Covering plaster walls with paneling

How to Install Wood Paneling on Plaster Walls

The Natural Handyman

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Dear NH,
I want to cover my kitchen walls with paneling. They are plaster and have a number of small cracks in them. How do I attach the paneling to the plastered walls? What kind of nails do I use? Do I need to glue it first?
DG from Nekoosa, WI

One nice thing about wood veneer or synthetic paneling is that it covers a multitude of surface defects in walls. As long as the wall surfaces are flat and solid, you should have no problem installing paneling over them.

The best way to install paneling on plaster or drywall is with adhesive. Nailed-only paneling never feels solid and may eventually loosen. There's nothing more annoying than trying to reattach loose paneling in a finished room!

Various brands of adhesive designed for use with paneling can be purchased in "caulking" tubes, which is the easiest way to apply it. A continuous 1/4" bead a few inches inside the edges of the precut panel and about six inches apart within the panel will give you good bonding.

How to Install Wood Paneling on Plaster Walls

You should not put the adhesive on the wall first. The reasons are you would need to mark the precise location of the panels so the adhesive is in the proper location and you can tilt the panels or lay them down while you apply the adhesive which can be neater (even with a caulking gun).

The typical method of installation is to press the panel to the wall, using your hand or a towel. Press all over the surface to assure glue transfer to the wall. Then, pull the panel away from the wall for about a minute to allow the glue to develop tackiness. Press the panel back to the wall and it should hold very firmly.

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If the walls are not flat, you may need to temporarily hold areas of the panels in place until the adhesive dries. This is typically done with small paneling nails that are colored to match the panels. Use as few as necessary to get the job done. They can be driven right through the plaster, but wear eye protection because these nails are hardened and can break if mis-hammered. If possible, locate them in locations that will be covered with moldings!

Panel nails are not very long and have "rings" on them. They are designed to assist adhesive, not to replace it, and thus do not have to go through the wall into the studs.

In some cases, you can even use masking tape to hold the panels in place if just a little "persuasion" is necessary. Of course remove the masking tape once the adhesive dries!

Reviewed January 2018

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