Trained Eye

 
 
 

Painting Wood Paneling

Question:

We have wood panel walls in our basement rec-room. I want to paint them but want a smooth surface. I did not want to remove them if possible. A renovation TV show I saw used "mudding" or "skinning" to resurface the panels in a basement project. They did not explain what product they used. Are you familiar with this procedure?

My questions are: What product is used for these finishes? Does the wall have to be sanded, when the re-surfacing is dry, before paint is applied? Do I hire a painter to do this procedure or a plasterer?

Answer:

The answers to your questions will largely depend on the type of wood paneling you have in your basement. I am not familiar with the term “skinning” but “mudding” is often used to describe the process of applying drywall compound to fill screw holes and embed drywall tape to cover seams in newly installed drywall. I will offer you some suggestions based on different types of wood paneling commonly used in basements.

The first thing to determine is the exact nature of the wood paneling in your basement. There are three major types of wood fibre based panels used for wall sheathing. These are plywood panels, fibreboard panels, and particleboard based panels. If you have true plywood paneling texturing and refinishing may be a viable option, which may not be possible with the other types of wall sheathing. The way to determine this is to find an exposed edge of the paneling, perhaps at a corner or an electrical box, and see what the composition of the backing is. If there are stranded layers you have plywood panels but if there are no visible layers or wood grain, you likely have one of the other two types. The way to distinguish between the others is by looking at the flexibility and hardness. Particleboard is very rigid and has very little flexibility. Fibreboard panels are often quite flexible and soft and the edges and backing can be easily scratched or dented. Once you have determined the nature of the material, you can decide whether resurfacing is possible.

Fibreboard and particleboard based panels often have a thin, imitation wood covering on the surface that may peel or warp when applying wet drywall compound or plaster. Both of these materials do not resist direct moisture well, and may also buckle or swell when painted or subjected to wet materials. Evidence of buckled or swelled panels is another way to rule out real plywood panels. If your basement materials show evidence of any of these features you may be stuck with the status quo, unless you are prepared to replace the wall sheathing with other materials before refinishing. Once you determine that you have plywood on the walls, check to make sure the surface is integral to the paneling and not a thin printed covering, sometimes seen on this type of sheathing. This can often be tested by light sanding of a small area. If thin, paper-like fibres are seen when sanded, you may be out of luck once again.

I am assuming that your basement is sheeted with grooved panels, otherwise you would not need to do much filling before applying the new finish. If the surface is smooth plywood, then minimal filling will be required at the seams and nail holes only. If you have grooved plywood panels with an embedded finish, then minimal sanding, only, may be required to remove any glossy surface finishes. If the surface is not dirty or glossy, you may be able to proceed with the next step after a simple cleaning. This next step involves priming the surface of the panels with a high quality paint primer. It may be critical to do this step to ensure proper adhesion of the drywall compound and finish paint. Once primed and dry, the “mudding” process may be started.

As previously stated, the application of drywall “mud” is simply done to fill holes, dents, crevices and seams in the existing wall covering. If these gaps are small and the panels well secured, simple drywall compound may be applied in successive layers to create a smooth surface. If the seams between the panels are large, then application of paper or fibreglass drywall tape may be required to prevent cracking, over time. Once several layers of compound are applied and fully dried, the surface can be sanded smooth prior to painting. After removal of excess drywall dust, the walls can be further primed with a drywall primer, which will prepare it for the finish coats of paint.

To answer your final question, many painters are trained to deal with unusual painting situations like yours, but others are not. Part time student painters will likely not have the knowledge required for such a renovation, and a good plasterer may be required to prepare the surface prior to painting. An experienced journeyman painter would be a better choice, as they may be able to complete the entire job without other sub-trades. No matter who you hire to do this job, ask lots of questions about previous experience with this particular situation. Ensure the contractor you hire has dealt with resurfacing of wood panel walls, or you may find yourself with a poor quality job that may not last.

 

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