How to build faux wood paneling

Written by j.e. myers
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How to build faux wood paneling
You can create faux wood panelling for walls. (wood background image by Eugene Barzakovsky from

If a richly wood-panelled room is in your decorating dreams, you can achieve that look with less expense by creating faux wood panelling. While cheap vinyl panelling is available at home improvement stores, the selection of wood patterns and colours in budget panelling is often very limited. But you can get the look of finer woods, like cherry or mahogany, through faux finishing of a cheaper material.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 4-by-8-foot sheets of luan plywood, 1/4 inch thick
  • Optional: router with shallow fluting bit
  • Wood stain, water-based
  • Large plastic bucket
  • Stir sticks
  • Roller head, 6 inches wide
  • Roller stick or broom stick
  • 3 Roller heads, smooth nap
  • 3 Roller trays
  • Water-based, clear matt-finish sealant
  • Water
  • Measuring cup
  • Wood grain tool (wide as possible)
  • Latex paint
  • Long rule or carpenter's level
  • Brown permanent marker (medium point)
  • Water-based clear satin-finish sealant
  • Wood trims and mouldings

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  1. 1

    Purchase full sheets of a product called luan plywood, perfect for panelling because it costs about half the price of a sheet of vinyl panelling. Buy luan in full sheets, 4 feet by 8 feet by 1/4 of an inch thick. Buy enough luan sheets to cover the project.

  2. 2

    Decide how you want to create the characteristic panelling board joints or grooves in the luan board. Either paint in your joint line between boards, or carve the shallow lines using a power router with a very shallow fluting bit. If you choose to carve the lines, do so before continuing with the faux finish process. If you will paint in the lines, do this next to last in the process.

  3. 3

    Select a commercial wood stain product that matches the background colour of your intended wood type. If you want to create cherry panelling, for example, choose a cherry stain. Purchase a water-based stain; it will produce less noxious fumes. Choose a stain that has no built-in sealant.

  4. 4

    Stir the stain. If you must purchase the stain in many quart cans to meet your quantity needs, mix them all together in a large plastic bucket to insure the colour is consistent.

  5. 5

    Place a luan sheet flat on the floor. Use a paint roller and roller head---smooth rating---6 inches in width, mounted on a broomstick. Apply the stain along the length of the luan sheet, not across the width. Roll on a section of stain with one motion, pressing down with gentle force to be sure the stain gets into the luan wood pores on the first pass. Do not re-cover a stained area a second time, as this will make the stain darker than perhaps is intended. Lift the roller at the end of the sheet and go back to the start point at the bottom of the sheet to roll on the next side-by-side section. Avoid wide overlaps of stain from board to board. Set aside each sheet to dry when covered with stain.

  6. 6

    Apply a clear, water-based, matt-finish sealer to the stained luan sheets. Thin the sealant with water using one-third water and two-thirds sealant. Use a clean roller head to apply the sealer. Let dry.

  7. 7

    Purchase a wood-graining tool that matches the type of wood grain you want to reproduce on your panelling. These tools are available at most home improvement stores, but selection is usually greater online. Select the widest tool available.

  8. 8

    Roll a thin coat of latex paint, in a colour that matches your desired wood grain colour, along an individual board on a stained luan sheet. As soon as you have finished painting this layer of dark paint onto one board, immediately use the wood grain tool to create a wood grain pattern on the board. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to use the tool. The tool will remove most of the paint from the surface and leave the pattern print behind. Repeat with each board on the sheet and let dry.

  9. 9

    Paint in the board joint lines if you did not carve them into the wood previously. Use a long rule, like a carpenter's level, to mark off the separate boards on the sheet. Panelling normally alternates one wide board, 6 to 9 inches in width, with three narrower boards, 3 to 6 inches in width. Replicate this pattern with your board lines. These drawn-in lines need to be sharp, straight and consistent in colour, so use a brown permanent marker to score these lines. Avoid using a paint brush. If you routed the lines into the wood, accentuate them with the brown permanent marker.

  10. 10

    Seal each sheet with a final coating of clear satin gloss sealer.

  11. 11

    Install your panelling with standard installation techniques.

Tips and warnings

  • Create faux trim or moulding boards for your project. Purchase pine or ash trims and stain and wood grain them to match the faux panels.
  • Producing enough faux panelling to complete a large project could be a time-consuming endeavour, not recommended if a standard vinyl panelling is available affordably. Faux panelling is most often created when the availability of vinyl product is limited or the cost is prohibitive. Mahogany vinyl panelling, for example, is rarely found in home improvement stores, and the cost of the real thing would be astronomical. Creating faux Mahogany panelling would be a viable option.

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