How to Skim Coat Paneling

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As paneling ages it can becomes unattractive, a process called skim coating is a great way to update your walls without removing the existing paneling. It is a great way to provide a easily paintable surface without the task of removing the paneling.

Skim coating is the process of applying a very thin coat of joint compound or mud to smooth out rough surfaces on walls or ceilings. It is not necessary to do the entire room but you can choose to do only areas that need attention. This procedure can involve only one coat or multiple coats. The number of applications will depend on the texture of the surface beforehand, the compound used and the desired effect.


Before getting started, make sure the paneling is properly anchored to the wall. Make sure the area to be covered is clean and dry.


There are several different types of joint that can be used to skim coat. For use on paneling, using thinned all-purpose joint compound is a good choice. Using a paint pan begin by mixing a cup of the compound powder with half a cup of clean, cool water. Mix the mixture. It will be thick and stiff. Slowly add more water until it is slightly thicker than paint.

First Coat

Using a paint roller apply the first coat. Only apply one coat. Do not go back over any already coated area.


Use a 24-inch joint knife for smoothing after the first coat has been applied. Smaller knives can be used as needed. Leave any ridges that form at the end of the knife. When the coat has dried, smooth out these ridges with 120 medium grit sandpaper.

Additional Coats

Apply additional coats as needed, while sanding in between, to eliminate bubbles and other blemishes. To make it easier to see the imperfections, hold a flashlight up to the covered area. Continue these steps until the desired coverage is achieved. The number of coats can depend on the texture of the paneling. Paneling that has deeper groves will require more coats than paneling that has a smoother texture.

Final Coat

Allow the wall to set and dry for a few hours. Once the area is dry, sand a whole wall by working from the ceiling down to the floor in narrow sections.

Clean Up

Vacuum or brush the dust from the wall. Follow this by wiping the area lightly with a damp cloth or sponge. If you allow the compound to set and dry on the tools used in application, it will be hard to remove. Avoid this by cleaning your tools immediately afterwards. Wash off outside. Do not wash off setting compound down the drain, doing so will result in the compound potentially setting in the pipes and causing a clog. If needed use a razor to chip the set compound off of the pan and joint knife.


After all the dust has been removed and the wall is dry, it is ready to painted or primed. Flat latex finish paint self-primes. Semi-gloss or other shiny paints will need to be primed with flat latex paint or a latex primer.