How to Install Wall Paneling

Before You Begin

Installing paneling varies depending on the surface it is being applied to. The easiest way to install it over an existing finished wall, such as drywall, plaster, or paneling, is to use an adhesive. Spread the adhesive according to the adhesive maker’s instructions. Typically, you apply it and then spread it uniformly with a notched trowel, but you can also apply it in ribbons with a caulking gun. To draw the joints tight and to hold the panels in place until the adhesive sets up and cures, use braces and a minimal amount of face nailing (right through the face of the panel) or blind nailing (hidden on the edges) as needed.

  • Step 1 : Prepare the walls

    Acclimate the paneling in the room where it will be installed. The best bet is to lay the panels flat with furring strips between them to let air circulate. You can also lean them against the walls or anything in the room that will support them.

    Remove any base and ceiling trim and window and door casing. If you plan to reuse the trim, mark each piece’s location on the backside. Turn off the power to the room at the circuit breaker and remove any wall-mounted light fixtures. Also remove all outlet covers and unscrew the devices. Install frames that will extend the wiring boxes to the face of the paneling.

  • Step 2 : Locate studs and pencil plumb lines at their centers

    Mark their position with light pencil marks on the floor and ceiling. If you don’t have a stud finder use a nail to probe suspected locations to pinpoint the stud because you’ll be covering up the holes soon enough.

  • Step 3 : Masonry wall prep

    If you are installing paneling over a masonry wall, fasten furring strip nailers with adhesive and masonry screws. You need horizontal nailers at the top, the bottom, and about every 2 feet in between them. Provide vertical nailing at all inside and outside corners, and on 4-foot centers so the vertical edges of all sheets will fall over solid nailing.




  • Step 4 : Cut the first sheet to length

    Measure floor-to-ceiling height, subtract 1/4 inch and cut the first sheet to that length. Cut the bottom edge of the sheet, which will be concealed with trim.




  • Step 5 : Rip the first sheet to width

    Measure from the corner to the first plumb line 4 feet or less from the corner. Add 1 inch to this dimension and cut the first sheet to that width. Cut the edge that will go into the corner so one vertical edge will touch the corner and the other will fall over the plumb line.

    Apply a 1-inch wide band of wood stain or marker to color the wall the approximate color of the grooves in the paneling. Then, the small seasonal gaps between the sheets won’t show the wall.


  • Step 6 : Scribe the sheet

    Place the sheet against the wall and shim the bottom until the vertical edge is perfectly plumb and the sheet touches the ceiling and the corner wall. If you do not plan to install ceiling molding, scribe the paneling to the ceiling. Set your scribe to the widest gap, scribe the top edge. Cut your line and reposition the piece to test the fit. To scribe to the corner, set the compass/scribe to the 1-inch that you allowed when ripping the sheet and scribe the edge to the corner wall.

    Always score crosscuts that will show to prevent the saw from splintering. Stain all cut edges to match the color of the paneling grooves by using a wood stain or a marking pen.

  • Step 7 : Adhere the first sheet to the wall

    Put ribbons of adhesive on the wall at the sheet perimeter and along every stud. Position the paneling and shim under the bottom edge to hold it tight to the ceiling and press it into the adhesive. Then nail it to the wall across the top of the sheet at 8- to 10-inch intervals by using color-matched nails or 4d finishing nails. Then put the bottom of the sheet about I foot from the wall and put something on the floor to hold it away from the wall for a few minutes to let the adhesive become tacky before you press it back into place.


  • Step 8 : Install more panels

    Install subsequent sheets in the same way, scribing at the ceiling, if necessary. Provide a 1/16-inch gap between the panels so they won’t buckle if they swell in damp weather.

  • Step 9 : Cut all openings

    If any sheet will pass over a wall opening, such as an electrical outlet or doorway, mark and cut the opening; test for the final fit before you apply any adhesive.

    Just like for drywall panels, you can transfer the location of an outlet box by applying lipstick or chalk to the edges of the box. Then position the sheet and tap it at the box location with the palm of your hand. For windows and doors, just overlap them and mark the sheet in place. Before you cut, double-check the cutting lines by comparing wall measurements with those taken from the edge of the paneling to the cutting lines.

  • Step 10 : Install the final sheet

    Measure and rip the last sheet so that it measures about 1 inch wider at the widest gap to allow for a scribe. Then position the panel, shim it level and scribe it to the ceiling (if necessary). Reposition the panel tight against the ceiling so it is plumb and touching the corner. Open your scribe to equal the amount that the left side of the final panel overlaps the right side of the one behind it. Then scribe and cut the panel.

  • Step 11 : Trim out the room

    Install baseboard, ceiling trim, window and door casing to match the new paneling. Color-matched trim is often available for prefinished paneling. If necessary, top coat the paneling with a protective coat of polyurethane. Then reinstall outlet covers and any light fixtures before you restore power at the circuit breaker.

Leave a Comment