Wood Paneling Installation

DEAR MIKE: Don't laugh, but we want to install some wood paneling sheets in our den. We like that rustic look and warmth that paneling can give. We don't want to do the entire room, only two walls so that it doesn't totally look like 1970. How should we start this? -- Sarah J.

DEAR SARAH: You can start by watching a lot of "The Brady Bunch" reruns. Back in the day, the dark paneling was popular, but you can still buy both dark and light colors today. Maybe it was the paneling that made everything so groovy for the Bradys.

Installing paneling is a lot like hanging wallpaper, except, of course, that it's wood and not paper. You will start at a corner of the wall and work your way around.

There is some preparation. If one of the walls you are paneling has a doorway, remove the trim around the door by prying it off. Also pry off the baseboard from the walls you will panel.

The paneling comes in sheets and is easily cut with power saws. It is always good to let wood products sit inside the room where they will be installed for a few days to acclimate.

Use a studfinder and mark the location of the stud that is nearest the starting corner. From this point, mark the other studs in the walls every 48 inches on the walls you will be paneling (the panels come in 48-inch widths).
On these marks, snap a chalk line on the wall to mark plumb lines. These plumb lines are where the seams of the paneling will fall.

Measure the distance from the corner of the wall to the first plumb line. This will be the width of your first piece of paneling.
Cut the paneling to the desired width with either a table saw or a circular saw and a straightedge guide. If you are using a table saw, the paneling should be face up. If you are using a circular saw, turn the paneling face down when you cut. This will prevent tear-out of the good side of the paneling as the blade pulls through the wood.

Use a 2-inch foam brush and stain that matches the color of the paneling. Brush on a swath of stain along the plumb lines. Don't let this stuff get on the flooring though because it will be there forever.

You will secure the paneling to the wall with panel adhesive and 4d finishing nails. Load a caulking gun with a tube of panel adhesive and squirt a small dab of it on the wall about every 10 inches.
Place the panel on the wall and smoosh it into the adhesive. Pull the panel away from the wall and let the adhesive get tacky. Push the panel back on the wall and roll the panel with a rolling pin. This will make sure that the panel and the adhesive make good contact.

Finally, drive 4d finishing nails into place at the top edge of the panel (the baseboard will hold the bottom in place). Follow the same procedure to hang the adjoining sheet of paneling, but make sure there is a small gap between the two sheets to allow for movement during seasonal changes (use a dime as a guide). The stain you placed on the wall will hide the gap.

You can buy some colored putty sticks to fill in any nail holes or blemishes on the paneling.
To cut around openings like electrical outlets, turn the power off at the main panel and then remove the cover plate to the outlet. You can wipe lipstick or a crayon around the rim of the box and then press the panel into place to dry fit the panel. As the panel makes contact with the box, an outline will be left on the panel from the lipstick or crayon.
Place the panel face down and use a jigsaw to cut around the outline. Make sure that the panel opening is resting on the wall and not on the lip of the box. The coverplate will cover any gaps between the box and the opening in the panel. You can also buy wood-grained cover plates to match different colored panels.

Finally, reinstall the baseboard and door trim, and start spinning the disco ball.

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