How to Paint Wood Paneling [Easy 4-step DIY Guide]

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When we bought our 1970’s house it was like a time capsule.  You could have filmed “That 70’s Show” there. And then the first thing I wondered was how do I paint wood paneling? Because it was wall-to-wall baby!

They sure loved their wood paneling back then.

How to paint wood paneling in a 1970's house
How to Paint wood paneling (DIY 4-step guide)

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We renovated a small portion of the house right after moving in, but the whole wall in the living room and dining room was a light-colored wood paneling that we didn’t get around to changing.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was acceptable considering we had so many other house projects to work on.

This is what the wall looked like before I painted it.

Living room wall unpainted 1970's wood paneling
Before picture: Living Room wall unpainted wood paneling

And most of the time I didn’t even notice it. Its like we just adapt to our surroundings.

But once we started taking pictures of our new daughter the ugly wall in the backyard started ruining the shots.  Lurking behind her like an old relic.  Judging from her baby pictures it looks like our daughter was born in ’77 and not 2017.

So when my girlfriend took our daughter out of town for a couple weeks I got to work.

Its so much easier (and safer) to renovate when a baby isn’t around. And I found out that painting panelling (or paneling in the USA) is an easy job…it just takes some time.

1. Move furniture and lightly Sand the Wall

I started by moving all the furniture away from the wall.

Then I removed the old wooden baseboard trim.

The next step was to lightly sand the entire wall. 

I used belt sander for most of it and a palm sander for some tighter spaces.

Because the wood paneling is such a smooth surface I wanted to scuff it up a bit so the primer and paint would adhere better

You can see the belt sander kind of got away from me in a couple spots.  But because it has a flat bottom it doesn’t gouge into the wall.

Wood Paneling wall lightly sanded first
Wood paneling lightly sanded

Then I used a rag and vacuum to clean up the dust.


2. Prime the Wood Paneling

Use a Paint brush to apply primer to gaps first then roll the wall.

We used a paint brush to prime the vertical slats first as well as along the ceiling and floor.  (My older daughters helped on this stage using a No V.O.C. primer from Home Hardware.)

The wood paneling is very smooth and I didn’t want to use a thick roller to try and push the paint down into the slats and risk having the excess paint cause dripping.

Who knows, rolling it on may have got into the depths of the slats without a mess, but we elected this method.

1970's wood paneling primed
Wood paneling slats primed with a brush

Then I rolled on the primer with a low pile roller intended for smooth surfaces. This completed the first coat of primer.

1970's wood paneling primed with a roller
Wood paneling primed with a roller

We rolled a second coat of primer on.  (I told my daughter I’d drive her to her friend’s house once she rolled a second coat of primer on the wall.  It felt like I turned my back and then it was done. Perhaps it was the world’s lightest coat of primer ever. But at least I didn’t have to do it.)

Note: after brushing on the primer in the vertical slats I didn’t brush it on again. 

You can see in the picture above that the brushed on primer was much thicker than the rolled on primer. If I have more time (or patience) I probably would have brushed it one more time.

3. Paint the Wood paneling

Once we had two coats of primer on the wall I began painting.

The lady at the paint counter of our hardware store said after priming it I should do another light sanding.  She said the primer will sometimes cause the grain of the wood paneling to stick out a bit and be textured.

But due to my dislike of sanding (and my laziness) I didn’t take her advice.  I think it still turned out pretty good though.

Painting wood paneling

Once again I used a paintbrush to apply the paint to the vertical gaps (indents between the two boards), and to “cut in” against the ceiling and the floor.

Then I rolled the paint on with a low-pile roller.

Your hard work and patience will be worth the effort!

This job took me a lot longer than it probably should have.

I ended up applying 3 coats of Velvet latex paint.

I was worried that if I applied too heavy of a coat of paint that it would run and cause drip marks. So I rolled fairly light coats of paint.

Did I need to do this? Probably not. 

It was after two coats of paint and it still looked patchy that I said, “Hey, I don’t know how to paint a wall properly.”  So I turned to YouTube and watched some videos on painting correctly.

They said I should put enough on, and work quickly enough that the paint has a “wet edge.”

I learned to paint by painting metal walk-in cooler panels, and with those smooth surfaces you really need to go lightly or it looks like crap. (It was after I painted a crappy, drippy panel that my boss came over and said, “Hey, you don’t know how to paint a panel properly.”)

Anyway, after two coats of primer and three coats of paint I was finished.  I don’t know if this is the definitive way on how to paint wood paneling but it worked for me.

I’m happy with the result. The family photos look WAY BETTER now that the “brown monster” isn’t lurking in the background.

4. Put the Baseboard trim and door & window casings back on

I nailed up some new white baseboard trim and had it all back together before my girlfriend and baby came home.

Wood paneling painted white
Wood Paneling painted white

I think I’ll put some quarter-round trim between the top of the wall and ceiling, and eventually replace the black electrical outlet with a new white one.

But for now I’ll sit back and enjoy the view.

It is amazing what some paint will do…it looks like a room makeover and all it took was some primer, paint, baseboards, and some time.

If you have any other tips on how to modernize a 1970’s house let me know in the comments.

Share with the readers if you’ve done any room makeovers like this one.

Check out these other fun DIY projects:

Thank you.

How to paint wood paneling (painting 70's wood paneling)
How to paint wood paneling

5 thoughts on “How to Paint Wood Paneling [Easy 4-step DIY Guide]”

  1. I have a room that looks exactly like your “before” room! For months that room has been on my “to do” list but a total bathroom renovation came first. I plan to use Kilz for the paneling as my primer. To update the room even more I plan to replace the window and door facings with craftsman style trim. . . no miter angles (just straight cuts). To take it even farther you can use 1×6 for baseboards and 1×4 for crown molding. I had also thought of doing board n’ batten while leaving the groves on the bottom but filling in the groves above the board n’ batten. The height of the board n’ batten would be close to 5’. I will paint the bottom white while painting the top a different color.

    Hope this gives you some ideas!

    1. Hi Bonnie,

      That gives me tons of ideas. I love what you said about the board and batten. That is a very clever way to make the most of your existing panels.

      And updating the baseboards and other trim does absolute wonders!

      I have always resort to mitre angles. Maybe next time I should try the craftsman style
      Thank you again for your comment. I really appreciate it.

  2. I hope to paint my living room as well as the kitchen. now that we have more time due to covid. Our entire house has wall paneling . Thanks for making it simple to follow . I am not sure about white . I guess growing up in a house where everything was white was too much ! Blue or green seems nice! now that we have more time due to covid!Abigal

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