By James Dulley
Dear James: I am sick of the kids' toys scattered throughout the house. I think I am ready to take on finishing the utility room for storage. I want to put up wood paneling, but some people say it looks and feels cheap. Are there different kinds to choose from, and how do I start the project? -- Lynn S.
Dear Lynn: Paneling does have a bad reputation because some lower-end products look very artificial -- a poor likeness of wood grain glued to a flimsy backer board. Most paneling doesn't fall into this category. In fact, solid plank paneling, sheet panels of pre-finished wood veneers, and combinations of plank and veneer paneling can be expensive.
Plank paneling uses hardwoods such as birch, maple and oak, or softwoods such as pine, cedar or cypress. Sheet paneling, made from real wood veneers bonded to plywood, can be bought with or without a finish applied. If you want to brighten up your utility room choose light-colored woods, such as birch or maple, in either plank or sheet form. For a traditional look, go with the darker woods.
Since this will be for your basement, consider purchasing wood paneling with backing made of plywood. The more expensive types are treated to reduce moisture absorption into the panel. Too much moisture will warp the wood panels and ruin your installation job.
Also, since this area will be for kids, keep in mind how easy the surface is to clean. Veneer paneling can be cleaned with wood furniture polish. Mild detergent and water can be used to clean vinyl wood paneling.
Inexpensive paper-covered or surface-printed paneling would not be a good choice. Some household chemicals can take the wood grain right off the paneling, so test any chemicals on a small spot first.
The type of groves that you choose for your paneling depends on how you want your walls to look and feel. Painted-on grooves are less expensive than real groves and you generally can't tell the difference unless you actually feel the paneling.
Real grooves vary in depth and quality. Some have a clean, straight groove, while others are uneven and messy. The grooves tell a lot about the quality.
Before installing the wood paneling, condition them to your house humidity level. Stack the panels on the floor for several days with blocks of wood between each one so the air circulates around them.
If you choose a real wood veneer, the grain color will vary slightly and it is a good idea to match-up adjoining panels. Simulated wood grain panels are almost identical so you shouldn't have to arrange these.
To cut the panels make sure you are using the correct tool so you don't splinter the good face of the sheet. Circular saws and jigsaws cut on the upstroke so cut the paneling with the good face down. If you are using a handsaw, table saw or radial arm saw cut the panel with the good face up.
Finally, you can install the paneling directly over drywall or plaster walls using nails and panel adhesive. For concrete or unevenly surfaced walls you can attach the panels over furring strips or 2x4 pieces of lumber. Make sure the wall surface is level and dry.
Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.