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How to Make Wood Paneling Look Like Drywall

Wood panel walls can make a room feel dark, depressing, and outdated. The easiest way to makeover wood paneling is to give it a fresh coat of paint or you can make wood paneling look like drywall!

Painting will not remove the lines and texture of the paneling, but it will brighten it up a bit. If you would rather get rid of the look of wood paneling without removing it any installing all new drywall, then you came to the right place.

Updating wood paneling can be expensive, but instead of removing it you could make wood paneling look like drywall with spackle!

How to Paint a Wood Panel Wall

If you are okay with the texture and lines showing through your painted wall, then this would be the quickest an easiest way to makeover wood paneling.

Clean the Paneling: To paint wood paneling, start by wiping down all of the walls with a dry rag to remove dust and debris. If the walls feel greasy sticky, try using soapy water and a sponge to clean the walls. This should remove the grease, but if your walls still feel greasy then you should use a degreaser.

Prep: Patch any smaller holes on the paneling using spackle and a spackle knife. Allow the spackle to dry before lightly sanding with 150 grit sandpaper to smooth the surface.

make wood paneling look like drywall

Then wipe down with a dry rag and vacuum if necessary. Next cover the floor and furniture with drop clothes to prevent any paint splatters.

Prime: After wiping down the walls and removing grease, allow the walls to completely dry before priming. You will need a paint brush and a roller to prime the wood paneling wall.

Dip a brush into the primer and paint all of the lines on the panel wall and other areas that a roller cannot cover. One coat of primer should do the job, but if your are painting the walls a lighter color you may want to apply an additional coat.

Painting Wood Paneling: You will need a paint brush and roller to paint the wood panel walls. To paint the wood paneling, dip the brush into the paint and apply the paint to the lines on the walls.

Then cut into all area that the roller cannot cover easily. I prefer not to use painters tape because I can never line it up correctly, and I am usually too excited to start painting.

You might find my painting tips helpful on How to Cut in Paint Without Tape!

Allow the first coat of paint to totally dry before apply an additional coat. Most paints require 2 coats to evenly cover the walls, so plan on 2 coats of paint.

If you want your wood paneling to look like more drywall, there’s a solution. This is a messy and time consuming project, but it is well worth the end result.

How to Make Wood Paneling Look Like Drywall

To make wood paneling look like dry wall, you could do what I did to a paneling room at my mom’s old house. This was a budget friendly wood paneling makeover to renovate this room on a budget, but just took some patience.

To get rid of the wood panel walls without removing them, you will fill in all of the cracks the paneling with spackle. (where the boards separate).

spackling wood paneling
Spackling the paneling

It was definitely tedious to fill in each section of paneling, but the end results look great and you would never know the wall was paneling before.

This option is much cheaper than tearing down the paneling and replacing it with drywall. I could have painted over the paneling, but I did not want the texture or lines from the paneling to show through.

spackle wood paneling
It will look like its from a horror movie lol

How to Spackle Wood Paneling

To spackle a wood panel wall, start by filling in the cracks in between each board of the paneling with spackle. Depending on the size of the room, you probably want a large bucket of spackle to complete this project.

I also, recommend purchase a few putty knives and gloves to help make it easier to apply the spackle. With a glove on, dip your finger into the spackle and press is into a line on the panel wall.

Continue to drag the putty down the line with your finger until it is completely filled. Then use a putty knife to make it as smooth as possible in the cracks between the paneling.

wood paneling to drywall
Here is another picture of the wall before sanding

Work in sections until the all of the lines and holes are completely covered in spackle. Do not sand any of the spackle until you finish the entire room or you will be stirring up dust.

Once you finish spackling the entire room, sand everything at the same time to prevent cleaning up dust multiple times.

Additional Tips to Spackling Wood Paneling

We ran into a unique issue where part of the wall paneling was “bubbled.” The wall paneling would bubble if I pressed on it and it would easily be depressed.

I cut away parts of the wood panel wall where this was happening. Essentially peeling it off until I ran into an area where it was firm and adhered to wall again. You will have to fill those parts in with spackle as well.

wood paneling makeover
Sanding the wood paneling wall

How to Sand Wood Panel Walls

After you finish filling in all grooves of the wall paneling with spackle, the next step to sand. The sanding is quite dusty, so make sure to wear a mask, old clothing, and safety glasses.

Before doing any sanding, I recommend removing all furniture from the room and covering items. I used an electric sander to smooth the spackle on the wood panel wall with fine sandpaper.

In the areas where the spackle was very thick, I used a medium grit sandpaper to help remove the excess spackle. Then I went back over these areas with fine sandpaper to smooth the surface on the wall paneling.

The hand sander saved me a lot of time, but I had to change sand paper frequently. You could hand sand the spackle on the wood panel wall, but it will take a lot longer to finish the project.

Tips to Sanding a Wood Panel Wall

If you plan on sanding the spackle by hand, and depending on the room size, it could take longer. Keep in mind, the room that I did, was rather large so this took me quite a bit of time to complete.

I recommend jumping right to a high grit sand paper to make is as smooth as possible and flush to the rest of the wall boards. Then follow up with a medium grit and fine grit sandpaper to finish the sanding.

Sanding may peel off some wood paneling as you start to smooth the spackle. So, you may have to go over a couple of spots on the wood paneling with the spackle again.

Also, you may run into an issue like I did where the paneling wasn’t completely joined at the corners, where two walls meet. I used paintable caulk to fill in the gaps in the wood panel wall.

Cleaning Up

Make sure you wipe down the wood panel walls with a damp rag or towel afterwards to remove the sanding debris. Then dust any other items in the room that could possible stir up dust in the room.

I also, recommend vacuuming the entire room to prevent any dust from getting onto your freshly painted wall. Before painting make sure that the walls are completely dry, so the paint adheres to the panel wall.

Tips to Paint a Wood Panel Wall

As you can see, we needed two coats of primer before actually painting the panel wall. If you only do one coat of primer, you might still be able to see the paneling behind it because it is dark.

We went with a lighter color for the final paint color, so that is why we if you decide to go with a darker color you might be able to get away with one coat of primer.

If you notice other defects while painting, you may have to go over it again with spackle, but the hard part is done.

painted wood paneling
Painting wood paneling – Easy Wood Paneling Update

Wood Paneling Makeover Ideas

We get it this process is tedious and time consuming, so you might be wondering how to cut down on time. These wood paneling makeover ideas will help make your project easier.

Beaded Hardboard Wall Panel

To cut down on time with this wood paneling makeover idea, you can try spackling the top half of the wall as mentioned in this post. Then adhere molding in the center of the wall and leave the bottom half of the original paneling.

The idea is to make the bottom half of the wood paneling appear as a beaded hardboard. Then prime and paint the bottom half white to give it that typical beaded hardboard style. 

Wood Paneling Accent Wall

Another way to update your wood paneling is to leave one wall as an accent wall. You can leave the wall as the original wood paneling or paint it for a pot of color and texture. Spackle the other walls with putty to make them appear as drywall, but leave only one paneling wall.

Add Built-Ins

If you decided to leave one wood paneling accent wall, you can take it a step further and add built-ins. The built-ins can help cover most of the wood paneling, so you will only see small sections of paneling behind shelving. The texture from the paneling wall will pop behind decorated shelving.

Leave it and Paint it

The easiest thing to do would be to prime and paint the wood paneling. Spackling looks great when it is finished, but it is a lot of work.

So, if you decide that spackling isn’t for you then prime and paint the wood paneling. A little paint can make a big difference in a space and it is an affordable way to update any room in a weekend.

If you decorate the wall with large art, the paneling looks like it was meant to be there. You’d almost never know this was a dark outdate wood panel wall behind the artwork.


If you need help selecting the best paint products for your DIY wood paneling project, check out our other post with must have paint products.

I can never get the tape in the right spot or it gets stuck to the ceiling, so I don’t typically use tape to cut in. If you are don’t like using painters tape either then here are my tips and tricks to paint a room without using tape.

Looking at the finished product, you legitimately wouldn’t even know that there was wood paneling here. It can be time consuming to update a wood panel wall, but well worth it in the end!