How to Refinish Tongue & Groove Paneling

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Things You'll Need

  • Paint stripper

  • Paint brush

  • Scraper

  • Palm sander

  • Sandpaper

  • Steel wool

  • Stain or whitewash

  • Rags

Raw wood paneling

The tongue and groove paneling in your home might be due for a makeover. Perhaps the stain is too dark, or not dark enough. Maybe you are dreaming of lightening up the whole space by giving it a coat of whitewash. Tongue and groove paneling is a significant investment in your home and one that should be well maintained and preserved. Keeping a protective stain on top of the wood will protect it from warps and stains. Removing the old stain is a labor-intensive chore, but your fresher, brighter wood paneling might just become your favorite part of your home.


Step 1

Spread a thick coat of chemical paint stripper on the paneling. Work in small, manageable chunks, no more than a 6-foot-wide area at a time. Allow the paint stripper to penetrate the original paint or stain, which usually takes 20 to 30 minutes. Test to see if the stain is softening by trying to remove the stain with a putty knife. When the stain removes easily, the paint thinner has done its job.


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Step 2

Use a putty knife to remove the chemical paint thinner and the stain from the panels. Wipe the residue on the side of a bucket or a spare rag as you work. Remove as much stain from the walls as you can with the putty knife. Repeat the process with the rest of the paneling.

Step 3

Use steel wool to work on stubborn patches of stain. Apply the paint thinner directly onto the steel wool and work over the stain in a circular motion until the stain is removed.


Step 4

Sand the paneling using a palm sander, which is available at most home improvement stores for about $30. Because of its vibration, the palm sander will provide a more consistent surface than hand sanding. It also will get the job done a lot quicker. Wipe away sanding dust with a damp rag.


Step 5

Apply new stain. Dip a brush into the gel or liquid stain, both of which provide similar results. Brush the stain onto the wall and wipe away any excess with a clean rag. Continue this process until you have covered the entire space and have achieved a depth of color that you like.


Refinishing the tongue and groove paneling on your walls will be a big job. Before you proceed, make sure that your paneling is worth all of the effort. It should be in good condition without warping or water damage. Ask a contractor to give you a quote on replacement or removal of the paneling before you go to the effort of sanding off the original finish. You might find that it would be easier to replace the paneling in lieu of refinishing.


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