Techniques for Painting Wood Paneling

Updated November 21, 2016

Wood panelling was popular in the seventies, and a lot of it still remains in homes today. Wood panelling can make a room appear dark and small. Today, it's much more vogue to have light, open, airy spaces in your home; painting the panelling is a quick and inexpensive way to accomplish this goal. There are a few techniques you can use to brighten up your walls and create a totally new look.

Preparing the Paneling

Before you begin your project, make sure the walls are clean and will take on the paint. If your walls are splintery, or have a glossy finish, you will need to sand them. Use a belt sander, palm sander or medium-grit sandpaper and a piece of wood. Use the sandpaper to smooth out rough surfaces, remove splinters and get rid of the glossy coating so the wood will soak in the paint. If the panelling is a natural wood that doesn't need sanding, make sure it's clean and dry before you begin.


Paint the panelling with a primer first. Tint the primer to the colour of your paint, or slightly lighter, and you will not need as many coats of paint. Primer seals in the colour of the panelling so it doesn't bleed through your paint. One thin coat of primer should be enough. If the primer or paint pools up in the valleys and starts to drip, simply brush off the paint.

To give the panelling a completely painted look, you will need two coats of paint. After applying the primer, there should be no wood grain showing through. Paint the panelling as you would any other wall.

Creating a Smooth Texture

You can fill the valleys in the panelling and create a completely smooth wall by using wood filler and a putty knife. Put the filler on a 4 -inch putty knife and wipe it into the valley. Take off most of the excess by pulling the knife down over the putty; it's OK to leave it slightly over filled. Allow the filler to dry, then sand it smooth with a palm sander. Wood filler normally shrinks when it dries, so you may have to do it again. Once you're done, paint as usual.

Glazing the Paint

Use a glaze over the paint to give your walls an antique or layered look. Try different glazing techniques in an inconspicuous place to see which one you like the best. Paint the glaze over the paint, then take a dry brush and go over the area again to pull some of the glaze off. Another method is to roll the glaze on and then wipe it off with a barely-damp sponge. You can also use a clean rag to put the glaze on or to blot it off after you roll it on. Each technique gives you a different look, and all are easy to accomplish.

Liming the Paneling

It's easy to jazz up a nice, light panelling. In this technique, the wood finish is still visible, but it will have a much brighter and cleaner appearance, and there's no need to prime or paint first. Mix 1/2 gallon of water to 1 gallon of paint. Use a soft, clean rag to wipe the paint into the grain of the wood. This technique is more like polishing than painting. Once the panelling is dry, brush on a flat coat of polyurethane.

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