How to Install Paneling

A back wall covered in wood paneling.
  • 5-10 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 100-300
What You'll Need
Measuring tape
Marking chalk
Furring strips
Damp proofing supplies (as needed)
Fine-tooth saw
Coping saw
Keyhole Saw
Pencil compass
Miter saw

Wall panels are an easy way to improve and add variety to the look of an interior space. They come in many styles and thicknesses that you can choose from. Regardless of these variations, installation is a DIY project easily accomplished with the right steps. This article will explain how to go about adding paneling to your home.

Step 1 - Estimate Materials

Paneling is sold both in boards and sheets, but sheets are generally a little easier to install. They usually come in 4x8 pieces, so to approximate how much you will need, first measure the total square footage of the wall or area to be paneled. If there are any doors or windows in the space, subtract the area needed for them and divide the remaining number by 32 to determine how many panels you need to buy.

paneling diagram

Step 2 – Prepare the Panels and the Walls

Wood expands and contracts with temperature and humidity fluctuations, which can cause problems if the paneling is installed straightaway after coming from an especially hot, cold, dry, or humid environment. Leave the sheets where they will be installed for two to five days to allow them to adjust to the temperature and humidity.

Thin panels will require backing, so these should not be used unless it is over an existing wall. Panels wider than 1/4-inch do not require backing and can be installed on wall frames with no issue.

When paneling over a solid backing, you’ll need to make any necessary repairs first so that wall is flush and even. Then, locate the studs and make lines on the wall to mark their location. Furring strips, in 1x3 or 1x4 measurements, can also be secured to the studs to provide a base for nailing the wall paneling. These should be attached to the studs plumb and flat to ensure the panels also lay flat. Place them 16 inches apart horizontally or vertically, with blocking added every four feet between furring. A 1/4-inch space should also be left at the top and bottom of the wall to account for any uneven areas in the floor and ceiling. Nails should extend one inch into the studs through the furring strips for a good hold. You can glue them on, but it's better to use anchors.

When installing on a framed wall, make sure the studs are spaced properly (either 16-inches or 24-inches apart). Damp-proof any exterior walls you’re paneling, and add backing to reach each corner.

Damp-proof a brick wall as well if you're paneling over it. There are many reasons for moisture buildup, so find a solution that properly addresses the problem before doing anything else.

measuring panel

Remove all molding, trim, and fixtures and shut off the power to all lights and electrical outlets as well.

Step 3 - Measure and Cut the Panels

Do a dry run with the panels to see how they all line up, and rearrange them as needed to get the best result. Mark the backs of the panels or lay them back down in the order they were arranged so when they are secured to the wall, it is done correctly. The panels should be 1/4-inch shorter than the ceiling.

Use a plumb to place the first panel. The outer brim must be centered so you may have to trim a bit using a fine-tooth saw. Scribe the wall if it is not plumb. Mark the uneven areas and shape them with a coping saw.

outline of outlet on new panel

You’ll need to cut the panels to fit any type of fixture, window, or doorway. For electrical boxes and fixtures, simply chalk around the space to be accommodated and press the loose panel against it, making a clear outline of the area to be cut. Drill holes at the corners and use a keyhole saw to make the cuts, extending it by 1/4-inch all around to be safe.

Measure the area for any doors and windows instead of just chalking. Then, mark the measurements on the panel and make your cuts extend 1/4-inch beyond the space required, just as before.

measuring panel
When cutting, keep from getting ragged edges on the faces of panels by hand-sawing from the finished side or saber-sawing from the backside. Also, use a pencil compass to scribe irregular corners onto panels, and cut with a coping saw for a perfect corner fit.

Step 4 – Install with Nails and Adhesive

Once you have it all planned, it’s time to glue and nail the panels into place. A single 10-ounce container of adhesive can be used on up to four panels. Apply 1/8x3-inch bands of adhesive to the wall frame or solid surface in a zigzag pattern. Leave a millimeter space between each panel to allow for expansion and contraction as you stick them to the wall or frame. Then, lightly nail the tops so that they stay in position, and pull the bottoms out and set them on a block of wood. Once the adhesive becomes tacky, press the panel into place and tap it with a hammer to secure the bond.gluing paneling

Drive a nail every four inches on the ends and every eight inches everywhere else. Don't nail opposite ends before moving forward, since doing so can form pockets. When driving the nails, put a cloth over your hammer head to prevent damage, and follow the manufacturer's instructions when selecting proper type of nails for your panel. Countersink and putty the nails as you finish. Use additional nails to add extra security to heavy panels.

Step 5 - Finishing Touches

Paneling over an existing wall will increase the wall’s thickness, so door jambs, window frames, and electrical outlets will have to be modified to accommodate for the extra space.

Replace or add new molding around the floor and ceiling to complete the project, using a miter saw to cut or trim it to the right size. Glue and nail the molding in place with finishing nails and cover with wood putty for a perfect finish.

Information in this article has been furnished by the National Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors.