How to Remove Tongue and Groove Paneling for Refinishing

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  • 5-15 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 50-500
What You'll Need
Crow bar with flat end
Nail setting tool
Wood panels
Sandpaper or electric sander
Paint brush
Wood stain

Tongue and groove paneling has the advantage of allowing you to use fewer nails. This makes removing the panels a much easier and less labor-intensive process when you're ready to update your walls. Wood paneling will also periodically need to be refinished. Removing them from the walls is necessary for this project as well. Any nails that are used to hold them in place can be easily loosened through a nail setting tool. This will reduce the chances of wood splintering, cracking or being damaged.

Step 1 - Loosen Nails

weathered paneling

Tongue and groove fixtures typically snap together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. Each is secured with a single nail, usually a 6d or 8d nail. Begin at one end of the wall and locate each of these nails in each tongue and groove fitting. Carefully fit the nail setting tool over the first nail head and tap the back end of this tool with your hammer until the nail is pushed through the wood pane enough to pull it out with the claw end of your hammer. Repeat this process on each tongue and groove nail throughout your wall paneling.

Step 2 - Pry off Panels

Fit the flat end of your crowbar underneath your first wood panel and carefully lift until the panel comes loose from the wall. Loosen it in this fashion from floor to ceiling. This should make the removal process easier. Be careful that you do not rush or pull too hard in order to avoid cracking or splitting the wood. Dislodge this panel loose from its tongue and groove fittings. If any additional nail fasteners come loose during this process, be sure to keep them in a safe place for when you will be refitting your wood panels. Repeat this step on the rest of your wall section.

Step 3 - Refinish Wood Panels

wood paneled wall

Wood panels can be refinished with either wood stain or with wood sealant. In either case, you will need to sand away the first layer of old sealant or stain. Many wood panels are light and thin enough to be easily sanded by hand with light to medium grit sandpaper. However, you can use an electric sander if the stain is heavier or more difficult to remove. Once all of your panels are sanded, sweep up and wipe away any sanding dust. Apply your new coat of stain and/or sealant and allow this to dry overnight.

Step 4 - Replace Wood Panels

Once your wood panels are completely dry from the refinishing process, fit them back in place by snapping each tongue and groove paneling together securely. Replace and hammer in each tongue and groove nail as well as any other nail fittings. Check that each two panel set is secure before moving onto the next set of panels.