Wall Panels

Starting the Project

Because not all houses would have been built with the same wall types, these steps must be taken prior to installation of wall panels:

When installing on solid backing 

Locate the wall studs. Repair the old wall, ensuring that it is nailed tightly to its framing. The framing behind walls usually runs vertically on 16″ centers or sometimes 24″ centers. When you find one stud, you can usually locate the others easily by measuring, or with a stud finder. Mark the locations by snapping or drawing vertical lines along the studs, then continuing along the lines (or use tape) several inches out onto both the ceiling and the floor as guides for when the panels cover the marks at the studs.

When installing on framed wall

Check and mark the studs to be sure they are vertical and on 16″ or 24″ spacing. Also make sure that backing is provided at all corners, at the top and bottom of the wall and around any openings. Outside walls should have a vapor barrier over the faces of the studs.

When installing on masonry wall

Check the masonry walls for excessive moisture. Walls with moisture must be completely waterproofed before they are paneled. Moisture can sometimes be caused by condensation. Add a waterproof vapor barrier over the wall, then add furring strips for support. Once you have marked/prepped/applied furring strips to the different types of walls you can begin installing the wall panels. 

Step 1: If the panels have variable patterns like wood-grains, do a ‘dry-run’ by arranging them around the room and re-arrange / invert them for the most pleasing pattern. 

Step 2: Begin at the first corner you see as you enter the room. Trim each panel to 1/4″ shorter than the ceiling height. The first corner panel must be exactly plumb, by checking with a level or chalked plumb line snapped on the wall. Its outer edge must be centered on a framing member, with having to trim the edge against the corner to bring the outer edge over a stud or framing strip. 

Double-check all measurements before sawing the panel. 

Step 3: Work from the back (reverse side) of the panels when cutting with a saber saw/circular saw/radial-arm saw. Always cut with a fine tooth saw. When working on a table or hand crosscut saw work from the finished side of the panel. 

If the corner of the wall is not plumb or is irregular, the edge of the panel against that corner can be scribed to fit. Plumb the panel 2 inch back from the corner. Then, holding the pencil compass horizontally (see figure on left), scribe a line onto the panel with the compass point following the irregularities. Cut the panel along this marked line with a coping saw. It should fit easily against the wall corner now. 

Nail (or glue and nail) the first panel to the wall. Continue on with the other panels, making sure there isn’t a ‘too tight fit’ between the panels, always leaving the thickness of a dime between the panels to avoid expansion problems. So that these gaps aren’t too conspicuous, pre-colour the gaps between the panels with a marking pen or stripe of paint the same colour as the grooves. 

When paneling with nails – Cover hammer head with a rag to protect the face of your panels when nailing and only use nails recommended by the manufacturer of the paneling purchased, like 1 inch brands or 3-penny finishing nails. Nails need to be extra long (usual 1-5.8 inch) if you are nailing through an older wall to penetrate into the framing. Place nails every 4 to 6 inches along the panel edges and every 8 to 12 inches throughout the rest of the panel on studs. Work from one edge and move across the panel to the other edge. DO NOT work from opposite edges first then to the middle of a wall. Drive the nails about 1/32″ below the surface with a nail set. Countersunk holes may be filled later with a matching colored putty stick. If you use color-matched nails, countersinking and puttying will not be necessary.

When installing with adhesive – Apply 3 inch long 1/8 inch beads of a solvent-based panel adhesive to the studs or solid-backed wall. Apply a continuous zigzag bead at panel edge. Wallpaper must be removed if the wall has been papered, before applying adhesive. Or consider simply nailing the paneling over the wallpaper. 

Place the panel in position on the adhesive and drive several nails loosely across the top to hinge it in the proper position. Pull the panel about 10 inch from the wall at the bottom, resting it on a block of wood. The adhesive will become tacky in 2 to 10 minutes. Once adhesive become tacky, press the panel firmly against the adhesive and tap all over it with a hammer and cloth-padded wood block or rubber mallet. The “hinge” nails at the top can be covered later with trim, or else countersunk and filled over.

If installing heavy panels

Hammer nails 16 to 20 inches apart when installing heavy panels, as they will need additional support. There is no need to pull the panel away from the wall to allow the adhesive to become tacky if you are installing heavy panels.

Fitting electrical boxes – Chalk the wall around the edges of box, then hold the panel in position and tap it lightly against the chalked box. The box outline should have been transferred to the back of the panel. Remember to adjust outlet box outward to meet the surface of the paneling. Drill 4 holes at the corners of the chalk outline, and make a cut out (1/4 inch larger than the cut line) with a keyhole saw. 

Installing around doorways – Measure horizontally (A) from the last panel installed to the untrimmed opening where you want the edge of the panel to reach. Measure from the floor to the ceiling (B) and top of the door to the ceiling (C).  Transfer these measurements onto the face of the panel, and saw out the rectangle of waste material. Saw to leave a 1/4″ gap between the edge of the panel and the opening. Paneling around a fireplace will have to be scribed. Use trim to hide any rough edges.

Trimming – Some plastic-finished panels use built-in metal or vinyl moldings that are installed at the same time as the paneling. Paneling in bathrooms is often done this way, using a troweled-on adhesive. Most trim, however, is installed with nails after the paneling. Cut wood or plastic moldings in a miter box using a fine-tooth saw. Nail it into position with small finishing nails, countersinking the nails and filling the holes with putty stick. If the moldings are pre-finished, clean them with a dry cloth. Otherwise, apply paint or stain and a clear finish to complete your paneling project.