Paneling Repair

Wall paneling is relatively easy to fix.This Fix-It Guide on paneling repair tells how wall paneling works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a paneling problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives simple step-by-step instructions for how to refasten loose paneling and how to replace a panel.

How Does Paneling Work?

Paneling is decorative wood panels joined in a continuous surface, typically sold in 4 x 8 feet sheets that are 1/8 to 3/8 inches thick. Paneling is attached to drywall, furring (thin wood) strips, or wall framing studs using nails, screws, or adhesive.

Paneling Repair

Paneling is installed over framing studs (as shown here), drywall, or furring strips, depending on the application.

What Can Go Wrong with Paneling?

Paneling gets dirty. Marks and small scratches appear. Paneling buckles from moisture and edges become loose. Nails pop up. And sometimes deep gouges, scratches, and even holes happen. You can fix them.

Caution!

Whatever you do, don’t try to sand and refinish prefinished paneling. The protective top coat typically is quite thin, and sanding it will expose the plywood or compressed wood fibers that make up the panel’s core.

How Can I Identify a Paneling Problem?

  • If the paneling is dirty, try a thorough cleaning with a good household cleaner, such as an oxygen cleaner.
  • If marks and small scratches appear, make a cosmetic repair with a touch-up stick or paste wax.
  • If a panel has buckled from moisture, refasten it with more nails, or pull the panel loose and apply panel adhesive to the studs (see below).
  • If nails pop up, reset them with a hammer and nail set, then use a touch-up stick if needed.
  • If the panel is heavily damaged, you can replace the entire panel (see below).

Fix-It Tip

You can touch up scratches on wood paneling with touch-up sticks and pens available at hardware stores and home centers. Make sure you get a color approximately the same as that of the panel you’re fixing.

What Do I Need for Paneling Repair?

You can find replacement parts, materials, and tools for paneling fix-it projects at most hardware and building material stores. Here’s a list:

  • Replacement paneling
  • Metal putty knife
  • Pry bar
  • Caulk gun
  • Hammer
  • Nail set
  • Panel adhesive
  • Pliers or nail puller
  • Paneling nails or finish nails
  • Touch-up stick
  • Chisel or scraper

What Are the Steps to Paneling Repair?

Refasten loose paneling:

  1. Use a pry bar or metal putty knife to loosen the panel’s edge.
  2. Carefully remove nails from the loose edge using pliers or a nail puller.
  3. Apply a bead of panel adhesive (see the Adhesives section of Repair Stationary Things) along the exposed studs or furring strips with a caulk gun, and allow the adhesive to become tacky before pressing the panel back in place.
  4. Nail the panel in place using paneling or finish nails of approximately the same color as the panel. If needed, use a touch-up stick to cover the nail heads.
  5. Remove excess adhesive that has squeezed out between panels.

Replace a panel:

  1. Use a pry bar or metal putty knife to loosen the panel’s edge.
  2. Carefully remove nails from the loose edge using pliers or a nail puller.
  3. Remove the panel, starting at the bottom of the wall and working up.
  4. Remove old nails and clean up the area behind the panel of old adhesive.
  5. Apply a bead of panel adhesive (see the Adhesives section of Repair Stationary Things) along the exposed studs or furring strips with a caulk gun, and allow the adhesive to become tacky.
  6. Press the new panel into place and tap it against the studs, drywall, or furring strips.
  7. Nail the edges of the panel with a hammer and nail set.
  8. Cover nail heads with a touch-up stick as needed.

Fix-It Tip

If you’re just plain tired of paneling, you can prime the surface and paint over it. Make sure you choose a primer and paint that are recommended by the manufacturer for application over coated paneling.

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