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    Tongue and groove wall panelling

    Summary: Learn how to fit tongue and groove wall panelling, prepare the surface, fix battens to the wall and fix the tongue and groove boards.

    Fitting tongue and groove wood panelling can be a decorative solution for covering up walls that are in a bad condition. More commonly they are fitted up to dado rail height. The most popular form of panelling is tongue and groove board panelling.

    Tongue and groove boards are made up of narrow planks with a protruding tongue along one edge and a groove along its opposite edge, allowing the boards to be slotted neatly together.


    • Firstly remove the skirting board from the walls that you are fixing the panelling to.
    • Any wall sockets or electric light switches will have to be moved forward. The method you adopt to achieve this will depend on whether you want the switch or socket to be flush with the panelling or surface mounted.

    Flush mounted sockets and switches

    • If the fitting is surface mounted on the existing wall, buy a new 35mm (11/2 in) deep metal mounting box that will accommodate the faceplate of the switch or socket.
    • Switch off the power supply from the consumer unit. Push out the metal disc in the side of the mounting box and fit a rubber grommet in the hole. Fix the box to the wall alongside the existing unit and feed the cables from the old fitting through the hole. The switch or socket is now ready for connection to the new faceplate when the panelling has been fitted.

    Surface mounted sockets and switches

    • To surface mount the switch or socket on the new panelling you will need a new plastic casing that is either 17mm (3/5in) deep for a switch or 25mm (1in) to 30mm (1 ½ in) deep for a socket.
    • Switch off the power supply from the consumer unit.
    • Fix short lengths of batten to the wall around the socket or switch.
    • When you come to fix the panelling board over the existing fitting, first drill a hole for the cable to be fed through it. The cable should then be fed through the back of the new plastic mounting box.
    • Fix the mounting box to the panelling and once all the panelling has been completed connect the cable/s to the terminals on the faceplate and screw it to the mounting box.

    If the cable is not long enough to reach the terminals on the new faceplate, extend it using a terminal connector block and a short length of new cable.

    Fix short lengths of batten to the wall around the socket or switch then secure the mounting box in place.


    Fixing battens to the wall

    • To create the frame on which vertical panelling will be fixed, horizontal battens should be fixed to the wall. The battens should be 40mm wide (1 ½ in) and 20mm (4/5in) thick. If you are fitting horizontal panelling the battens should be fitted vertically.
    • If the panelling is being fitted in a kitchen or bathroom always fit vertical panelling on horizontal battens as any water splashed on to the panelling will then drain down the channels between each board.
    • Also there must be adequate airflow behind the panelling to allow condensation to dry. To achieve this, pack small pieces of plywood or hardboard behind the horizontal battens at each fixing point so they're not touching the wall's surface.
    • The first batten should be fixed to the wall near to the floor; another fixed to the wall at the height the panelling will reach. Additional battens should then be fixed between the two approximately 400mm (1ft 4in) to 600mm (2ft) apart. Use a spirit level to ensure the battens are level.
    • Use masonry nails or countersunk screws with wall plugs to fix the battens to the wall.
    • Before you start to fix the tongue and groove boards to the batten frame check with a spirit level that the surfaces of the battens are perfectly aligned. Any inconsistencies can be rectified with thin pieces of hardboard packed behind the battens.

    Fixing the tongue and groove boards

    • Tongue and groove boards can be fixed to the battens by three different methods.
    • Face nailing: drive 30mm (1 ¼ in) lost head or oval nails through the face of the board about 15mm (5/8 in) from the edge. Use a nail punch to ensure the nail head is below the surface of the panel. When you have finished the job you can fill all the punch holes with wood filler.
    • Screws: this method is only used on tongue and groove boards if at a later date it will be necessary to remove them to gain access behind the panelling. 30mm (1 ¼ in) round head or counter sunk nails should be used. Drill pilot holes in the boards first then screw them to the battens.
    • Secret nailing: an ideal way of fixing tongue and groove boards to battens so the nails cannot be seen. Once again use 30mm (1 ¼ in) lost head or oval nails or panel pins, hammering them through the tongue of the board at an angle. When the nail head is near to the board use a nail punch until just its corner proud of the timber. Hammering the nail too hard into the groove is likely to cause it to split.
    • The first board should be positioned in a corner about 3mm (1/8in) from the adjoining wall. The grooved edge should be facing the adjoining wall.
    • Having checked with a spirit level that the board is vertical, fix it to the battens using one of the above methods.
    • Position the second board against the first, overlapping its groove with the tongue of the first board.
    • To achieve a tight joint between the boards use an off-cut as a knocking block. With the knocking block held against the edge of the second board tap it a couple of times with a hammer.
    • Fix the second board in place and continue along the length of the wall.
    • On reaching an internal corner you will be fortunate if you don't need to cut a board to fit in the space. Measure the width of the space and cut the board slightly smaller to allow for manoeuvring the board into position.
    • To complete the internal corner, butt the other piece of cut board against the panelling and fixing it in position.
    • To negotiate an external corner, cut the board so it fits flush against the end of the batten. As with the internal corner use the other piece of cut board on the other side of the corner. Resist the temptation to start on the new wall with a whole board, as this will make the panelling at the corner appear unbalanced.
    • When the boards making the external corner are fixed in place, you will notice the cut edge is untidy; running a block plane down the whole length of the corner's edge easily rectifies this.
    • Having fixed all the panelling to the battens, fix lengths of rail along the top to hide the gap between the panelling and wall caused by the batten. To create neat joints at the corners of the room where the rails meet cut the ends to make mitre joints.
    • Replace the skirting board.

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