Tray Ceiling DIY Overview Contents May Blow

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Tray Ceiling DIY Overview

When I was planning our living room project, and we decided to build a tray ceiling, I spent a lot of time online looking for a DIY guide for building a tray. I couldn’t seem to find any kind of help for my situation (which I really wouldn’t have thought was all that unique): take a room with

9 foot ceilings and add a tray to the ceiling.

Since maybe there are others that want to follow in my footsteps I decided to put together a guide on how I built my tray. Please make note that I am not a professional, there may be better ways to do this, and your milage may vary.

Since I’m a computer geek I used a copy of Google Sketch Up to design the living room so I could get an idea of how things would look before I started any actual construction. I think this is an important step to verify that the thoughts in your head are valid. It also might help expose potential problems.

The big issue is that you are hanging weight from the ceiling which could present issues if you’re not careful. I considered running 26 beams bolted to the ceiling the length of the room. I’m glad I didn’t go that way.

I discussed this with my father who is a professional architect, who was always remodeling our house as we grew up. He recommended using steel studs to build ribs. Steel has two advantages, first steel is lighter, but just as strong as wood, but, more importantly the structure will be better suited for “hanging” since the fasteners are perpendicular to the hanging force (which would be harder to do with wood).

Each rib is a box with a long leg for the eventual shelf.

Design of a rib with leg for the tray.

My tray was designed to be 4”, plus framing would mean that the box height was going to be 6”. I found that this height was going to constantly be a problem that required unique solutions.

I figured I needed something to connect the ribs together, especially around the inside edge of my eventual tray. Steel studs are usually used for two dimensional walls so extending into a third dimension created a problem. I would have preferred to find steel “U” channel that was 2”x2”, but I was unable to order this from Home Depot, Lowes, or my local lumber yard. I had to come up with a plan “B”.

I instead drove to a local steel and metal yard. They have a tent of cut-offs and other bits and pieces. I found several 10’ pieces of angle iron (probably 16 gauge steel).

I used a laser level and attached sections of the angle iron around the room at the tray level. These sections of angle were screwed into the studs to provide a solid base to work from.

Because the angle iron is fairly rigid, I opted to us it to help make sure all of my ribs were in a straight line. I did this by installing the outer-most ribs in place and attaching the angle iron to the rib legs. This gave me a solid mounting location for the remaining rib legs. I could place the leg between the angle iron, then slide the upright “C” studs into place.

The angle iron attached to the ribs.

Tray Ceiling DIY Overview Contents May Blow

I used normal steel stud screws to attach the angle iron to the rib in the rear (the section near the wall), but I wanted to reinforce the front face. Here I drilled a hole through the angle iron and the steel stud, then placed a machine screw, washer and nut to hold it together. These screws do have larger heads, so later I needed to drill a hole through the drywall to fit over the screw head.

I started by building the ribs for the long sides of the room, then I notched the long sides to fit the angle iron for the width of the room. From there I proceeded to fill in with ribs across the length of the required area.

My living room wasn’t square, and I wanted to follow the angles so my tray needed a little extra creative work to get the shape that I ultimately wanted.

Once the ribs were in place I ran wiring through the ribs for my eventual use for lighting (both can lights and rope light in the tray).

One of my first major problems that needed to be solved was how to attach drywall to the “floor” of the tray. With only about 4” of clearance there was no way I was going to be able to simply screw some drywall to the studs (not to mention there really isn’t a surface to attach it to). I considered leaving it bare since no one would ever see the surface, however I was worried about reflections (and it just didn’t feel right to leave it unfinished).

Instead I cut my drywall, test fitted it, marked the position of the ribs, then cut small pieces of “C” studs and screwed the drywall to those small sections. I could then place the drywall with “C” studs attached into the opening. I then screwed the “C” studs into place from the sides.

The rest of the tray is pretty straight forward when it comes to drywall. Eventually you will discover issues trying to get the corners in the tray taped and painted, but these are all issues that a little bit of time will get you through.

NOTE: I am not a professional in the construction industry, use the information here at your own risk (i.e. if your project falls apart its not my fault)!


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