How to Make a Bulkhead for a Ceiling

Shawndra Russell

Bulkheads are typically used in construction to divide one ceiling from another. Usually, the ceilings have differing heights, but bulkheads are also used to break construction on large ceilings.

Quality lumber is an essential part of completing a bulkhead.

There are many different construction methods, depending on the design and application, but the most common one is essentially built the same way as a typical wall. The major difference is that instead of attaching the bottom cord to the floor, it remains suspended in air. Bulkheads are typically built out of 2-inch-by-4-inch or 2-inch-by-6-inch wood boards. For these instructions, 2-inch-by-4-inch boards will be used.


Make sure that existing framing members are straight and level before beginning. Top and bottom plates might not be the same length if walls are not square. Nail guns make it easier to nail the studs into the top plate. Framing nails can be used to attach the bottom plate to the studs, but framing screws will help ensure that the plate does not separate from the studs over time.


Make sure that there are no obstructions in the ceiling before starting, especially electrical and water lines. Different bulkhead designs may require additional wood blocking depending on size and load properties. Always check local codes and requirements before starting. Safety glasses should be worn whenever using power tools.

  1. Measure the length of where the bulkhead will be installed. If it is in a corridor, for example, it will be the distance from one side wall to the other. This measurement will give you the length of the 2-inch-by-4-inch board that will be nailed across the ceiling, which is referred to as the top plate.

  2. Cut one of the boards to the length measured in Step 1 to create the top plate of the bulkhead. Put a mark on the board with the pencil to identify the specified length. Draw a straight line on it at this mark using the framing square as a straightedge. Cut along the line using the skill saw.

  3. Repeat Step 2 to create the bottom plate, the board that runs horizontally across the bottom portion of the bulkhead. Measure the wall where the bottom board will go to make sure that it is indeed the same size as the top plate, before measuring and cutting. Sometimes the walls are not square, which would cause the two lengths to be different.

  4. Attach the top plate of the bulkhead to the ceiling with framing screws and a hammer. Make sure that there is a solid nailing surface above before you start driving in nails. Start at one end of the top plate about 1 inch from the vertical wall and put in two evenly spaced nails. Continue with two nails every 16 inches along the top plate to completely attach it to the ceiling, making sure that the nails are secured in the floor joists above the bulkhead.

  5. Lay out the top plate for where the vertical studs will be located. Stretch the tape measure across the top plate and make a mark every 2 feet. With the framing square as a straightedge, make a line at each mark perpendicular to the top plate.

  6. Measure and cut studs for the top plate. Keep in mind that the top and bottom plates are each 1.5 inches wide. If you want a 12-inch bulkhead, the studs should be measured and cut to 9 inches long. Also, make two studs that will sit flush against the walls at either end of the bulkhead.

  7. Attach the studs to the bulkhead using the construction adhesive and framing nails. Make sure that the studs are in the middle of the lines made during layout and that they remain flush with the edges of the top plate. Apply construction adhesive to the faces of the two end studs so that they are securely glued to each wall. Before nailing, put a bead of glue on the tops of the studs that are to be nailed to the top plate. Secure each one with three nails, two on one side of the stud and one on the opposite side, by nailing them at 45-degree angles. Ensure that the nails go through the stud and directly into the top plate.

  8. Screw the bottom plate onto the bulkhead. Start with one of the far ends of the bulkhead along the wall. Put two screws through the bottom of the bottom plate directly into the stud above. Make sure that the ends of the stud are flush with the bottom plate. Repeat this process for the remainder of the studs, making sure to level each one with the torpedo level in the process.