Installing Wood Paneling

Lead Image
  • 3-4 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 150-275
What You'll Need
Panel timber
2x1-inch planed lumber (framework)
Saw/chop saw
Rawl plugs
Spirit level

I don't know if it's an age-related thing, but as I get older I seem to like wood panelling more and more. It seems that once again it's becoming popular in the marketplace. I suspect the popularity of period dramas such as "Downton Abbey" has had some influence on this, although we're not all able to afford the glorious solid oak panelling that was used in years gone by and on such a grand scale. I've noticed specialist wooden panel installation companies cropping up to serve this design trend, but I suspect they will charge you a princely sum. It's a project that DIYers can tackle on their own, however, that will save some money.

What to Know Before Beginning

Wood paneling can really transform a room, but there's several considerations you should make concerning the type of wood and style of paneling. There are different materials available for this purpose, from solid wood to MDF. Modern routing techniques and computer controlled manufacturing also allow for extensive choices of patterns and finishes.

Generally there is the vertical, cladding type of panel with a tongue and groove material. The other type is comprised of two sheets of material glued together, the backing sheet and a second sheet providing the pattern. These are then finished off with molding to hide the edges and provide a clean finish.

For an effective but cheap installation, you could buy sheets of MDF and then route lines into the timber, ensuring that you only go partially into the material. Once fixed to the wall and painted, this will give the impression of individual timbers. Other considerations include the height of the panelling. If you're really adventurous, you could go floor to ceiling, although unless you have a really big room this may feel imposing.

Once you've worked out a design and dimensions and calculated the amount of material required, you're ready to go.

Note: Before beginning, use a pipe/cable detector to ensure you're not drilling through anything other than plaster or brickwork. The following assumes that this check has been completed.

Step 1 - Check Walls for Damp

If there's any mold or paint flaking on the walls, it will need correcting before installing the panelling. Timber obviously doesn't like damp and just covering over it won't rectify the situation and is actually likely to make it worse.

Step 2 - Mark Out

A m an using a spirit level on a wall.

Mark out on the wall the height of the top of the panel. Use a spirit level or laser level to mark this line across all walls where the panel is going to be installed.

Mark out where the supporting lumber batten is going to be installed. Generally, this would be at the top of the panel, at the bottom of the panel, and then horizontally between pieces. I suggest these pieces should be spaced every two feet so that the panel is fixed well to the wall.

Mark everything out with pencil lines and a spirit level so that you can see exactly where everything will go. Don't forget to include any additional decorative bits such as moldings that will sit on the top edge of the panel if you are finishing half-way up the wall.

Step 3 - Measure and Cut Framework, Pre-Drill Holes

On the walls, accurately measure the battening. Mark this measurement on the lumber and cut. Sand off any rough edges. Pre-drill holes in batten to screw to the wall.

Step 4 - Fix Batten to the Wall

Line up the batten with the markings on the wall and spot on the wall through the holes in the lumber. Using a small masonry drill, drill the hole. I've used size six rawl plugs and therefore a size six drill. Fit the rawl plugs into the holes—you may need to tap in with a hammer if it's a tight fit. Screw in timber through middle hole, but not too tight. Ensure timber is horizontal.

Once satisfied, mark the remaining holes on the wall using the pencil. Remove timber from the wall and drill holes, using a smaller drill first. Fit rawl plugs. Screw lumber to the wall and tighten up. This should now be fixed firmly to the wall. Repeat for all battening.

Step 5 - Offer Up Panels to the Batten

Put the timber panels in place so that you can mark up any plumbing or electrical considerations. For example, plug sockets may need to be cut into the panels using a jigsaw. You could measure everything ahead of this time, but I'd rather be safe and only do this when you're 100% sure where it's going to go. Once all of this is sorted and the electrics have been fed through the new holes, then you're ready to fix the panel to the wall.

Step 6 - Fit Panel to Wall

In order to keep fixings hidden as much as possible, I'm going to suggest using glue and pins to fix the panel to the batten. Put the glue on the batten and once that's all done for the whole panel, squeeze the panel up against the glue and then use a hammer to secure the pins in place. Repeat for all of the panels.

Step 7 - Fix Moldings in Place

Use the same technique to add skirting boards or edgings where required.

Step 8 - Paint to Finish

Someone applying stain to wood paneling.

Finish off with paint or varnish depending on the style that you're going for. You can make this more complicated by adding a destressed look, or keep it simple by using a good quality paint. Varnish won't work with MDF, so only use that if using real timber.

This process will take time and patience, and slapping paint on the wall is much quicker and cheaper. However, you will end up with a unique room that will look great.