How to install a basic drop ceiling grid & track system in your basement

By Timothy Chapel

So you want to learn how to install the ceiling track for your basement ceiling?

The drop ceiling grid can be installed after you’ve installed your wall angle and figured your layout. These elements are crucial before you begin the ceiling track installation.

This is part of the drop ceiling grid process which requires the most attention. We have learned over the years that it is very important to install the ceiling track straight, level, and square to avoid any problems while installing the ceiling tile.

Step 1   Cutting and installing the main runners

Begin by reviewing your layout and predetermined border measurements to decide how to cut the end of the main runner. If your border measurement is 9 ½” for example, then take your main runner and measure 9 ½” from the slot to the end of the main without allowing the tape measure to go beyond the end.

grid-1All mains are slotted every 6” and so we will measure 9 ½” past the slot and scribe a mark on the main using our tape measure.

There should be a noticeable line scribed on the metal for you to see.

Next, using your tin snips, cut the end of the main off and give the main a nice angled back-cut.

The back-cut will prevent the main from being held up by fasteners once it’s placed in the wall angle.

You’re going to install 2 mains right away, so you’ll want to cut a second main just like the first.

Once cut…install the main runner onto the wall angle and at about ¾ of the way down the main, temporarily tie up a wire or two to keep the main in place. Do the same thing for the other main runner.

Step 2 Installing the 4’ and 2’ cross tees

After the two main runners have been temporarily hung, go to the wall and verify that the slot is at 9 ½”.  On our main we have 9 ½” at the second slot, so this is the slot we will install our first cross tees into.

grid-2Install the first 4’ cross tee into the slot and then install a couple more every 2’ on center. Remember…Ceiling tiles are either 2×2 or 2×4 so you need to make sure that you have the correct spacing and pattern.

You can do this by simply counting 4 slots over from the last tee you installed. There should be 3 empty slots in between each cross tee. Install as many 4’ tees as you can until you’ve reached the end of the main runner. This will help to give the ceiling grid some rigidity as the grid is pretty flimsy at this point.

Now would also be a good time to install the 2’ cross tees if you have chosen a 2×2 grid pattern.

Step 3 Finishing the 1st two main runner installations

After all of the 4’ and 2’ cross tees have been installed into the first two main runners, if neither main makes it to the end of the room, you will need to add on to them in order to continue the ceiling grid installation.

grid-3Main runners are 12’ long so if the distance from the end of the main to the wall is less than 12’, simple measure from the end of the first main runner to the wall and deduct ¼”.

Place your tape measure on the end of the main and cut the main off using your tin snips. Install the main and when it’s seated properly you should hear an audible click. Do the same thing for the other main and install all of the 4’ and 2’ cross tees.

Step 4 Securing the mains and installing the string line

Once the first two mains are completed and temporarily hung you will need to set the main runners and cut in the cross tees along the perimeter of the wall.

We’ve determined that our border dimension to our first main runner will be 3’ 5” off the wall.

grid-4At the beginning of the first main, we measure over from the wall to the center of the main…Adjust it to 3’ 5” and place a clamp on it to hold it.

Then, using your Strictly Ceilings punch pliers, punch the main runner and install a rivet.

Install a string line on the far side of the main so that we can cut in our wall tees. Run the string line all the way to the end of the room and clamp in on the far side of the main runner at the same measurement. Make sure that the string line is not touching the main runner at any point along the run. If so, use the wires to raise the main off the string line.

Step 5 Cutting the cross tees into the perimeter wall

Once the string line is clear of any obstructions and the ceiling wires are temporarily tied up we can begin installing our wall tees. This is called cutting in the wall.

Begin by taking a tee that fits your dimension. In our case it would be a 4-foot tee because our border dimension was 3’ 5”.

grid-5Place the tee up into the wall angle and butt the tee to the edge of the angle.

Next, align the tee with the 4-foot tee that you installed in the field grid and place your cut tee up to the string line. Then, snip the tee about 1/8” to ¼” short of the string line.

Cut the remaining part of the tee and then cut a back cut on the tee like we did with the main runners. Install the tee and then cut a couple more just like we did with the first one.

Verify that the length of the tee is correct and that it’s not pushing the main out past the string line.

Next…install a couple of 2-foot tees if that is what your application requires.

The perimeter wall tees at this point are not square with the grid and you’ll need to straighten them.

The two methods are as follows:

  • You can use a speed square and simply place the square up to the main at the tee location and tap the tee over until the grid is square, or,
  • You can use your tape measure and simply check for square using the cross method.

Check for square by placing your tape measure on the inside corner edges of the tees. Your measurement for one inch grid should be about 52 ¼”. Be sure to cross check, as some tape measures are different.

Tap the tee over until it is square and place a clamp on it to hold it. Verify that the main is on the string line properly and once the tee is square and on the line…punch the tee and install a rivet.

Do the same thing every 4’ down the length of the perimeter wall.

Step 6 Squaring the field grid

Once all of the tees are cut-in and riveted to the wall, you will need to square the main portion of the grid. This is the area where the first two main runners were installed.

grid-6First check for square to see how far out of square the grid is. Using your tape measure, place it in the corner of the 4’ cross tee and check square by using the 4-foot x 4-foot method, this is the most accurate.

The measurement for standard 1” grid is about 66 3/8”. Once again, be sure to check both ways, as there are variances with some tape measures.

If your grid is not square and you need to adjust it, simply move the main runner in or out to achieve square. This is why we didn’t rivet the 2nd main in the beginning.

Re-check for square and once square…secure the main runner with a rivet.

Step 7 Installing subsequent mains and adjacent wall tees

If you need to install additional main runners, you’ll need to place a string line on any slot of the 1st main runner and string the line across the second main to the opposite wall.

Pull the string tight and move it back and forth until it’s in the center of the slot on the second main. When it’s in the center of the slot on the second main, clamp the string to the wall.

grid-7Measure 4 feet from the second main and place a mark on the wall.

At that mark, measure from the wall to the string. In this case we have 15 and 11/16”.

Take your main runner and with your tape measure, align the measurement with the slot just like we did in the beginning and scribe a line on the main. Cut the main at that location and install just like the first two.

Install all of the 4’ and 2’ cross tees and adjust the main so that slot is on the line. Clamp it, then, punch and rivet it.

For the remaining tees that need to be cut on the opposite perimeter wall, do the same thing as on the first wall that we cut in, cutting the tees 1/8” – ¼” short and install.

Step 8 Leveling the drop ceiling track

Once all the cross tees are installed you’ll need to level the ceiling grid. There are several ways that this can be done.grid-8

  • The first is using a similar method that we used in the beginning. Install a laser at the height of the wall angle and while placing your hand up to the grid, crank the wire up and down until the laser line is just below the main runner. Once below the main…twist the wire a couple of times to secure it.
  • The second method is using the string line. Clamp the line on each end of the main runner and pull the string line as tight as possible. Raise the main so that it is not allowed to touch the line at any point along its run. Then…adjust the main so that it rests about 1/16” above the line without touching it. Once the height is adjusted, twist the wire a couple of times to tie it off.

Review the full video for in depth installation help and tips if you are having trouble with any of the procedures.

For drop ceiling installation tools and hardware:

Good luck with your ceiling project! –Tim

*No Claim is made to the exclusive right to use “CEILINGS” apart from the mark as shown.