Paneling provides a distinctive design element, and the wide range of available materials and patterns make it extremely versatile. There are several advantages to using paneling rather than other finish wall materials.
It is extremely durable and almost maintenance-free. Once installed, it needs little if any finishing. Paneling will cover a damaged wall so long as you do some preliminary steps including smoothing the damaged surface.
The disadvantages are that, with the exception of minor scratches and blemishes, paneling is hard to repair, and a careless installation can result in shabby-looking seams and edges.
How To Use Paneling
Use paneling wherever wood will create a warm accent. Use it on ceilings, as a wall covering, as wainscot, or to cover doors and shutters. Generally, it is better to use an expensive paneling to cover a small area than cheap paneling to cover a large area.
Board paneling is usually more expensive than sheet paneling, but it has several advantages.
It works better for long runs (ceilings or two-story walls, for example), because individual boards can be joined randomly, whereas 4-foot-wide sheets can only be joined end-to-end.
Board paneling can also be installed diagonally or in a herringbone pattern. It is easier to cut than sheet paneling, although the boards are more tedious to attach.
Most paneling has grooves, which create a strong line pattern that can have different effects depending on use. For instance, a short wall seems taller when covered with vertically grooved paneling. Horizontal paneling makes a wall seem shorter.
If you panel a far wall, perspective lengthens, making the room seem longer. The color of paneling also creates different effects. A ceiling with light paneling, such as maple or some varieties of oak, appears higher.
A room with walls of light paneling appears larger and brighter. Dark paneling makes a ceiling appear lower and creates either an intimate or confined feeling.
Always choose a pattern that is consistent with the overall character of the room. Try to match existing wood trim or other details, especially in homes of a particular architectural style.
Paneling with randomly spaced grooves or a coarse grain that includes worm holes or other markings should be used in casual settings. For a formal look, choose paneling that features a straight, tight grain pattern, narrow boards, and a smooth finish.
If you panel a bathroom or other wet area, use real board paneling of a durable species, such as redwood or cedar. Finish it with several coats of a clear sealer.
Types of Paneling
Boards. Traditionally, paneling consisted of individual boards. It can still be done using dimensional lumber ranging in thickness from 1-by lumber to very thin veneers. Some boards tend to warp and buckle over time, causing gaps at the joints. You can minimize this effect by using kiln-dried lumber.
Tongue-and-Groove. Tongue-and-groove paneling is usually made of soft wood — pine, redwood, or cedar — but oak and mahogany are also available. Some are tongue-and-groove on the ends. Often, single boards are made to look like two or three narrow boards by milling vertical grooves into the single board.
Some types have a rough, or re-sawed surface on one side and a planed surface on the other. Options also include unfinished boards or boards that are prefinished.
Sheet Paneling. The greatest variety of paneling is available in sheets. Paneling sheets are usually 4 feet wide by 8, 9, or 10 feet long. Sheet surface options are almost endless. In some cases real wood strips (veneers), are glued to plywood backing to produce a surface identical to individual board paneling, but it’s less expensive than the real deal.
Some hardwood veneers are thick enough to have V-grooves, and the sheets come completely finished. Most sheet paneling has a printed surface; some is also embossed with wood patterns and textures.
If you decide to install wall paneling yourself, get the right tools and plan for the project. To prepare a surface for paneling, locate all the wall studs and indicate their position with marks on the floor and ceiling.
Then check for high spots and low spots with a long straightedge. If all areas are within ¼ inch of a flat plane, apply paneling directly to the wall after patching holes and cracks and removing nails and other obstructions.
If the wall is irregular, nail 1 by 2 furring strips 2 feet apart and wherever seam panels will occur. If the wall consists of bare studs, nail up ½-inch wallboard and tape it before installing paneling.
Bring the paneling indoors at least 24 hours before installation. Hardboard paneling is particularly susceptible to expansion and contraction, but all paneling needs to acclimate to the home.
Store it flat rather than standing against a wall, and handle it carefully to avoid marring the surface.
Start by planning the layout. Use full sheets whenever possible. Locate filler pieces over doorways and windows. Place all edges directly on the wall or a furring strip. Install the first panel in a prominent corner. Use a level to make sure the sides are plumb.
The easiest way to install paneling is to apply adhesive with a caulking gun. Apply a quick-drying adhesive immediately before each sheet goes up. Some adhesives require that you push the sheet against the adhesive, then pull it away to allow the glue to set before finally pushing the panel into place.
Even with adhesive, most paneling still needs to be nailed along the top and bottom.
Cut sheet paneling with a handsaw, table saw, or circular saw. If you use a handsaw, find one with fine teeth, 10 to 15 points per inch. Saw with the paneling face-up when using a handsaw, table saw, or radial arm saw. Saw with the paneling face-down if you use a portable circular saw.
Clamp a long straightedge to the sheet. Start holes for electric receptacles and other fixtures with a drill and finish them with a jigsaw or keyhole saw.