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8 Simple Steps to Prime and Paint Paneling

Updated on April 11, 2014

Best 'How-To' Tips for Painting Paneling

Do you have ugly paneling on the walls of your home, but don't know what to do about it? Easy: paint it!

Discover how to transform your home from drab to fab by painting dated, dark or dreary paneling. Find out if and when a primer is required, when and how to use a respirator, what kind of brush and roller to use, as well as many more secrets the pros use to produce flawless results.

In this article, you will learn the best 'how-to' tips for painting paneling, complete with step-by-step directions and clear illustrations, taken straight from on-the-job professional painters.

If you want to up your property's charm factor, brighten its interior, and add value to your home, it can be as simple as painting your paneling.

Ready to roll? Let's do it!

Image:KateHon

Note

Since we are painting the walls and woodwork the same color on this job, we will NOT be taping off the woodwork before we paint the walls. Please read my article, How to Paint Like a Pro, for detailed instructions on proper taping and caulking techniques for woodwork and trim.

Do You Paint?

Even if you have never painted before, after reading this article, you will have the knowledge necessary to change ordinary sheet or tongue-and-groove paneling from unsightly to spectacular with a roller and brush.

Image:Microsoft Office

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The best paint jobs are those done by painters who take no shortcuts.

Best DIY Painting Reference Book - A good job starts with good prep

The Homeowner's Guide to Surface Preparation for Interior House Painting
The Homeowner's Guide to Surface Preparation for Interior House Painting

If you love to DIY or you are on a strict remodeling budget, you need this book! It contains comprehensive how-to information on preparing your interior walls before you paint, wallpaper, apply a faux finish or stencil.

This is a must-have for DIYer who wants a professional job without a professional's price tag. A great addition to your DIY library!

 

Tools to Help Make Enameling Woodwork Easier

Wooster Brush R029-6 1/2 Mini-Koter Short Handle 14-Inch Length
Wooster Brush R029-6 1/2 Mini-Koter Short Handle 14-Inch Length

Use this handle for rolling enamel onto paneled doors

 
Premier 6-1/2-Inch x 1/4-Inch White Woven Mini Roller, 10-Pack
Premier 6-1/2-Inch x 1/4-Inch White Woven Mini Roller, 10-Pack

The ideal roller cover for the 6-1/2" roller handle. Be sure to de-fuzz your roller cover before using. Just wrap the roller cover with tape, then pull the tape off quickly, taking the excess and loose fuzz with the tape.

De-fuzzing the roller cover makes for a smoother paint finish!

 
Encore Plastics Corp 01012 Paint Roller Tray for Trim & Mini Rollers 7"
Encore Plastics Corp 01012 Paint Roller Tray for Trim & Mini Rollers 7"

Pour your paint into this small-scale roller tray for easy rolling

 
Purdy 144080330 XL Series Dale Angular Trim Paint Brush, 3 inch
Purdy 144080330 XL Series Dale Angular Trim Paint Brush, 3 inch

I prefer an angled brush for painting woodwork and trim; it is more maneuverable and easier to use

 

Proper Preparation = A Good Paint Job

In order to successfully paint paneling, you must properly prepare for the job:

To make the job easier, you can opt to tint your primer as closely as possible to the final paint color, to help with final color coverage.

Prime the surface with the correct primer. A good primer seals the surface & promotes good adhesion for the finish paint.

Fill any nail holes and gaps after priming. Unfilled nail holes and gaps can become obvious after priming, so fill them with wood putty.

Oil-Based Primers Offer Best Stain-Blocking Protection When Preparing to Paint Paneling - They also provide good surface adhesion for the final paint color

Oil-based primers are the best products for use on sheet or tongue-and-groove paneling. Why? Because they seal the surface, keeping unwanted stains from seeping through and marring your final paint coat.

Many oil-based primers contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds), making it a good idea to use a respirator when applying the product. The respirator filters out the VOCs, allowing you to work without getting dizzy, headachy and queasy, all things everyone would do well to avoid experiencing.

We have recently discovered and used the primer seen here, 'Odorless' oil-based, stain-blocking primer by Zinsser, a well-known maker of a variety of primers for different purposes. We have used other 'odorless' primers, which necessitated using our respirators, but this product, while still a bit smelly (despite what it says on the label), does not produce such profound, immediate negative effects as those did.

Regardless of this primer's 'oderless' designation, I still highly recommend using a respirator whenever working with any solvent-based primer, paint or other product. Remember, safety first.

Image:KateHon

What Every Smart Painter Wears When Using Oil-Based Primer - Image by KateHon

What Every Smart Painter Wears When Using Oil-Based Primer - Image by KateHon
What Every Smart Painter Wears When Using Oil-Based Primer - Image by KateHon

Select the Best Primer, Respirator, and Putty - Using the right products and tools makes every job easier!

Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer Sealer, 1-Quart, White
Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer Sealer, 1-Quart, White

This oil-based primer is really stinky stuff, but is PERFECT for sealing in smoke, fire and water damage, which are some of the most difficult stains to contain. You MUST wear a respirator when using it or you will get really woozy, really fast and that is never good.

 
1 Quart Bulls Eye® Odorless Primer Sealer
1 Quart Bulls Eye® Odorless Primer Sealer

Also designed for containing smoke, fire and water damage, this oil-based primer is IDEAL for sealing sheet or tongue-and-groove paneling, and is less smelly than the one shown above. However, whether or not you are used to being around solvent-based products, it is a good precautionary measure to have and wear a respirator, shown below.

 
3M 7512PA1-A-PS Professional Paint Respirator, Medium
3M 7512PA1-A-PS Professional Paint Respirator, Medium

We always use 3M respirators when working with solvent-based products; these respirators are very effective. After all, who doesn't want to keep every brain cell they have?

 
3M 6001PB1-1 Organic Vapor Replacement Cartridge, 1-Pair
3M 6001PB1-1 Organic Vapor Replacement Cartridge, 1-Pair

New respirators come with a pair of filter cartridges, but it is prudent to always have a new back-up pair handy.

We have found that these cartridges have about 8 hours of use in a high-VOC environment. We store our partially-used cartridges in zippered plastic bags to keep them usable as long as possible. If they are left out in the open, they will continue to absorb odors until their effectiveness is depleted.

How to know if your filters are depleted? When you start getting dizzy, headachy and queasy.

Knowing you'll be able to think clearly after using an oil-based primer? Priceless.

 
Minwax 13616000 Wood Putty, 3.75 Ounce, White
Minwax 13616000 Wood Putty, 3.75 Ounce, White

We use this white wood putty to fill holes on white or light surfaces. Take a dime-sized blob of putty in your palm and warm it up by rolling it into a ball. Drag the putty across a nail hole, pressing it into the hole to fill it. Wipe any putty residue off the surface with a soft cloth or paper towel. This putty is available in many common wood-tone colors.

 

Use a Brush to Cut In at the Ceiling, Floor, Inside Corners and Along Every 'Tongue and Groove' Line - We use a 2-1/2" angle brush designed for 'all paints'

Both real wood tongue-and-groove paneling, as well as sheet paneling, shown here, have indentations where a paint roller cannot quite reach completely. For that reason, it is best to cut in all the 'tongue-and-groove' lines with a brush before rolling the walls. As always, the ceilings, floors and inside corners also have to be cut in with a brush before rolling, too.

It is a lot of painstaking work, but absolutely necessary to achieve a beautiful finished project.

Image:KateHon

Priming and Painting Products

Proform C2.5AX White China Angle Sash Paint Brush 2-1/2-Inch
Proform C2.5AX White China Angle Sash Paint Brush 2-1/2-Inch

White China bristle brushes are the traditional choice when working with oil-based products

 
Shur-Line 55535N 2-1/2-Inch Angle Sash-Poly Premium Select Brush
Shur-Line 55535N 2-1/2-Inch Angle Sash-Poly Premium Select Brush

Paint brush technology has developed to the point where brushes, such as this one, are 'suitable for all paints'

 
HANDy 2500-CT HANDy Paint Pail
HANDy 2500-CT HANDy Paint Pail

We have used these paint pails since they first came out. They are easy to grip and have a magnet on the inside back to keep your brush out of the paint. Genius!!

 
Werner 356 225-Pound Duty Rating Aluminum Stepladder, 6-Foot
Werner 356 225-Pound Duty Rating Aluminum Stepladder, 6-Foot

Get a good-quality aluminum stepladder WITH a platform to hold your paint pail. Aluminum is sturdy and lightweight, compared to fiberglass ladders, a benefit which you will appreciate after a day of painting!

 

Painting Tips From the Pros

When painting on a smooth surface, like this paneling, use a good-quality 9-inch long, 3/8" nap roller cover. Poor-quality roller covers shed fibers like mad, merging with the paint to create blobs on the walls. There is nothing quite as annoying as having to stop painting in order to pick a painty fiber blob off the wall.

(A trick we use to minimize fiber shedding: Go over your roller cover with a tape roller before using; it picks up loose fibers that are thinking about shedding.)

Use an extension pole on your roller to lengthen your reach when painting, saving your body a lot of wear and tear.

For basic wall painting, read my article, How to Paint Like a Pro, where I go into great detail about the painting process, including lots of pictures to illustrate each step.

Image:KateHon

8 Simple Steps to Prime and Paint Paneling

  1. Pour paint in a paint tray to fill the well of the paint tray ONLY.
  2. Put the roller cover on your roller handle, then screw on the extension pole.
  3. Gently roll your roller down the ramp of the tray until it just barely gets into the beginning of the paint well. Pull it back and roll it in again, getting the next section of the roller cover wet with paint. Repeat the process until your roller cover has a light coating of paint all the way around the roller cover.
  4. DO NOT SHAKE THE EXCESS PAINT OFF THE ROLLER COVER! Allow any excess paint to drip off naturally.
  5. Always start on an inside or outside corner and complete that entire wall before stopping. This will prevent stop-and-start marks on your wall.
  6. Begin 6" out from the corner, about 2-1/2 feet from the ceiling, and offload the paint in one upward movement. Since the roller cover is not yet fully saturated with paint, the paint you just put on the wall will not take much effort to spread out.
  7. With the roller handle frame facing AWAY from the inside or outside corner where the offloading began, smooth the paint up and down, covering an area no more than the 2-1/2 feet of wall where you offloaded the paint and no more than 1 foot of wall width. This way the paint will not be stretched too thin. Repeat the process for the rest of that portion of wall to cover it from floor to ceiling. Once your roller cover is saturated, you should be able to cover a 4' long X 1' wide area of wall with each offload of paint.
  8. Place your roller at the bottom of your inside or outside corner, and use light pressure to smooth the paint from floor to ceiling. When you reach the ceiling, move the roller slightly over, without lifting it from the wall, and roll to the floor, continuing to keep a very light pressure on the roller. Repeat until you have smoothed out that section of new paint. Continue applying paint to the wall in sections, smoothing each newly-applied area from bottom to top, until you have finished the entire wall.

    You can paint your walls from left to right or right to left; there is no right or wrong direction in which to paint. Do what feels comfortable and/or appropriate to you.

Use These Tools for a Professional Paint Finish

Wooster Brush RR723-9 Pro/Doo-Z Roller Cover 3/8-Inch Nap, 9-Inch
Wooster Brush RR723-9 Pro/Doo-Z Roller Cover 3/8-Inch Nap, 9-Inch

These are our paint roller covers of choice. In our opinion, they provide the best and easiest paint application.

 
Wooster Brush R017-9 Sherlock Roller Frame, 9-Inch
Wooster Brush R017-9 Sherlock Roller Frame, 9-Inch

Slide your roller cover onto this roller frame

 
Wooster Brush SR054 Sherlock Extension Pole, 2-4 feet
Wooster Brush SR054 Sherlock Extension Pole, 2-4 feet

Extend the reach of your roller handle by screwing it onto this extension pole. This small extension pole is an absolute lifesaver for painting 8-10' high walls

 

Paneled Walls and Woodwork All Primed - There is Even a Bit of Wall Paint Applied Between the Sliding Doors to See How it Looks

Paneled Walls and Woodwork All Primed - There is Even a Bit of Wall Paint Applied Between the Sliding Doors to See How it Looks
Paneled Walls and Woodwork All Primed - There is Even a Bit of Wall Paint Applied Between the Sliding Doors to See How it Looks

Paint Woodwork BEFORE Walls for Best Results - Skip this step if your woodwork is in good shape and/or you like the color

I get a lot of flack from people about painting paneling and woodwork. The major outcry is that WOOD SHOULD NEVER BE PAINTED!

In my opinion, if you have nice woodwork and real wood paneling in a pleasant stain color, all in good shape, then I agree, wood should not be painted.

However, the paneling in this home was not real wood, just cheap sheet paneling with a picture of woodgrain on its surface. The woodwork was not much better; it was inexpensive builder's grade trim with an dreadful dark walnut stain. The resulting look was depressing, dank and dreary, not at all appropriate for the lake home that it was.

For this project I decided the best look would be to have the woodwork and walls painted the same color, using a satin finish for the woodwork and a flat enamel for the walls.

When you use the same color for both woodwork and walls, the entire space will look bigger and feel more serene.

Most woodwork is best featured with a satin finish. If a semi-gloss or gloss finish is used, every imperfection in the wood and/or application is magnified. Most walls benefit from a flat or nearly flat finish. If any higher sheen paint is used, once again all flaws are magnified, especially on tall walls.

For these reasons, I opted for a latex satin paint for the woodwork and a latex flat enamel paint for the walls.

I used latex for the ease of application, quicker drying time than oil paint, and soap and water cleanup.

I chose a flat enamel for the walls to give them better washability.

Image:KateHon

A Great Painting Resource Book

Smart Guide®: Painting: Interior and Exterior Painting Step by Step (Home Improvement)
Smart Guide®: Painting: Interior and Exterior Painting Step by Step (Home Improvement)

Learn how to prep and paint your whole house, inside and out!

A guy I worked for over thirty years ago taught me proper painting techniques, then I taught my husband (before he was my husband), so I know just how valuable the details in this book really are.

Whether you're only interesting in painting for yourself or if you want to be a professional painter, this book is a GREAT reference to have in your library.

It's comprehensive in scope, but easy to understand, which makes it the ideal vehicle to learn how to paint correctly.

 

Use the Same Painting Principles Learned When Priming to Apply the First of Two Coats of Finish Paint to the Walls - Cut in ceilings, floors, and inside corners

Once you have everything cut in, roll the walls as you learned how to do when priming the walls, following the same steps listed there. Allow the first coat of paint to dry before applying the second coat.

Do not skip the second coat of finish paint! It is the second coat that will provide complete coverage and the luster that only two coats of paint can offer.

Image:KateHon

AFTER Paneling and Woodwork Have Been Painted - Finally we can see and appreciate the living room's knotty-pine tongue-and-groove ceiling!

The lake home has been painted from top to bottom. All the woodwork, except for that in the three bedrooms, has been painted. All the walls and ceilings, except for the knotty-pine tongue-and-groove ceiling in the living room and the knotty-pine walls and ceiling in the 4-season porch, have been painted.

The entire place is lighter and brighter, more welcoming and appealing.

Image:KateHon

More Before and After Pictures of This Painted Paneling Project - All photos taken by KateHon

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Living Room - Before paintLiving Room - After paintKitchen - Before paintKitchen - After paintLower Level - Before paintLower Level - After paintFoyer to Lower Level - Before paintFoyer to Lower Level - After paintLower Level Bath - Before paintLower Level Bath - After paint
Living Room - Before paint
Living Room - Before paint
Living Room - After paint
Living Room - After paint
Kitchen - Before paint
Kitchen - Before paint
Kitchen - After paint
Kitchen - After paint
Lower Level - Before paint
Lower Level - Before paint
Lower Level - After paint
Lower Level - After paint
Foyer to Lower Level - Before paint
Foyer to Lower Level - Before paint
Foyer to Lower Level - After paint
Foyer to Lower Level - After paint
Lower Level Bath - Before paint
Lower Level Bath - Before paint
Lower Level Bath - After paint
Lower Level Bath - After paint

Share Your Thoughts on Painting Paneling - Are you ready to tackle painting your old paneling?

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    • rattie lm profile image

      rattie lm 4 years ago

      Great job! I'm with you. Tired wood is just that, TIRED! The room now looks fresh and clean.