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Creating a new look for one wall or a whole
room is as easy as nailing boards over the
drywall. Lay out an attractive grid pattern
and go to work. You'll be done in a weekend.
simple method for creating an elegant paneled wall without
the expense of solid lumber or the skill of a master carpenter. We
fashioned this paneled wall by nailing strips of inexpensive MDF
(medium-density fiberboard) directly over the drywall. The square-edged
strips are easy to join, and the smooth MDF surface makes a
perfect surface for a flawless paint job.
With a little perseverance, you can nail up the strips on Saturday,
leaving Sunday to sand and paint. You'll need a basic set of hand
tools, a circular saw, a power miter saw, a sander and a finish nailer
to complete the job. We show how to rip the MDF strips with a circular
saw (Photo 2), but if you own (or have access to) a table saw,
use it instead. Making accurate square cuts on the end of the strips is
easy with a power miter saw, but you can just use a circular saw and
guide. If you don't have a finish nailer, consider renting one for a day.
There's a lot of nailing to do and it will speed up the job considerably.
What's MDF and Why Should I Use It?
MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is a pressed wood product
that offers several advantages over solid wood for a project
like this. First, it's inexpensive compared
with solid wood, and the smooth surface looks great
painted. Unlike strips of lumber, which can be bent or twisted,
strips ripped from MDF are perfectly straight, simplifying
installation. And the material is flexible enough to conform to
slightly wavy walls. Finally, we preferred the look of 1/2-in.-thick strips. (It's hard to find
MDF isn't perfect, though.
It's heavy and the 4 x 8-ft. sheets
are hard to handle without help.
Some home centers will cut it into
smaller pieces for you. Also, the dust
from cutting and sanding is so fine
that it'll drift and settle on everything
in sight unless you take special
precautions. Collect the dust
with a vacuum or dust collection
system if possible. Otherwise,
try to do most of your cutting
Tape a mock-up to the wall
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Photo 1: Mock up a design
Tape up strips of masking paper to lay out the wall pattern. Adjust
the arrangement until you like the results. Take a photo as a
reminder of the pattern.
Start by prying off the baseboard and the
window and door trim. Slip a wide, stiff
putty knife behind the pry bar to spread
out the pressure and prevent damage to
the drywall. With the moldings out of the
way, tape up 4-in.-wide strips of masking
paper to simulate the look of the MDF
strips (Photo 1). If you can't find 4-in.-wide masking paper at the home center
or paint store, cut a wider roll to 4 in.
with a miter saw. Start by placing strips at
the top, bottom and sides. Then run vertical
strips along the windows and doors.
Line up horizontal strips above doors
and windows. Add a horizontal strip
under windows too. Now divide the
remaining spaces to create an attractive
grid. When you're happy with the
arrangement, make a dimensioned sketch
to guide you later. Then count the number
of 8-ft.-long strips you'll need to
complete the project. You'll get twelve
3-7/8-in.-wide by 8-ft.-long strips from
every 4 x 8-ft. sheet of MDF.
If you're going to change the wall color,
patch imperfections in the wall with
spackling compound. Even if you're not
changing the color, sand and paint before
applying the MDF strips. You'll have to do
some touch-up painting later, but at least
the bulk of the work will be done. This is
especially important if you're going to
paint the MDF strips a different color
than the wall.
Cut MDF into strips
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Photo 2: Cut strips
Cut straight, uniform strips of MDF fast using a cutting guide with
a stop on the underside. If your saw has a vacuum port, use it!
Cutting MDF is dusty.
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Photo 3: Sand edges
Sand the cut edges of the
strips fast by clamping several strips together.
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Photo 4: Paint edges before installation
Prime and prepaint
the edges to avoid
fussy brushwork later. Roll
on a coat of primer, let it
dry and sand lightly. Then
roll on a coat of paint.
The 4 x 8-ft. sheets of 1/2-in. MDF you'll
need for this project are available at lumberyards
and home centers. If you don't
have a way to haul large sheets, ask a store
employee to cut the sheets into 16-in.-wide strips that you can tie to your car
top. Also pick up a few tubes of paneling
adhesive to attach the strips that don't
align with studs (Photo 7).
Cut the MDF into 3-7/8-in.-wide
strips. If you don't have a table saw to cut
the strips, assemble a cutting guide
(Photo 2). Start by cutting a 6-in.-wide
strip from the edge of a sheet of MDF. Cut
another strip 4 in. wide to use as a stop.
Position the stop and screw it to the bottom
of the guide so that you can cut
3-7/8-in.-wide strips by running the edge of the saw base against the guide. With
this setup, you won't have to measure for
each strip. Just reposition the guide and
clamp it to the MDF sheet after each cut.
Note: Sawdust from MDF is very fine and
will cover everything in sight if you're not
careful. Cut outdoors if possible. Otherwise,
put an exhaust fan in the window and
use a shop vacuum to collect dust from
power tools. Make sure to wear a dust
mask and safety glasses when cutting.
After ripping the strips, sand the edges
to remove saw marks. Clamp a bunch of
the strips together and sand all of the
edges at once to speed up the job and avoid rounding over the corners (Photo
3). We used a random orbital sander and
80-grit paper. After sanding, leave the
clamps in place while you roll on a coat
of quick-drying, stain-blocking primer
such as Kilz or BIN. After the primer
dries, sand lightly and apply one coat of
paint. Prepainting the edges will save you
a lot of time on the final paint job.
Nail the strips to the wall
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Photo 5: Nail base and ceiling first
Nail the base and
ceiling rails to studs.
Splice rails over studs.
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Join the ends with
30-degree bevel cuts.
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Photo 6: Mark stiles for cuts
Hold stiles in place
and mark them with
a utility knife rather than
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Mark in place
Use a utility knife to create fine,
precise cutting marks.
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Photo 7: Fasten stiles with panel adhesive
Fasten the stiles without worrying
about stud locations. Apply adhesive
to the stiles and tack them to the drywall
with brads. The brads hold them in place
until the glue dries.
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Leave a 1/4-in. reveal around windows and doors.
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Photo 8: Install rails
Mark the position of the rails above and below the windows. Use a string to
align the marks with the windows.
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Photo 9: Fill in
Divide the remaining space and mark
the location of the rails on the stiles.
Cut the rails and nail them to the studs.
Start by locating the studs. Look for
drywall screws or baseboard nail holes
as a clue to stud locations. Or use an
electronic stud finder. Stick pieces of
masking tape to the floor to mark the
locations. Cut MDF rails (horizontal
strips) to fit along the floor and ceiling
and nail them to the studs with 2-in.
brads (Photo 5). Next cut stiles (vertical
strips) to fit between the rails at the
corners and along the sides of windows
and doors and nail them to the wall
(Photos 6 and 7). Position the stiles
1/4 in. from the inside edge of door and
window jambs to leave 1/4 in. of the
Determine the positions of the
remaining stiles by dividing the space
evenly according to your original layout.
Hook your tape measure on the left side
of the farthest left stile and measure to
the left side of the farthest right
stile. Divide this measurement
by the number of spaces
you want. The result is
the distance from the
left edge of any one stile
to the left edge of the
next stile. Mark the
locations on the bottom
and top rails. Then cut
the remaining stiles to
length. Apply two beads of
construction adhesive to the back
of the strips before tacking them to the
wall with 2-in. brads (Photo 7).
With the top and bottom rails and all
the stiles in place, it's time to fill in the rest of the rails. Start by stretching a mason's line tightly across the top of the
windows or doors, making sure to leave
a 1/4-in. reveal on the jamb. Make a pencil
mark where the string intersects each
stile (Photo 8). Then cut rails to fit
between the stiles, align them with the
marks and nail them to the wall. If you
have a window, align another set of rails
with the bottom of the window. Then
divide the remaining space and mark the
rail locations on the stiles (Photo 9).
Complete the paneled wall by cutting
rails to fit between the stiles at each mark
and nailing them to the wall.
Fill and sand for a perfect paint job
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Photo 10: Fill and sand
Fill nail holes with spackling compound
and let it dry. Sand any
uneven areas for a smooth, flush surface.
Fill the nail holes and other imperfections
with spackling compound. Let it
dry and sand it smooth. Nail holes may
require two coats of spackling. Where
they intersect, sand the MDF strips flush
with an orbital sander (Photo 10). Caulk
the cracks where the MDF meets the side
walls and ceiling. When you're done filling,
sanding and caulking, roll or brush a
coat of stain-blocking primer onto the
face of the MDF strips. Finish the job by
painting the face of the MDF strips and
touching up the wall paint.