DIY wood panelling with MDF trim

panel image by Dave from

Wood panelling creates a warm and inviting feel in a space. The strong geometric lines add order and create a restful look. Wood panelling is also a good solution for problem areas, such as cracking plaster or wall paper that refuses to come down smoothly.

Medium Density Fibercore, or MDF, is used to create highly detailed trim mouldings that can be bought in many different styles and colours. MDF trim can be stained, but since it has no grain and a highly smooth surface, it is best painted.

Measure the wall space and purchase enough 6 mm (1/4 inch) thick, 1.2 by 2.4 m (4 by 8 foot) sheets of wood panelling in your choice of styles to cover the wall. Buy it in one trip, especially if purchasing pre-finished panelling, to prevent a mismatched panel from another factory lot. Measure the height of the wall, for standard 2.4 m (8 foot) high walls, the 1.2 by 2.4 m (4 by 8 foot) sheets of standard panelling will not need to be cut to length. For shorter walls, mark the panelling with a chalk line and cut it to fit with a circular saw. For taller walls, install a row of full 2.4 m (8 foot) high panels, then cut pieces to fit above.

Locate the studs in your wall with a stud finder. Press the buttons on both sides of the device and drag the finder along the face of the wall, marking each location where the finder beeps and lights up. Measure and transfer the markings from the wall to each panel to indicate the location of the studs behind it before placing it against the wall.

Position the first panel flush with the end, or corner of the wall. Set the top of the edge overlap against this wall, so that the opposite, open end can be overlapped by the next panel. Staple through the panel with 3.7 cm (1 1/2 inch) wide crown staples. Drive the staples with the handle of the staple gun turned horizontally, so that the staple drives vertically. Drive one staple into each stud every 30 cm (12 inches). Add staples at the corners of the panels as needed to attach them firmly to the wall.

Add the next panel, overlapping it along the long edge. Staple it in place as with the first panel. Continue adding full width panels as far as possible. Measure and cut the last panel to width to fill the end of the wall. Cut and add pieces above if needed. Use a nail set to countersink any raised staple heads slightly into the surface. Fill the staple holes with painter's caulk, for painted panels, or solvent based wood filler for stained panels. Allow the filler to harden and sand lightly to smooth the surface.

Measure the top and bottom edge of the panelling for trim. Cut trim pieces for corners at a 45 degree angle. Do this on a mitre saw. Mark and cut skirting board on its top edge, equal to the length of the space it will fill on the wall. Mark and cut crown moulding on the bottom edge, equal to the space it will fill on the wall. Stand the skirting flat against the fence of the mitre saw and make the cuts from the top down. Place the crown moulding with the flat edge on the back at the bottom of the moulding. Position it against the fence since it will be against the wall. Position the flat back portion at the top against the saw table as it will be against the ceiling. Make cuts from the bottom down.

Nail the moulding in place with 3.7 cm (1 1/2 inch) pin nails and a pin nail gun. Place a nail every 15 cm (6 inches). Place the skirting board with its back against the panelling and the bottom edge on the floor. Nail through the widest part of the moulding profile. Place crown moulding with the bottom flat edge on the wall and the bottom top edge against the ceiling. Nail through the narrow top and bottom edges into the ceiling and wall. Fill nail holes and seams in the moulding with painter's caulk or solvent base filler.

Apply two coats of stain and finish all-in-one or semigloss latex paint to your panelling and moulding. Apply the finish with a soft-bristle, medium-width brush. Work in long, straight strokes along the grain of the panelling. Spread the finish as evenly as possible to prevent runs and drips. Allow the stain or paint the proper time to dry as recommended on the product label.