Paneling 6 - Fitting Wood Faced Panels Around Openings

Margin of Error: 1/4" where covered by trim. Exact where exposed.

Most common mistakes include:

  1. Overcutting window, door, and electrical openings.
  2. Neglecting to have all electrical wiring and plumbing completed prior to
    application of paneling.

The easiest way to get an accurate door or window opening measurement is to have one person hold the sheet of paneling in place over the opening while another traces the line of the opening on the back of the panel. This works best for doors. If you are unable to get to the back of the panel, you will need to do it all with measurements as described next.

If you are not planning to butt the paneling up against the molding, carefully remove the molding with a pry bar, using a wooden wedge for leverage.

Place the panel in position over the window, pushing it tightly up against the previously installed panel. Be sure that the 1/4" gap between the floor and the panel is maintained with shims, and use a level to check that the panel is plumb. Place marks on the edge of the panel to indicate the top and bottom of the window or opening. Measure and record the distance from each mark to the side of the window. Transfer these measurements to the back of the panel. Use a straightedge to connect the points.

For smaller things like electrical boxes, mark the edge of the box with chalk or lipstick. Then position the panel over it. Give the panel a whack over the opening and the imprint should appear clearly on the back of the panel. Then, make your pencil lines and cut on the back of the panel to avoid splintering the veneer with your circular saw.

Tip: Use a painter's plastic drop cloth to prevent the buildup of moisture between the new insulation and the new paneling.

Building Out

When installing paneling over an existing wall, there can be a problem with the trim. The widths of original door and window jambs were calculated to fit the existing wall, and the addition of the new paneling makes the wall thicker by 1/4" or more.

There are several ways to approach this problem. You can replace all door and window jambs with wider boards, but this is costly and time consuming. An easier solution would be to cut the panels to fit exactly up to the trim. This way, you would not have to remove the trim and replace it on top of the paneling to cover your mistakes. This is the easiest solution, if you are confident you can make good exact cuts.

This is often difficult to do when ripping a long piece of paneling. If your cuts waver, it may be necessary to add small shoe molding between the paneling and trim to cover those mistakes.

Another method is to add 1/4" jamb extender strips to the jambs and then paint them to match. These strips leave a small gap between the old jamb and the new strip, which can be puttied and painted to match. These are usually available at home centers or millwork shops.

A final option is to cut a groove on the back side of the trim so that it sets in the paneling and covers its edge. This requires running each piece through a grooving process with a router or table saw. Inquire whether your supplier has a preformed piece of trim that will work. All three systems have their advantages and drawbacks. Consider the one that will work best for you.


Now and then a panel must butt up against an irregular surface. With a fireplace, for instance, the wall goes from board to masonry, and you have a wavy corner to match up. For these situations, you will find "scribing" to be the easiest and most effective way of fitting the panel tightly in place.

Begin by measuring from the edge of the last full sheet to the very farthest point of the irregularity. Make a note of that distance, and then cut your panel to that width. Next, measure the distance from the edge of the last full sheet of paneling to the nearest point of the irregularity. Make a note of that distance. Subtract the second measurement from the first to get the 'scribing distance." Then, position the panel you need to trim and fit so that it overlaps the last full sheet of paneling by the "scribing distance." Use your level to position it plumb and tack it temporarily into place.

Set a simple dime-store compass to the "scribing distance." Hold the compass with the tip and the pencil horizontal; ride the tip along the irregular surface while the pencil runs along the panel you wish to trim. Trace the irregular line carefully from the top of the panel to the bottom. The result will be a line on the panel which should be the exact profile of the irregularity. This line can now be cut with a jig saw. Smooth the cut edge with a rasp or sanding block. Now glue or nail the panel into place. (A contour gauge can be used to transfer complex details accurately.)

If you are starting at a corner that is irregular, measure out from the corner 48" to the center of a stud. (See the section above on Paneling over Existing Walls to determine stud positions on finished walls.) Snap a plumb chalkline down the center of the stud to establish the position of the edge of the panel. Mark these positions on the ceiling and floor for a nailing reference. Place the panel snug into the corner as possible with a level on the opposite vertical edge to plumb the panel. Temporarily tack it in place at the top and bottom. Measure from the panel edge to the center line of the stud marked on the floor to determine your "scribing distance." This measurement should be the same at the ceiling and at the floor. Scribe and cut with a jigsaw, smooth, and install panel, as described above.

When applying paneling over existing white walls, a white streak can sometimes show through between joints of two panels. To avoid this, paint the existing nails with a 1 1/2" dark strip at these points.

Tip: Miter cut the ends at a 45-degree angle so that the two pieces of molding overlap each other to make a cleaner-looking trim.