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How to fit wall panels

Introduction

Tongue-and-groove panelling is as attractive as it is hard-wearing. You can paint or stain it, or keep a natural wood finish if you prefer. It's made from planks with a small tongue along one edge and a matching groove along the other. The tongue slots neatly into the groove of the neighbouring plank.

The panelling can cover as much of the wall as you like - up to dado level is a popular height. Usually, it's easier to leave your old skirting-boards in place and fit new ones when you've finished panelling. Or, if your floor is uneven, you might find it's better to use a thin moulding and bend it to fit the shape of the floor as you fix it.


Tongue-and-groove panels are nailed to horizontal battens, which you should fit in place first. For panelling up to dado level, you'll need to fit three battens - one at floor-level, one that's level with the top of the panelling and another that's half-way between the two. Try and space them around 400mm to 500mm apart.

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Top tip - Filling gaps

If your wall is very uneven, you'll need some packing (such as cardboard or wood off-cuts) to fill any gaps behind the battens.

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Step 1

First, cut your battens to fit the length of the wall you want to panel. Decide on the height of the panelling and cut each tongue-and-groove plank to length. Take one of the cut planks and mark the height on the wall with a pencil. Then use a tape measure and pencil to measure and mark the other levels. If you have skirting on the wall, fix the lower batten just above it. If there's no skirting, mark the lower batten position about 50mm from the floor to leave a gap for air to circulate.

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Step 2

Using a spirit level, draw horizontal lines across the wall - joining up the marks at the three batten levels. The highest edge of your top batten should be exactly the same height as the top of the cut plank.

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Step 3

Drill the battens 50mm from each end and at about 400mm intervals in between. Then hold each batten in position and mark the drill points on the wall with a bradawl. After checking there are no hidden pipes or cables behind the fixing positions before you drill, plug the wall and screw the battens in place.



The design of tongue-and-groove panelling allows for 'secret nailing'. Here, you nail panel pins through the tongue of each plank, which is then covered by the groove of the next plank as it's slotted in place.

One Planet Home - Protecting forestry

Always try to choose timber that's been certified by an independent organisation such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®). That way, you can rest assured that the wood you're buying hasn't contributed to the destruction of the world's forests.

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Top tip - Panel pins

To stop the panel pins from splitting the tongue on the panelling planks, you can blunt their point. To do this, hold the head of the inverted pin with long-nosed pliers on a hammer. Then tap the point of the pin with a second hammer just enough to blunt it.

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Step 1

Start by sanding any rough edges at each end of the planks. Go from the left, hold the first plank in place (tongue-side on the right), level with the top batten. Then nail a panel pin through the top left-hand side of the plank face into the batten.

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Step 2

Use a spirit level to check the plank is vertical before fixing it to the remaining battens. Repeat this every three or four planks to make sure the panelling stays vertical.

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Step 3

To 'secret nail' the planks, hold a pin with long-nosed pliers and hammer it at an angle through the corner of the tongue into the batten behind it. Repeat this for each batten.

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Step 4

Sink the pin heads below the surface of the plank using a nail punch and hammer. Then slot the next plank into place, with its groove covering the tongue of the previous one. Repeat this process for each plank until you reach the end of the wall. Cut the last plank to fit, and nail through the face into the battens. If you're panelling the next wall too, leave a 3mm gap between the last plank and the wall at the corner. Butt the grooved edge of the first plank on the adjoining wall against this last plank, and nail it though the face into the battens.

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Step 5

Cut the capping to fit the top edge of the panelling. Then add wood adhesive to the panelling, attach the capping and leave it to dry.

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Step 6

Cut a length of skirting to fit, and nail it to the bottom of the panelling with panel pins.


Don't be tempted to move an electrical switch or socket by simply pulling the cable forward and refitting the cover on the panelling. You must also move the mounting box forward, otherwise the terminal connections will be unprotected, and therefore a fire risk.

 

Safety first

Before beginning any kind of electrical work, you must take these safety precautions:

  1. Switch off the main power at the consumer unit (fuse box).

  2. Isolate the circuit you want to work on by removing the circuit fuse and putting it in your pocket. Or switch off and lock the relevant circuit breaker and attach a very clear note to the unit stating that you're working on the circuit.
  3. Check the circuit is dead with a plug-in socket tester or, in the case of a lighting circuit, a voltage tester.

When you've completely finished, replace the fuse or circuit breaker and turn the main power switch on again. Never restore the power until you've fitted all the faceplates and covers of all your accessories.

  • RCD protection

Modifications to any circuit must comply with the latest IEE Wiring Regulations. New or replacement cables or sockets may need RCD protection.

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Surface-mounted fitting

A surface-mounted switch or socket sits on the panelling - but remember to fit short battens to the wall behind to support its fixing screws. After turning off your mains power, drill a hole, disconnect the cable and pass it through the hole. Then screw the box to the battens, reconnect the cable and replace your faceplate.

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Flush-mounted fitting

Cut a hole for the mounting box as you fit the panels at that point. Then, with the power switched off at the mains, unscrew the faceplate. After that, move the mounting box forward and pack the recess behind it with short pieces of wood. Screw the box to the wall using wall plugs inserted into the masonry - the screws should penetrate about 25mm. Finish off by fitting the planks, reconnecting the cable and replacing your faceplate.