DIY Faux Panel Walls to Upgrade Your Home's Look

Add a timeless architectural element to any room with a panel-look accent wall. With a few basic tools and strips of wood, this instant upgrade is possible in just a few hours.

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 6 hours
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Need to give your bedroom an update? Look no further than faux panel walls. Also known as board-and-batten, this DIY wall treatment provides depth to your space. A timeless form of wainscoting, board-and-batten looks great in a hallway, bedroom, living room, and other areas. You can install the look in squares, as we demonstrate here, or forgo the horizontal pieces for uniform vertical slats.

We show you how to transform your bedroom wall using the right supplies and a few basic skills. So grab your DIY tools and get ready to follow our easy steps for gorgeous faux paneling.

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What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 4-foot level
  • 1 Drywall blade
  • 1 Sandpaper
  • 1 Miter saw
  • 1 Soft felt-tip marker
  • 1 Tape measure
  • 1 Framing square
  • 1 Stud finder
  • 1 Paintbrushes
  • 1 Adjustable bevel
  • 1 Caulk gun

Materials

  • 1 Drywall compound
  • 1 Solid wood boards or medium-density fiberboard, cut into strips
  • 1 Primer
  • 1 Construction adhesive
  • 1 Finish nails at least 2-1/2 inches long
  • 1 Painters tape
  • 1 Caulk
  • 1 Paint

Instructions

  1. Prep the Wall

    The wall and existing trim need to be flat to ensure tight joints where the vertical wood strips (stiles) and horizontal strips (rails) contact each other. Check by using the edge of a level. Many walls bulge near corners or at the seams between drywall sheets. Use drywall compound and a wide drywall blade to fill dips and feather out bulges as best you can. Sand the dried compound for a smooth, mar-free surface. Check it with a powerful side light that reveals any defects.

  2. Choose Your Wood

    measure with framing square and mark

    Choose straight, defect-free boards in affordable, tight-grain wood, such as alder, birch, or poplar for your faux panel walls. Pine will suffice, but its knots and pitch pockets might detract from the project's final appearance. The size of boards you choose will depend on the wall area you plan to cover. Compare boards that are 1/2x1-1/2-inch, 1x3, and 1x4 to determine the best scale for your project.

    The ideal material for the rails and stiles is medium-density fiberboard (MDF), an inexpensive 4x8-foot sheet you cut into strips. You'll need a table saw to cut MDF and a pickup truck to haul it home. It's heavy—about 70 pounds for a 3/4-inch-thick sheet—so you'll need a helper to handle it. MDF sands to a smooth and uniform surface that takes paint well, it has none of the defects (such as knots) that can show up in natural-wood boards, and it flexes slightly to conform to minor wall irregularities.

    Related: How to Paint Wood Wall Paneling Like a Pro

  3. Lay Out the Strips

    use level to mark placement of boards

    If you've installed a tile floor, you're already familiar with the basic process for laying out the positions of the wood strips for faux panel walls. But unlike floor tiles, you get to choose any size "square" (the wall area between the rails and stiles) that works with your design style.

    To do that:

    1. Mark the positions of wood trim pieces (the same width as the rails and stiles) that form a border around the wall perimeter.
    2. Use a soft felt-tip marker to avoid putting any indentations in the drywall the way a pencil or pen might.
    3. Measure from the top of the bottom trim position to the bottom of the top trim position, as well as the distance between the side trim.
    4. Mark vertical and horizontal centerlines.

    Decide on a size for your squares that leaves you a full (or near-full) square at all edges. Also, choose a square size that appears correctly scaled for the size of your wall. Like the grout lines between ceramic tiles, you should have either a rail centered between the floor and ceiling or two rails positioned at an equal distance on either side of the center. The same goes for placing the center stile(s) between the side walls. You might want to plot the rail and stile positions on graph paper or a computer program.

    Once you know where the rails and stiles will go, mark their positions on the wall. Make sure the rail marks are level, the stiles are plumb, and that they meet each other at 90 degrees (check with a framing square). If your layout doesn't work, apply primer over the marks and try again. Finally, use a stud finder to mark the wall studs (in color different than used for the border/rail/stile positions), so you'll know where to drive fasteners later.

  4. Attach the Strips

    Attach the border trim first, measuring and cutting carefully for a tight fit where the pieces meet. Apply construction adhesive to the backs of these pieces, and attach them by driving finish nails at least 2-1/2 inches long into studs. Since you'll be painting the rails, stiles, and walls later, you might be tempted to fill bad joints with caulk. Avoid relying on such fillers: Those caulked areas will appear even after applying paint and will only become more visible over time.

    To ensure tight joints, it's a good idea to initially cut each piece a fraction of an inch long so you can check its length on the wall and "sneak up" on the final cut with a series of fine cuts. Even then, leave the piece just a hair long after the final cut; this allows you to flex the piece outward to fit it into position, forcibly press it flat against the wall, and force its ends tight against adjoining pieces.

    Measure and mark odd angles (other than 90 degrees) using an adjustable bevel to transfer the angle from the wall to the piece you're about to cut. If you have to drive a nail closer than an inch from an end or edge, predrill a hole for the nail to avoid splitting the wood or MDF.


    Next, attach a center stile. It might not fall on a stud, so attach it with construction adhesive only, using painter's tape to temporarily hold the stile in position. After the construction adhesive cures, add the center rail on both sides. Attach the remaining rails and stiles, working out from the center.

  5. Paint and Finish

    Prime the wall, border pieces, rails, and stiles. Caulk any small gaps with paintable silicone before adding a top coat of latex paint to your new faux panel walls. Let dry completely.

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