Paneling 5 - Application of Wood Faced Panels

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The easiest paneling situation uses wood-faced panels. Most paneling sheets come in four foot wide, eight foot high sheets with a thin veneer surface. These are the most popular material on the market today and come in various styles, patterns, wood types, and quality.

Most Common Mistakes

The most common mistakes when installing wood faced paneling include neglecting to furr out an existing wall prior to installing the paneling; not adding insulation or a vapor barrier over an outside or basement wall; cutting panels face up with a saber or circular saw, thereby splintering the veneer panel; and neglecting to check that each panel is plumb on the wall before applying the next.

Make sure not to transfer measurements to the panel incorrectly or to the wrong side. Do not use a finishing hammer and finishing saw blades when working with paneling.

Paneling Over Exposed Stud Walls

This is the easiest paneling project because you are working with bare studs and have no structural or surfacing problems to contend with. You can use either a paneling adhesive or nails to attach panels to a stud wall. This is a matter of personal preference, although adhesive has the advantage of eliminating visible nailheads and reducing nail pops.

If you are using adhesive, use a caulking gun loaded with a paneling adhesive to apply a 3/8" zigzag ribbon of glue to the studs and top and bottom plates. If you have access to an air compressor, the application of adhesive to the studs can be made even easier with a caulking gun attachment. Position the panel to the wall with edges aligned to the center line of the end studs. If no stud occurs at the edge, you will need to add one. To do this, simply toe nail it into the top and bottom plate so that the center of the stud occurs where the two panels meet. Position the panel with a quarter-inch clearance at the top and bottom. Shim material can help you here to hold up the panel for clearance. Shims are small wooden wedges that can be purchased from your home center store or made from scrap wood at home. Or you can use a foot fulcrum to raise the panel into position.


Place a level against the edge of the panel to check that it is plumb, making certain your panel is in the correct position before nailing it into the studs. All paneling should be held in place with a minimum of one nail in each corner when using adhesive. If you are using nails, use 1 inch color-coordinated paneling nails placed 6 inches apart on all edges and 12 inches apart on intermediate studs.

Use a finishing hammer to nail the panel along the edge enough to hold it in position, tack it at the top and bottom, and press your weight against it to make good contact with the adhesive. If you must rip a piece of paneling to fit an area less than 4 feet wide, be sure to apply the factory edge against the factory edge of the adjoining piece. To avoid splintering, use a plywood blade and cut the panel from the backside.

Paneling over Existing Walls

When paneling over an existing wall that is in good shape, you will need to mark off the positions of the studs for nailing reference. Studs are usually located every 16 inches or 24 inches on center. Tap along the wall with a hammer until you hear a solid sound, look for seams, or drill a hole to verify that you have located the stud. Mark the position on the floor and ceiling and pop a chalk line to mark the center of the stud on the wall. Locate all studs for the entire area of wall space you will be paneling. Don't worry about drilling holes in the wall. These will be covered by the paneling.

The paneling nail must be long enough to go through the material firmly into the stud, so choose your nail lengths according to the material on your walls. Paneling nails come in different colors to match different wood types. Once inserted, they are practically invisible. Nailing across the width of the panel prevents bulges. The nails should be spaced 6 inches apart around all edges and 12 inches apart in the center. Many panel patterns are designed so that their V-grooves align over studs, thereby allowing you to nail in the grooves.

When placing your panels in position, be certain they are plumb before nailing them permanently in place. To do this, simply hold a 4 foot level against the edge of the paneling.

If you choose to use adhesive to attach your paneling over existing walls, measure over from a corner 49 feet (the width of a panel) and snap a plumb chalk line vertically on the wall. This will tell you how far to spread the adhesive for each panel. Continue measuring and snapping plumb lines at 4 foot intervals along the walls to be paneled.

Apply a 3/8 inche bead of paneling adhesive around the perimeter of the area defined on the wall and an "X" bead connecting opposite corners. Here, too, an air compressor with caulking gun attachment would be a time and energy saver. Push the panel into the glued surface and use a level to make certain it is plumb before you tack it into position and glue it down permanently. The other panels will then align according to this first one. Again, keep in mind when using an adhesive that all panels should be held in place with a minimum of one nail in each corner.

Paneling over Masonry or Deteriorated Walls

Because a masonry surface (or an old plaster wall with cracks, bulges, and loose plaster) is so hard to penetrate with paneling nails, and because it is such an uneven surface, "furring strips" must be added to such walls.

To attach the 2x2 inch furring strips and use either adhesive or a ramset which can be rented from your local home center. Wear safety glasses and ear protectors when using a ramset and be sure to use the right size nails and "bullets." (If the plaster wall is in really bad shape, you may wish to remove all the old plaster, rather than furr out. Use the claw side of a hammer to break the plaster away - right down to the studs, or at least the lath. This is a very messy, labor-intensive job and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.)

Furring should be installed with a horizontal piece at the top and bottom and vertical strips 16 inches on center, simulating a stud wall. Use a level on the furring strips and even out the irregularities in the masonry or plaster with shim material to get the furring surfaces level and even with each other. When this is completed you will have a wooden structure to hold the paneling solidly. If you are working on an uninsulated exterior wall, we also recommend cutting rigid foam-core insulation to friction-fit in the spaces between the furring strips. Measure the space between each furring strip separately, at both top and bottom. This will give you a custom friction-fit

Next, add a vapor barrier of six ml. visqueen. This is just a painter's plastic drop cloth to prevent the buildup of moisture between the insulation and the new paneling. You need only attach the vapor barrier to the top. Gravity and the paneling will keep it in place without puncturing too many holes in the plastic, which would destroy its ability to effectively keep moisture out. Now you can attach your paneling over the vapor barrier with nails. Adhesive cannot be used in this situation. Insulated walls that already have a vapor barrier do not require one directly behind the paneling.