Installing paneling

MATERIALS: Paneling, ringshank nails, construction adhesive, 4-mil vapor barrier, foam insulation, 1x3 furring strips, shims, masonry nails, ’/2-inch drywall screws

TOOLS: Hammer, saber saw with blade for plastic laminates, fine-tooth file, scribing compass, circular saw, chalk line, electronic stud finder, tape measure

Outside of paint, 4x8 sheets of paneling are the quickest way to dress up a wall and a quick makeover for badly damaged drywall or plaster. Panels expand and contract with changes in humidity. Give them time to come to the same moisture content as the room before you start nailing. Stack them on the floor with spacers in between. After 72 hours, the panels will have acclimated, and you can start nailing. As you unstack the panels, lean each against the spot on the wall where you think it will go. Reposition them as you go to get the most pleasing arrangement of grain and color. Remove the baseboard before you start. Reapply it and add molding at the ceiling when you’re done paneling.

YOU CAN PANEL MASONRY WALLS, including basements, but unless you want to void the warranty, you'll have to put up a 4-mil plastic vapor barrier and foam insulation. In order to meet fire code, you’ll have to cover the foam with drywall—foam smokes heavily if it catches fire. Start by applying the vapor barrier and holding it in place with 1x3s nailed to the wall. Space the 1x3s so that your foam insulation fits snugly between them, and run them horizontally to bridge any dips in the wall.

Nail smaller vertical pieces to the wall to support the edge of the paneling. Shim as necessary to keep the 1x3s aligned. Once everything is in place, cover it with 1/2-inch drywall in order to bring the wall up to fire code. Leave the joints alone—there's no need to apply tape and joint compound. Double-check the rating of any paneling you're putting in a basement: Not all paneling is designed for use below grade. Acclimate the panels for 72 hours before installation.

1 FIND THE STUDS. Studs are usually spaced 16 inches from center to center, so measure over from the corner to find the first one. Pinpoint its location with a stud finder or by driving nails through the wall until you hit something solid, then mark it. Measure over to find the next stud; pinpoint and mark it too. When you've found all the studs, snap vertical chalk lines along the center of each.

2 PUT THE FIRST PANEL AGAINST THE WALL IN THE CORNER. Have a helper check with a level and help you hold the panel plumb. If any gaps greater than 1/4 inch occur between the wall and panel, you'll have to cut the contour of the wall into the panel by scribing. Paneling on the adjacent wall will cover any smaller gaps.

3 TO SCRIBE A PANEL, SET A COMPASS TO A DISTANCE EQUAL TO THE LARGEST GAP. Trace along the wall with the pointed end of the compass while drawing a line on the panel with the compass pencil.

CUTTING PANELS - To get a good, straight cut, guide the saw against a jig like the one shown. Make it by screwing a piece of 3-inch-or 4-inch-wide plywood, 3/4 inch thick, to a wider piece. Before you trim the panel, trim the jig: Guide the saw against the narrow piece of plywood to cut off the wider piece. When you're ready to make the cut, align the cut edge of the jig with your layout line, clamp the jig to the panel, and make the cut.

4 CUT ALONG THE LINE WITH A SABER SAW. Most saber saw blades cut on the upstroke, which can splinter the panel, so use a blade designed for plastic laminates that cuts on the downstroke. Put the panel back on the wall to see how it fits. Use a fine-tooth file to make any minor adjustments.

5 AFTER YOU’VE CUT THE SCRIBED LINE, CHECK THE FIT. If the unscribed edge is not centered over a stud to allow for nailing, cut it to fit. Measure and mark the cut on the back of the panel to minimize splintering. Make the cut with a circular saw equipped with a fine-tooth panel-cutting blade and a straightedge. Allow for expansion by leaving a 1/4-inch gap at both the ceiling and floor. You may have to cut the panel to allow for the gap.

6 PANELS EXPAND AND CONTRACT WITH CHANGES IN HUMIDITY. To cover gaps that may appear, paint the wall behind the seam between panels with a strip of color that matches the grooves in the panel. To allow for expansion, use quarters on edge as spacers between panels when putting them up.

7 PANELS MUST BE HELD IN PLACE BY BOTH NAILS AND CONSTRUCTION ADHESIVE. Run adhesive in a zigzag pattern between the studs and around the perimeter on the back of the panels as well.

8 PUT THE PANEL ON THE WALL AND DOUBLE-CHECK TO MAKE SURE IT’S PLUMB. Nail it to the wall with 1 1/2-inch paneling nails colored to match the paneling. Space the nails 6 inches apart along the panel edges. Space them 12 inches apart on the studs in between. Hang the remaining panels the same way, using quarters as spacers to create a gap between them.

9 WHEN YOU COME TO AN OUTLET, HOLD THE PANEL NEXT TO IT, and mark the panel at the outlet box’s upper and lower edge. Snap a line at each mark across the face of the board. Then measure the distance between the outlet and the last panel you installed. Measure this distance along each chalk line, and make a mark. Repeat for the other side of the outlet. Connect the marks to outline the outlet.

10 TO CUT OUT FOR THE OUTLET, DRILL A 1/2-INCH-DIAMETER HOLE AT EACH CORNER OF THE OUTLINE. Slip a plastic laminate blade mounted on a saber saw through one of the holes. Cut along the lines to remove the waste.

Test on a scrap. If the panel splinters when cut make the cuts from the hack of the panel.

TURN THE POWER OFF! Always turn off the power when working around electrical wires.

11 TURNOFF THE POWER AND UNSCREW THE OUTLET FROM ITS BOX, BUT NOT FROM ITS WIRES. Feed the outlet through the opening in the panel, and glue and nail the panel to the wall. Reattach the outlet. Before you tighten the screws, slip an extension ring over the outlet. Required by the fire code, this keeps the outlet flush with the paneling.

12 AT DOORS AND WINDOWS TRIM THE PANEL SO THE SEAM IS MIDWAY OVER THE OPENING. Then lay out the window cut the same way you laid out the outlet cuts. Make the cuts that begin at the edge of the panel first. Clamp the cutoff jig along the interior cut when you’re done.

13 SET THE BLADE TO CUT ABOUT 3/8 INCH DEEP. Put the nose of the saw on the panel; hold the heel up so the blade clears the wood. Keep the side of the saw against the jig. Pull the guard back, start the saw, and gently lower the back onto the panel. Stop the cut 1/2 inch short of your earlier cut and finish by hand.

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