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How To Distress Wood Paneling

Tired of old, dated wood paneling? This design trend is common in homes but can feel dated and unattractive. If you're sick of looking at walls that remind you of grandma's house, you're lucky - it's not a hard fix. And no, you won't have to pay to replace the whole wall.
 
Distressing wood paneling is a fairly simple technique that only requires a few basic items. The paint is the most expensive piece, and it doesn't require advanced skills. If you have time to wait for a few coats to dry, you too can distress your wood-paneled wall.
  1. Prepare the work area. Sand the surface and lay tarps down as needed. If desired, mark the surface to create the illusion of dented and scuffed wood.
  2. Clean the surface, removing all dust.
  3. Apply a stain if desired.
  4. Paint with white or gray paint, diluted with water. 
  5. Sand again if desired, completing the rough and marked look of your newly-weathered wall.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to complete each step. In addition, get some tricks on making the paint stick to smooth or shiny paneling like veneer.

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A distressed wood paneling photographed up close, How To Distress Wood Paneling

How To Distress Wood Paneling

Distressed paint is a method or style that makes the item look aged or antique. It involves tricks such as sanding down paint spots, as though time has naturally rubbed the paint off. Similarly, there are other methods for achieving a distressed look by "roughing up" the surface. For example, this could be done with a few well-placed dings from a hammer, pry bar, or other tools. Since this item is supposed to seem believably old, it's realistic that it should have a few dents or scuffs.
 
An old wooden wall with burn marks and scratches
 
So how, exactly, do you create an intentionally weathered surface but still keep it looking natural? It's really not that hard if you're crafty and have time to do a few coats.

1. Prepare the Surface

The first thing you'll want to do is to sand the surface. Roughing it up a bit will help the paint stick better. Tape off areas where you don't want paint, and protect surfaces such as carpet with tarps or drop cloths.

This is the right time to add any desired marks or flaws to the surface as well. Some people leave dents and scratches by hitting a hammer or pry bar. Others pound nails or screws against the surface to create dimples. Some even whip a piece of chain against the wall (carefully!) It's totally up to you; there's nothing wrong with leaving the wall unmarred. If, however, you're really committed to the illusion of an old wall, some marks do add character. 

2. Clean the Wall

You know all that dust you just made in the first step? Well, now you have to clean it off. Dust left behind will stick in your paint and ruin the surface and texture. Use a vacuum and tack clothes for a thorough clean. For more advice and tips to clean your wall, try How to Clean Wall Paneling in 4 Easy Steps.

Click here to see tack clothes on Amazon.

3. How Do You Distress Stained Wood? (Optional)

A grungy wall photographed up close

Depending on your goal for the overall finished look and the current wood paneling color, you may want to apply a dark stain. Using a dark stain underneath will allow you to whitewash over it but have dark sections still peeking out. This creates a more dimensional and interesting effect, though it's not necessary.

Click here to see this wood stain on Amazon.

If you don't know how to stain, it's fairly simple. Wipe the stain with a lint-free cloth or sponge, moving evenly across the surface. Apply lightly; do not saturate your cloth with excess stain. Let it absorb into the surface for a few minutes. Afterward, wipe away with a clean rag and then allow it to dry.

4. Paint When Dry

Once the stain is dry, then you can paint over it. Use white or gray latex paint; diluted two parts paint to one part water. Mix well, then apply with a dry brush. For the proper dry brush technique, only add a little paint at a time. Be sure to wipe the brush off with a clean rag in between. 
 
Apply only one or two thin coats because you want to leave a little of the wood pattern visible. Once you've finished painting, then immediately start wiping off excess paint with a rag. You can remove as little or as much as you like until you get the desired paint color and look.  Don't worry about any streaks. On the contrary, this only adds to the weathered look.
 
Note: Although white and gray are the most common colors, you can use anything you like. There is really no rule or limit to what color distressed wood can be.

5. Sand Again (optional)

If desired, you can sand small areas in patches. The goal is to remove very little white paint - just a bit here and there, to let the dark stain underneath peak out. This gives the illusion that the paint has rubbed away over the years, in small sections here and there.

An up close photo of whitewashed timber

What Paint Will Stick To Veneer?

If you're painting over a laminated or veneer surface, you may be concerned that the paint won't stick. If you follow the steps as directed, it shouldn't be a problem. The keys to painting over veneer are:

  • Sand the surface. If you have a veneer, you will want to be especially thorough in this step. Sand until the surface is dull before painting.
  • Use latex paint. In fact, when working with veneer, using latex paint with added primer may give the best results.

Is it okay to paint wood paneling?

Wood paneling can make a room feel cozy and comfortable, but it can also look outdated quickly. If you're tired of wood paneling in your home, but can't afford to replace the walls, then painting is a great option! You can paint over wood paneling just like any other wall.

Whitewashing or distressing the wall is an easy way to modernize old wood paneling. You don't have to cover and smooth every joint between the "planks," as you aren't trying to entirely cover up the fact that it's a wood(-like) surface underneath. In addition, you won't have to paint multiple coats trying to conceal the wood grain.

In Conclusion

Creating a distressed look to cover up old wood paneling is an affordable and easy way to modernize a room. If you're tired of dated paneling in your home, you don't have to remodel the wall entirely. In five easy steps, you can practically have a whole new surface. All it takes is a little paint, water, rags, and some muscles willing to sand. If desired, you can also use a dark stain to round out the look. 

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