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How to panel a wall: DIY wall panelling in 6 easy steps

Living room wall panelling painted in Lick White 01 paint

WordsMaha Elley

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DIY wall panelling is a cheap and easy way to transform any room in your home by making your walls look a little more interesting. Wall panels can give any room a bit more depth, and they’ve got that perfect blend of traditional and contemporary style. And not only do panels look great and revive your decor, but they can also help cover up any uneven surfaces or walls that may be in need of filling. Learn how to panel your walls with our easy guide, and take a look at our pro decorating tools to help you with your wall panelling project.

What wood should I use for panelling?

Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is the most common type of wood panelling used for interior walls in hallways, living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms. When painted using paint for MDF panelling, wall panels give spaces a really textured, architectural look.

How thick should wall panelling be?

To get started, you need to first decide the width and thickness of the MDF you’re going to use. Now, this is usually based on personal preference. We’d recommend cutting some sample pieces of panelling down and placing them on your wall to select the width and thickness that works best for you.

Is it easy to panel a wall?

There’s a general misconception out there that putting up wood panelling is too hard to bother with. If you’re wondering whether you can fit panelling yourself, the short answer is: yes. If you have basic DIY skills, you’ll find that wall panelling is actually easier to fit than tiles.

One of the most important (and some would say most challenging) parts of the wall panelling process is getting the measurements just right. Once that’s done and your panels are in place, you’ve just got to follow the standard prep + paint process to get the look you want.

What tools do I need for wall panelling?

Lick single room paint kit in packaging

How do you panel a wall yourself?

Discover our easy step-by-step DIY guide on how to panel a wall below.

Step 1: Take your measurements

  • Start by measuring how wide your wall is. This is an important one to get right so grab that tape measure and take your measurements at least 3 times to be super sure. Write down those measurements so you don’t forget!  
  • Decide how many panels you’d like on your wall. Sketch out a design of how you’d like your panel wall to look - this can be a huge help to visualise and stay on track as you work your way through all the steps.

Step 2: Prep

Although panelling can hide a multitude of sins on surfaces, there are certain problems you’ll want to fix before going ahead with attaching your panelling:

  • Get rid of any flaky plaster or peeling paint by sanding down with a gritty sanding block.
  • Fill in any holes or gaps by carefully pushing filler in with a filling knife.
  • Once you’ve got a smooth surface to work with, it’s time to start attaching the panels onto your wall. 

Step 3: Attach your panels

  • Start with your base rail. Using strong glue, stick each panel to your wall, making sure to press down for a secure fit. Leave to dry. 
  • Once you’ve finished attaching your base rail, start attaching your top rail. You can then move on to your side stiles, which should slot in between your top and bottom rails. Use a spirit level to ensure they’re straight before sticking them down. 
  • Continue to fit the remaining stiles one at a time and finish off by adding in horizontal rails between them. 
  • Remember to ensure each panel is securely fixed on before moving to the next. 
  • Spotted gaps in your panelling? Caulk any such areas and leave them to dry for a smooth finish.

Step 4: Prime 

  • For a good pre-paint prime, we recommend preparing the wooden surface first with Zinsser BIN oil-based primer for a paint finish that sticks and lasts. Use a foam roller to apply your primer coat onto the wooden areas of your panelling. To get into the nooks and crannies, use a smaller brush for application. Leave your primer to dry.

Top tip: if you’re painting MDF that hasn't been painted before, add a mist coat (a blend of 70% water + 30% paint) before applying your choice of Lick paint colour.

Step 5: Paint

  • Your panelling is all primed and ready for paint! Opt for a durable and easy clean Matt finish for wood panelling. Cut in using a cutting-in paint brush (learn how to cut in when painting here) and use a roller to paint the rest of the wall and panels. Leave to dry for at least 4 hours before applying your second coat.

Note: if your panelling is in a narrow, high-traffic area (such as a hallway) you can opt for an eggshell finish)

Step 6: Varnish (optional)

  • We recommend using Bedec water-based vanish after painting with your MDF paint, to protect the panelling.

After you've painted and added vanish - sit back and admire your work. Yep, you did that.

Looking for inspiration?

We've got a few goodies for you direct from our decorating community. Check out the wall panelling examples below:

Hallway panelling

Hallways are often treated as an afterthought, but they can be instrumental in setting the scene for the design of your home and creating a wow factor. One of the easiest ways for your hallway to make an entrance is to add wall panelling. It will give these often dark, narrow spaces texture and depth. Ensure you grab some hallway paint to personalise your panelling.

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