How to Remove Tongue and Groove Paneling for Refinishing

large room with paneled wall
  • 5-15 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 50-500
What You'll Need
Crow bar with flat end
Nail setting tool
Wood panels
Sandpaper or electric sander
Paint brush
Wood stain

Tongue and groove paneling has the advantage of allowing you to use fewer nails. This makes removing the panels a much easier and less labor-intensive process. Wood paneling also needs to be refinished periodically. Removing them from the walls is necessary for this project as well. Any nails that are used to hold them in place can be easily loosened through a nail setting tool. This will reduce the chances of wood splintering, cracking, or being damaged.

Step 1 - Loosen Nails

weathered paneling

Tongue and groove fixtures typically snap together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. Each one is secured with a single nail, usually a 6d or 8d nail. Beginning at one end of the wall, locate the first run of nails, and using a cats paw or a crowbar, tap the back end of the chosen tool with your hammer until the nail is pushed through the wood pane enough to pull it out with the claw end of your hammer. Repeat this process on each tongue and groove nail throughout your wall paneling.

Pry off Panels

Fit the flat end of your crowbar underneath your first wood panel and carefully lift until the panel comes loose from the wall. Loosen it in this fashion from floor to ceiling. This should make the removal process easier. Be careful that you do not rush or pull too hard in order to avoid cracking or splitting the wood. Dislodge this panel from its tongue and groove fittings. If any additional nail fasteners come loose during the process, make sure you keep them in a safe place for when you will be refitting the panels. Repeat this step on the rest of your wall section.

Refinish Wood Panels

wood paneled wall

Wood panels can be refinished with either wood stain or wood sealant. Either way, you'll need to sand off the first layer of old sealant or stain. Many wood panels are light and thin enough that they can be easily sanded by hand with light to medium grit sandpaper. You can use an electric sander if the stain is heavier or more difficult to remove. Once all of the panels are sanded, sweep up and wipe away all of the sanding dust. Apply a new coat of stain and/or sealant and allow it to dry overnight.

Replace Wood Panels

Once your panels are completely dry, simply fit them back into place by snapping each tongue and groove panel back together securely. Replace and hammer in each nail, as well as any other fittings. Check that each set of two panels are secure before moving onto the next set of panels.