How to Fill Grooves Before Painting Wood Paneling

The height of wood paneling’s popularity was between the 1950s and 1970s; the trend has returned, but some folks want flat, timeless walls. If that’s you, here’s how to fill the grooves before painting paneling.

Wood paneling
Wood Paneling

About Wood Paneling

If you’ve owned a home for a significant length of time, you know that design trends come and go. Floral wallpaper, glass block and shag carpeting are just a few options that once were wildly popular but have since fallen out of favor.

Wood paneling is in that same group. Homebuilders loved it because it was affordable, compared to alternatives, and easy to install. Homeowners loved it because it transformed plain drywall and complemented other trends of that era.

But these days, paneling is a polarizing topic. Some homeowners — especially those who weren’t around during its heyday — love it, and others, who lived through that trend and its overuse, would prefer to never see it again.

For that second group, there’s only one option if they’re renovating a home or purchasing an old one: painting the paneling.

Prepping Wood Paneling

Dated wood paneling in a bedroom with unsightly carpeting
Before you paint paneling, first prep the surface.

A lot of people ask us, “Can you paint wood paneling?” And we’re happy to say, “Yes!”

But before you can paint over wood paneling, you need to prep it. For most people, that means filling in the grooves, which are the tell-tale signs that it’s wood paneling in the first place! The process is easy and doesn’t require any special skills.

Just follow these directions:

  • Sand the paneling lightly to dull the gloss.
  • Wipe any sanding dust off with a damp cloth.
  • Fill in the paneling grooves with joint compound.
  • Allow the joint compound to dry.
  • Apply additional coats of joint compound, if needed.
  • Sand the paneling with 100-grit sandpaper until the joint compound is smooth and flush with the paneling.
  • Wipe any sanding dust off with a damp cloth.
  • Prime the paneling with a shellac-based stain-blocking primer.
  • Apply two coats of wall paint, using a 3/4-inch nap roller to add texture.

Watch this video to learn more!

Further Information

Danny Lipford: Before you start painting paneling, you need to prep the surface. First of all, use a little drywall mud; this is the same joint compound that they use to finish drywall. And an old drywall guy showed me a pretty cool trick here.

If you want to speed up the drying process, then put regular joint compound there. Then you can use this, which we call fast mud or twenty-minute mud. Just mix a little in there.

The fast mud is a little hard to sand sometimes, but if you mix just a little bit in with it, it’ll speed it up. But you still can sand the surface smooth later on. Sometimes you have to add just a little bit of water to it. But this looks like it’s shaping up pretty good.

All right, after you mix it up well, then basically what you want to do is to fill the grooves in. You don’t want to put too much on the surface of the paneling, you just want to fill those grooves up so that it’ll dry. Sand it a little bit, then it’ll be time for the primer.

Boy, we were really lucky here in that the grooves in the paneling were not very deep, so one coat of joint compound, nice and smooth. But if you have deeper grooves in your paneling, you’ll need at least two coats to really surface it out well.

But then, after everything is nice and dry, time to grab the sanding pole again. Just really sand everything, really pay attention to all of the sanding; you can see how well it comes off.

And you really don’t have to sand all of the excess drywall off. You just want to get everything nice and smooth.

Then another wipe down with a damp rag before we prime.


  1. I am wanting to achieve a similar finish to walls in my newly purchased Mobile Home. Since MH walls are ment to flex with the shifting that occurs over time, will there be a problem with the compound falling out of the grooves?

  2. I want to replace my countertops in my kitchen, however I don’t have the money to do so. Do you think this process will work for filling in the grout gaps between the tile on my countertops? Then I can pour cement on top.

  3. I have the same question as Karen, but I don’t see any answer. “Since MH walls are meant to flex with the shifting that occurs over time, will there be a problem with the compound falling out of the grooves?”

  4. I don’t see how this will work, you’re putting a drywall compound over a wood based material that expands and contracts. Even if it didn’t crack and fall out it would separate from the groove and create a visible line. Maybe if you did this then back caulked over top of it with a latex based caulking but then it would stick out like a sore thumb.

    • Yes, can you please reply to these concerns from Steve about using drywall compound over wood that expands and contracts. Cracking & falling out, etc. Thank you.

    • Hi, Steve and Susan,
      The paneling should be primed before applying joint compound to the grooves.
      That way, the joint compound is sticking to the primer, not the wood.
      Good luck with your projects!

  5. I’m have trouble trying to repair the wall next to the door frame how can I make it smooth it’s showing a lot of bummy lines where the door frame was it first it was a larger door frame now it’s smaller how can I make the wall smooth

  6. UNFORTUNATELY, my paneling was painted with semi-gloss before the grooves were filled in. Got some instructions for that?! Same thing? Just dry wall it, sand it a bit and paint??

  7. What does “MH” stand for? How long does the drywall compound last on wood paneling that has already been painted? Can anyone reading this relay any experience with how well it lasts?

  8. Unfortunately someone had done exactly this to a beautiful cabin with Aspen walls and then painted them white. How do we remove all of this from the walls ? We have an electric sander for drywall and it’s still taking forever.

  9. I redid my kitchen countertop with a kit I got through Montgomery ward. There are other colors, but I ordered black. My counter looks brand new and looks like marble countertop.

  10. You make it look so darn easy! My house is full of this hideous wood paneling. I actually did fill in the grooves and paint the entire wall going up my stairwell, but the filler that was recommended to me (Durham’s Water Putty) was NOT easy to work with and it has ended up cracking!! So now it almost looks even worse than the dang wood paneling was to begin with! However, I’m really keen on this drywall compound that you are using. It smooths on so quickly!! And, holy cow, I need that sanding pole! And a wider smoothing knife. Watching this makes me feel like tackling this project is actually doable. That drywall compound is the clincher for me. Thanks for this information!

  11. That will take a lot of sanding to get that process smooth to avoid seeing the mud lines on your process. I would suggest cleaning the walls first and nailing the paneling to make sure its attached properly and there is no movement at the seams. Then use a 90 sandable drywall mixture on first coat with a narrow flexible blade. Sand when dry and then a top coat with drywall mud using a wider blade. Sponging the edges of the new coat to smooth out. Sand again after drying. Or you can fill the joints with 90 and cover with a wall paper that is made just for the purpose of covering paneling to avoid all the extra work and ensure and the work is done with very good results. Not sure how much texture you will really get out of a 3/4 nap roller on these smooth walls but for many it will become a real mess trying to avoid major splatter and paint lines. 1/2 inch nap would be a better suggestion with avoiding over working the roller too much before wetting it again.

  12. We are interested in doing this. We have painted over our paneling for years. A contractor suggested filling in the gaps with caulk first, then fill with dry wall mud, sand, prime and paint.
    What I am concerned about is cracking, and expansion. BUT more than anything, I am worried about hammering a nail into it to try and hang pictures.
    Mr. Danny, can you please speak to this for me.?


    • Hi, Angie!
      Many people prefer flat paint because it hides flaws well. When light does not reflect much on the topcoat, you’re less likely to notice imperfections.
      At the end of the day, choosing the right paint sheen is a matter of personal preference.
      Good luck!

  13. Actually when someone doesn’t be aware of after that
    its up to other people thjat they will assist, so here
    it occurs.

  14. I have 75 year old paneling in my house that is now splintering. Like, I can run may hand down the wall and sometimes bits with come off.
    Would this work to fix that (and I would paint over) or do I just need to take all the paneling down?

    • Hi, Lauren,
      The answer depends on a number of factors. For instance, how much paneling is there? And what is the ultimate goal?
      If your paneling is in such bad shape (and there’s plenty of paneling), you may decide that filling and sanding is too much work to tackle, and in that case, it may be better to cover the paneling with drywall. (It would certainly be faster!)
      Here’s more information on that:
      Good luck!

  15. My house is full of the icky brown panel as well. It’s driving me nuts, I’ve lived in trailers most of my life and mostly delt with panel. Granted sometimes I painted but I’m literally living in my own home and it feels like a trailer. I want my house to look nice like the walls are drywall and new trim. Went to my local Menards to check out spackling compound and when I asked what kind I should use was told to use caulk cause the spackling compound is for drywall. Had to walk away before I opened my mouth and spat out something unnecessary. So the compound they have is called red devil but one is supposed to be safe smell wise and the other isn’t. Since I have a two year old in the house I’m thinking of the scent safe one over the other but I’m not really sure. Any advice for this first time home repair girl.

    • Hi, Taiya!
      To paint paneling, sand lightly, clean and prime with stain-blocking primer (oil or latex).
      To fill the grooves, get Drywall Joint Compound and apply to the grooves with a 6-inch drywall knife.
      Press down firmly to make it flush with surrounding paneling, then sand it smooth (use a sanding pole or sanding block to make it flat).
      Finally, you’re ready to paint.
      Good luck!

  16. Thanks for posting this! Just one question – what grit sandpaper do you use to “lightly sand” the wall before applying the joint compound? The 100 grit like you suggest to use after?

    • Hi, Christina,
      We recommend using joint compound to speed up the drying process.
      One coat should do it if the grooves aren’t too deep.
      Good luck with your project!

  17. Regarding applying dry wall compound to faux wood panelling in a mobile home. Would I just use the same technique and product? Will it hold up to the shifting of the trailer without cracking? Thank you.

    • Hi, Sandy,
      We always recommend checking with the product manufacturers first to make sure they’re suitable for a project. These products will work for this specific project in a stick-built, or traditional, home.
      Let us know how it goes, and good luck!

  18. I wasn’t interested in trying to make all the fill lines be perfect so I just used the compound over the entire surface of the paneling to create a Venetian plaster look. That way any imperfections with the trowel look like they’re supposed to be there. Then I painted. Looks great and nothing has cracked or split.

    • Sounds like a fun change that really gives your home character, Aunty Ro. We would love to see a before and after photo, if you have one. 🙂

  19. I am interested in doing this… however, i have 276 sq ft of faux wood paneling in one room not to mention the rest in 2 other rooms and the joint compound shrinks as if i never put it on. Is there an easier way? Do you have any pictures online of painted faux paneling I can see?

    • Need more information about this topic? Connect one-on-one with a home improvement pro immediately through JustAnswer, a Today’s Homeowner partner:
      Good luck with your faux paneling project! 🙂

  20. My daughter wants to hide the paneling grooves in her room. The previous owners painted the paneling with latex. Is the joint compound still the best way to go to fill the grooves on top of the latex paint?

  21. I just did this to one of my rooms. My whole house is paneling. My dad didn’t like to paint, he said it was easier than painting. This house was built in 1970. I inherited it. So I did this to a bed room and it turned out great. After painting it. Made a wonderful improvement. Will probably do it to the rest. Thanks to your show about a month ago where I seen how you did it, went out got the stuff. Thanks for your expertise info.

    • Hi, Joyce Ann,
      Need more information about this topic? Connect one-on-one with a home improvement pro immediately through JustAnswer, a Today’s Homeowner partner:
      Good luck with your paneling project. 🙂

  22. I have painted paneling in the kitchen. I think your solution for the grooves will work. However, my problem is the paneling was put up after the countertop was in and it has a 4” backsplash on it because that’s what they did years ago. Now I want to change the countertop and there is a 4” gap between the paneling and the counter. Do you have any ideas, without having to take down the whole wall? I want to put a modern backsplash and after I fill the grooves I will still have a 4” gap.

    • Hi, Christine!
      We’re always looking for homeowners to call into our radio show and ask questions directly to Danny and Joe. We’ve reviewed your question and shared it with our radio producer.
      Take care. 🙂


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