Tongue and groove paneling was a popular feature of many homes decades ago. Individual slats of paneling as well as fiberboard sheets were used to give rooms a naturalistic appearance and ambiance. Unfortunately, the very dated-looking fake wood paneling hasn't kept up with fashion. In homes where tongue and groove paneling continues to make its mark and impair efforts at modernization, there is hope. Rather than remove it, which can be very time consuming and tedious, it's possible to cover it and gain a fresh start in a room.
Drywall Compound as Groove Concealer
Drywall compound, or mud as it's known among pros, is used to finish newly hung drywall. It's designed to fill in the joints or seams between adjacent sheets of drywall. Using multiple layers over an initial strip of drywall tape, it's applied in ever-wider swaths to conceal the joints and create a flat, smooth surface upon which to texture, prime and paint. With tongue and groove paneling, evenly spaced gaps or grooves are features of both slats and full-sheet panels. Drywall compound can be used to fill them in the same manner as drywall. Once completed, the wall can be painted or otherwise decorated.
Prep the Wood Paneling
Before beginning the process of filling in the grooves with drywall mud, any additional materials atop the wood must be removed. This includes paneling strips which were sometimes used to cover the grooves for added effect. If there are baseboards, they should be removed as well. Remove outlet or light switch plates as well as any other fixture covers. Regardless of the type of paneling, whether wooden slats or full-sheet panels, it should be scrubbed down thoroughly before you attempt to refinish it. A degreasing agent will cut through grime and any waxy residue that has built up over the years.
Coat Wall with Primer
In order to achieve the best results when finally applying the drywall compound, first paint the entire area with some type of bonding primer. Oil-based and water-based are the 2 alternatives. Oil-based primer dries faster, but produces harsh fumes. This coating essentially gives the drywall mud something to grab onto, preventing it from cracking and/or flaking off sometime down the road.
It's best not to rely on the drywall compound itself to fill the often wide gaps between tongue and groove paneling. Run a bead of silicone caulk along each gap after priming the wall. Smooth it into the grooves with a finger. This will help to fill the space, while creating a flatter surface over which to apply the mud.
Apply Drywall Mud in Layers
Plan on covering the entire wall in at least 3 layers of mud. After the caulk is dry, begin coating the wall in mud with an 8 or 10-inch drywall knife. Hold the knife at about a 45-degree angle, and scrape it over the surface of the wall. Smooth out any bumps by scraping the knife over the area and wiping away excess. After the first layer is dry, follow it with another layer, then another. It will likely take a few days to complete the job, as each layer should be allowed a full day to dry. Once complete, it's time to apply primer and paint.