Paint Paneling


How to Paint Paneling

We knew when we bought our cabin that the dark wood paneling was not for us – the interior walls were finished in vertical cedar paneling that had become fairly dark and a bit grimy over the years – not what we were looking for.

While painting paneling is not for everyone, many prefer the look and feel of traditional vertical knotty pine or cedar paneling; we were looking for something different.

We hoped to create a light, bright interior that was more cottage than cabin. Think East Coast cottage instead of the traditional Midwest hunting shack. To achieve a nice balance of white with a touch of warmth, we used was a terrific off white that my wife found, White Chocolate from Benjamin Moore.

So how exactly did we do it? Easy… we used an acrylic (latex) finish coat on top of two coats of shellac (alcohol-based) primer and finished the trim and beams were finished with waterborne alkyd (oil) over the same shellac primer. Read on for a step by step, illustrated how-to on just how we did it.

Here are a few images of our cabin’s interior before and after we painted over the wood paneling:

Painting paneling - dark cedar wood paneling to be painted -- before.

The existing dark wood paneling in cabin before painting the paneling.


Painted interior wood paneling, ceiling, beams and fireplace complete.

The wood paneling in cabin after painting the paneling.


Painting paneling - cedar paneling to be painted, before.

Another view of the dark wood paneling in the living area before painting.


Painted interior wood paneling, ceiling and beams - after.

The same interior view as above after painting the paneling and ceiling.



How to Paint Paneling – Overview

Preparation and Materials

Project Overview

  • Level: Easy
  • Time: Days
  • Cost: $200 – $500+

Project Big Picture

  1. Prep wall.
  2. Prime paneling.
  3. Finish coat paneling.
Paint Paneling – Materials and Cost
Item What I used Cost
Latex Finish Paint (similar product) > $75 / gal
Alkyd Trim Paint $60 / gal
Shellac (Alcohol) bsaed primer $75 / 2 gal
Nylon/Poly Paint Brushes $10-$20 ea
Mini 6.5″ Roller $8 ea
Paint Pail / Tray $15 ea
Paint Tray Liners $5 / 3pc
Paint Paneling – Tools / Supplies
Item What I used Cost
Scaffold Tower $750
Vacuum $450
Wool Duster $15
Denatured Alcohol $8 / qt
Rags $20

How to Paint Paneling – Step by Step

Prior to painting remove or cover all furniture, fixtures and appliances.  Cover the floor with drop cloths or similar to protect from paint.  Tape off and cover windows and electrical switch / recepticle plates.

  1. Assembly painting supplies and tools. Gather paint, brushes, rollers, ladders, tools and supplies.
    Supplies for paneling paint job; BIN Zinsser shellac primer, Benjamin Moore Regal Latex interior paint in eggshell, Benjamin Moore Advance water borne alkyd in stain for trim and the Wooster's mini-koter roller system.

    Zinsser BIN, Benjamin Moore Regal Latex in white chocolate, HANDy paint tray and the mini-koter roller system from Wooster.

  2. Dust and clean surfaces to be painted.

    Thoroughly dust all to-be-painted surfaces with microfiber duster or lambswool duster. You may also use a vacuum cleaner with a wide brush attachment.

    If your paneling is dirty or has a residue (think kitchen grease), you should consider cleaning the surface with an appropriate solvent or cleaner. Trisodium phosphate and water is often used, but check the recommendations of your paint products — Zinsser B-I-N recommends using an ammonia / water solution and not TSP solutions. Rinse well after cleaning and allow to dry for at least 24 hours.

  3. Apply first coat of primer.

    Begin applying the primer to the ceiling, starting from the top (highest portion) of the ceiling and work downward. This will help control the flow of paint. Next, prime the wall. Again, start at the top of the wall and move downward.

    Depending on the primer you are using, the surface you are trying to cover and the final color of your finish, you may need to apply more than one coat of primer. Knowing that we were using a white finish over the dark paneling, we planned on applying at least two coats of primer.

    Follow the recommendations of the primer you are using for drying times required prior to second coat application. The beauty of the shellac (alcohol) based products is that they dry very quickly, and can be re-coated in an hour or less.

    Additionally, the alcohol based products have very good adhesion qualities and tend to “bite” into the surface you are painting. This is particularly true for our varnished wood paneling that we were painting, making this type of primer an excellent base coat for the finish paint. This primer (Zinnser BIN) also has excellent sealing properties helping to eliminate odors (smoke, etc) from the paneling.

    We applied the primer by the traditional technique of using a brush to cut in corners and a roller to cover the large surfaces. For the roller, we used the light-weight Mini-Koter roller system (6 1/2 inch) by Wooster. We found it my less fatiguing verses conventional rollers, especially when working overhead.

    We started with the ceiling and then moved to the wall paneling. To paint the tongue and groove wall, we found that the small Mini-Koter rollers turned vertical fit perfectly in the vertical groove of the paneling and could do both the “cut-in” work in the grooves and the surface finish work without using the brush — this was a big time saver.  Again, paint from high to low to help control drips and the flow of the paint.

    Painting paneling - starting to apply primer coat to ceiling beams and paneling.

    Prime coat application begins after thoroghly cleaning paneling and ceiling beams

  4. Apply a second coat of primer (if needed for color or stain coverage).

    Using the same methods as above, we added a second coat of primer to the walls and ceiling. Because the shellac base primer dries so rapidly, we were able to keep our scaffolding setup on one stop for both coats.

    Second coat of primer applied to ceiling and paneling.

    Elena celebrates near completion of the second coat of primer!

  5. Apply the finish coat.

    Once the primer has fully dried (check the recommendations of the primer you are using), apply the finish coat of paint. Using the same techniques of brush cut in, roller finish and working from high to low, apply the first finish coat.

    Depending on the product you are using and your finish color, you may need to apply two finish coats for a satisfactory finish. Follow the manufactures recommendations for second coat application.  As stated above, we used an acrylic (latex) paint, Benjamin Moore Regal interior acrylic eggshell for our finish coat for both the paneling and roof boards.

    Paneling after finish coat complete, windows primed.

    Ceiling and walls complete with two coats of primer and a single finish coat.

  6. Finish coat the ceiling beams and trim.

    To add contrast to the trim elements we used a different paint, one with a slightly more glossy finish (Benjamin Moore Advance waterborne interior alkyd satin), to finish coat the trim.

    Paneling painted with latex in eggshell and trim painted with waterborne alkyd in satin

    Adding contrast by using a slighty more glossy finish on trim and ceiling beams.


    Benjamin More Advance water borne alkyd satin paint used for trim.

    Trim and beams.

    This alkyd satin finish paint gives the wood trim elements a slightly harder finish (more washable too) and a bit of brilliance next to the matte appearing eggshell finish latex. We used the same color, Benjamin Moore’s White Chocolate, for both paints.

  7. Enjoy your new interior.


Paint Paneling Image Gallery

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Originally published February 8, 2014 by Cabin DIY


  • Cabin DIY May 3, 2013   Reply →

    Thanks for the feedback. I would agree that painting wood paneling is not for everyone… but for some, it provides options other to traditional knotty paneling, something more coastal and cottage.

    I admit, when my wife suggested painting the paneling, I wasn’t totally sold on the idea, but after living in it, I think its perfect. It feels open, light, calm and highlights contrasting elements like the wide plank walnut flooring and reclaimed pine fireplace mantel.

  • justpaint September 29, 2013   Reply →

    Just purchased a home with lovely light soft colors throughout and it looks wonderful…until you walk into the dark cedar paneling room – yuck! I was so happy to stumble across your paint job – it is FANTASTIC!! I was thinking I had to rip it out and drywall, etc – but NO – I’m going to be painting it white.

    “Pondering” – there are certainly some wood walls that should not be painted…this is NOT one of them. Seriously – you must be able to see the improvement the paint made to the cabin. It went from hideous to fabulous!

    Good work!!

  • Nick February 12, 2014   Reply →

    Did you sand the panels down first?

  • Cabin DIY February 12, 2014   Reply →

    Hi Nick,

    No. We did not sand, just wash them and let them dry. The Zinsser BIN primer seemed to have excellent adhesion without sanding.

  • Suzanne February 22, 2014   Reply →

    Thanks so much for the step-by-step instructions. Just what we need to get started. We also have a brick fireplace. Just wondering how you painted the brick? Did you use a spray gun? Any instructions/tips you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Cabin DIY February 22, 2014   Reply →

      Hi Suzanne,

      For the brick we prepped the surface with a stiff broom, wire brush and a good vacuuming. To paint the brick we used a thick nap (1/2″) mini roller (MINI-KOTER® HIGH-CAPACITY 1/2 IN. NAP). I believe we used a latex primer first (Rust-Oleum® Zinsser® Bulls Eye 1-2-3® Water-Base Primer) followed by a latex exterior siding paint (Benjamin Moore Regal in Satin). The 4″ mini roller worked well to get the paint between the bricks if you pushed the roller into the masonry seams and then followed with a brush as needed. I will verify the products we used by late next week (I am headed to the cabin mid week next week) and reply back here (and maybe add some photos or another how to). Be prepared to spend some time with the fireplace, brick takes time to paint and we used a total of three coats — a coat of primer and two coats of finish. The results were and are fantastic! No signs of peeling, cracking or breakdown — it still looks great.

      Thanks for the question Suzanne, and thanks for using the site. I will update next week.

  • Suzanne February 23, 2014   Reply →

    Thanks so much for your speedy reply! Luckily, our fireplace has already been painted and we are just wanting to give it a fresh coat. Great to know about the 4″ mini roller and the type of paint. I see that you did not put back the brass frame for the fireplace. We are planning on painting ours black (with BBQ paint)and putting it back. And we are about to embark on painting our cedar walls – looks exactly like yours in the “before” pics. I can hardly wait to get started. Thanks again for all your detailed info re painting the wood!!

  • Cabin DIY February 23, 2014   Reply →

    You’re welcome. Good luck with the project!

    Let me know how it goes (maybe even a photo of the finished product).

  • Gloria Murphy October 10, 2014   Reply →

    Were your cedar panels already smooth or rough? Ours are really rough, look like they have never had any kind of sanding down, and are great at catching dirt. I vacuum them every few months–what a pain. I always get splinters when I brush up against them.

    • Cabin DIY October 10, 2014   Reply →

      Hi Gloria –
      Our paneling has a fairly smooth surface. If you decided to paint your paneling, you should be able to “smooth” the surface and likely make them easier to clean. You may benefit from an extra coat of a high-pigment content primer (like the Zinnser B-I-N primer I mention above) to help fill the surface of the panels. It sounds like the panels may not be finished at all if you are getting splinters.

  • Jen February 12, 2015   Reply →

    Thank you so much for your tutorial! ! Our room looks very similar to yours. We were considering using a spraygun. What are your thoughts on that?

    • Cabin DIY February 12, 2015   Reply →

      Hey Jen,

      Thank for the comment and congrats on your project. I think you will happy you’ve decided to paint the walls. It has been three years for us and we still love it. I think spraying your walls is fine and probably a whole lot faster. One small concern may be the primer you use. We really found the alcohol based primer to work well, but it dries very fast, whiich may make using the sprayer with it a bit more challenging to keep the gun clear,etc. I suspect you can find specific directions for spraying the primer on the product website or other.

      Best wishes with your project. Post a photo if you like.


  • Jill September 17, 2015   Reply →

    Hi, we couldn’t be doing this reno with out your great photos and list of products used. Many thanks. We purchased an all cedar interior home. It’s so dark and depressing! So we have gutted the kitchen and now on to paint the ceiling and walls white. This place will be transformed! !!!! Can’t wait for the project to be completed. It will be bright, fresh and cheery. Then onto the other rooms.

  • Peggy May 20, 2016   Reply →

    It’s been quite a while since your original post, but maybe you’ll see this question. I’m planning to do the same project in our cabin in north MS, but I’m wondering about when to get started. I’m assuming I’ll need windows open for ventilation while I’m working. I noticed you don’t mention respirators. We’re the fumes from the primer not that bad?

    • Cabin DIY May 20, 2016   Reply →

      Hi Peggy,

      Thanks for the question. Start by cleaning the wood paneling. Once the paneling is clean and thoroughly dry, start the painting process by priming the paneling with a quality primer. I like the shellac (alcohol-based) primer by Zinsser (BIN primer). The alcohol seems to bound well to the finished paneling.

      To answer your question regarding ventilation… yes, you should allow for ventilation of the room(s) you will be painting – depending on the paint products you plan to use. The Zinsser BIN primer is an alcohol solvent base and gives off moderately strong alcohol vapors. You will want to have good ventilation while using this or similar products. You certainly can use a respirator, but I did not. The good news is the primer dries very quickly (10 – 20 minutes or so) and will only need the ventilation for a short time.

      Once the primer is dry, apply a finish coat or two of paint. I used a high quality latex paint from Benjamin Moore for my finish coat. Modern latex interior paints are low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) and give off little odor.

      Good luck with the project, I think you will be very happy with the results.



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