How-to's Woodworking Ideas

How to Make Wood Paneling Look Like Drywall

Paneling was popular in the 50s through to 70s. People are opting to convert wood panels to drywall because wood paneling makes spaces dark and chaotic.

Drywall gives you freedom to play with different colors, textures and shapes. You can create interesting storage spaces, add mirrors, and those beautiful floating wood shelves you’ve been wanting for your artworks.

You can choose to paint over the wall paneling but the grooves will still be visible so, you will still have that paneling look you’re trying to run away from.

This blog post will show you how to make wood paneling look like drywall.

How to Make Wood Paneling Look Like Drywall without Tearing Down the Paneling

Away with the old wood panel walls look! Grab a fine grit sandpaper, paint tray, dust mask, safety glasses, some drywall compound, primer and your favorite paint from the local store, and give your walls the color you’ve always wanted.

  1. Clear out the space – move your furniture to another room.
  2. Tape the grooves.
  3. Use joint compound or drywall mud to fill in the grooves in the wood paneling.
  4. Sand the panels using fine grit sandpaper (120-grit or 220-grit sandpaper) to ensure the primer sticks.
  5. Apply your primer.
  6. Apply two coats of paint on the walls for a perfect finish.

Easy steps for converting wood paneling to drywall:

It’s easy to turn that eyesore of a wood panel wall into a sight for sore eyes… a typical painted wall with colorful pieces of artworks perhaps.

Of course, it’s time-consuming and some hard work will go into it but it’s worth it. Here’s the step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Clear your working area

You don’t want paint or dirt falling on your furniture, trip over something, or make a mess of the room.

Move your furniture out of the room. If that’s too cumbersome or your furniture is bulky, cover them using plastic sheets to protect them from the sanding dust, primer, and paint.

Step 2: Fill in the grooves in the wood paneling using joint compound or drywall mud

To create a smooth canvas, use a drywall knife to fill in the paneling grooves with joint compound. Use a 4-inch drywall knife to spread joint compound along the grooves. Fill in nail holes and other damages on the wood paneling too.

Step 3: Taping the paneling

You want to tape all the grooves between your panels with drywall. There’s no expertise needed here, just a bit of precision, and as you would do with normal drywall seams.

Carefully lay on your moistened tape and then using your 4-inch knife, scrape until it’s flat and then let it dry. After that, apply a layer or two of joint compound. For best results (flat seams), feather the edges using 6-inch to 8-inch knives or a 12-inch.

The best knives for a wood paneling to drywall project

Use the 6-inch knife or the 4-inch knife for slopping the joint compound into the grooves and for taping, and then the 6-inch to 8-inch or 12-inch knife for the final coat and feathering.

Spread the joint compound carefully, ensuring it covers the grooves and any cracks well and sticks properly. After that, give it 24 hours to dry before applying a second coat.

The whole process can be tedious and time-consuming so, you don’t have to apply another joint coat on the whole surface, you can just focus on the small parts you missed.

One of the other ways to hide imperfections is applying a skim coat. It’s simply a thin layer of joint compound which gives your walls a glass-smooth finish. It makes it look like a typical wall, as if it has never had grooves.

Can you use spackle in place of joint compound?

Some people use spackle compound to fill in wood panels to make it look like drywall. Spackle is made of gypsum powder and binders.

It has a thicker consistency than joint compound but dries within 30 minutes. You’ll buy it in plastic tub containers, already mixed and ready to use.

Spackle is however best used for filling holes, repairing dents and other small damages. You cannot use it instead of joint compound. Buy some spackle though, for those imperfections that you would like to fix quickly.

What to do if the paneling is damaged

Sometimes, the paneling is so damaged that the joint compound cannot hold it together. If you find yourself dealing with this situation, get some wood filler and repair the damage on the wall before proceeding to apply the joint compound.

Step 4: Sand the wood paneling

You wouldn’t need to do this if you were sure your primer and paint would stick but it’s always advisable to sand because a gritty surface is the best for adhesion.

There are different types of sandpapers and each yields a different result. It is therefore important to choose a sandpaper with the right grit. The best sandpaper for removing wood paneling is a 120-grit or 220-grit sandpaper.

And, of course, you need to wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from any chips and a dust mask to avoid breathing in the fine sanding dust. Also, be gentle to avoid over sanding.

How to sand wall paneling like a pro

Sanding prepares the surface for painting by removing excess joint compound, vanish, damages like cracks, dirt and other imperfections. It also evens out the surface, to ensure there will be no bumps or paint bubbles.

Don’t damage the wood paneling when sanding, be gentle and follow the wood grain, don’t go against it. And, use a damp cloth to wipe off the dirt from the sanded panels.

What to do if you have semi-gloss painted paneling and you want the drywall look

Sand it.

Most panels have a glossy finish. If you don’t sand, you will have to deal with having to apply two coats of primer, and the second will need to be thicker to ensure the wall holds paint.

This will of course increase your wait time because you have to allow the second, thick coat time to dry.

You will also need to go with the best primer in the market, otherwise it will chip off.

So, yes, it’s up to you to choose between sanding and this.

Step 5: Apply primer to the wood paneling

If you want a perfect finish, this is your make or break step. How well you handle it determines how well the final paint job will be. This is the stage where you paint over the imperfections, evening out the surface to make it uniform.

Put your primer on a paint tray and mix properly. After that, apply it to the wall using a roller, not a brush. A roller makes your work easy because it distributes more paint and gives a smooth, uniform coat faster. 

As you would in a normal paint job, if you notice roller marks, try sanding very lightly after the primer has dried and then paint over those areas to ensure the whole surface is smooth (free from the humps and drips).

Let the primer dry completely before going to the next stage of this project.

Step 6: Apply two coats of paint on the prepared wood paneling

This is the last step before your wood paneling walls get transformed into a “drywall” with your favorite color.

Prepare your roller before you start painting by wetting it with water (don’t soak it, though, just make it damp). This will prime your roller, making it more absorbent.

Again, to avoid roller marks, don’t press too hard. If you do, your paint will be thick on the two sides of the stroke.

Use a roller with a smooth surface for an even, smooth finish and a brush for the edges, corners, and for touch up.

When painting, start from the top of the wall going down and like you did with the primer, wait for your paint to dry completely before applying the second coat–a day or more should be fine.

What if you have wainscoting on your walls?

The simplest description of wainscoting is half wall paneling for decorative purposes. If your home is modern, a simple, full drywall is a better choice. It makes your house look bigger, spacious, and makes your ceiling seem higher.

Wainscoting only seems to work with the Georgian or Victorian designs. If you have wainscoting in a modern home, you might want to go for the wood paneling staining option to give it a fresh look. You can also paint it, sometimes even without sanding!

Wrapping it Up

Moving away from the fake look that comes with paneling is a valid reason to want those old panels down. So is the fact that drywall is better at soundproofing a room, more resistant to fire, and easier to work with when it comes to decorating your space.

The cost, labor and hours that go into bringing a wall paneling down to have a drywall look is what compels people to “work with” their old wood paneling.

You don’t need to be a professional to give your paneling walls a drywall look. If you follow these easy steps, you’ll take the work out of transforming your wood paneling to a drywall. All the best, and let us know how it goes!