheap shiplap option, and this seems to be the simplest and best-looking I’ve found. Would you mind if I included a photo and a link back to this post in my article?

  • Hi! I had a very hard time finding someone who put white planking above a wood countertop. So glad I found you and then I realized I had found you long ago when my son was attending school at MSU. So Hi again! Anyway, I know you are long past this by now, but I am doing the same thing and I am trying to decide what to do about caulking the seam where plank meets countertop. Do I caulk white? Put up a piece of trim? I couldn’t find where you said what you did at that point. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • We got ours from Lumber Liquidators and Menards. Ikea’s was too short and thin for us.