Most of my house has wood paneling instead of drywall. I want to fill in the grooves to give my walls a smooth look (drywalling the house is not in the budget). Based on the recommendation of a book, I've tried using spackle. The problem is it shrinks too much and then cracks later, plus sanding creates a ton of dust.

Is there another product I can try that would work better than spackle?

  • 5
    Have you inspected what is underneath the paneling? It is possible that there is already drywall / plaster there. – James Van Huis Nov 2 '10 at 19:06
  • It's just hung on the studs and is very flexible when you push on it. – Greg Nov 2 '10 at 19:39
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    Have you considered leaving it be until you can do it right? – Tester101 Nov 5 '10 at 16:26
  • Yeah, I think that's the best option. I was hoping there was a better idea, which is why I asked. :) – Greg Nov 5 '10 at 17:33
  • Update - We ended up using Spackle and then painting over it. Due to flexing, the Spackle has started to crack. It's still better than it was, but not perfect. – Greg Aug 28 '13 at 20:30

14 Answers 14


I might consider wallpaper as an option. You can surely find it in a plain paper, in your choice of colors, or any of a million patterns. First, you would need to fill in the grooves with spackle, but now you can do it very quickly. No worries there, just ensure that there are no voids behind the paper. And a plain paper would be relatively inexpensive.

Another choice is to use a product that is closer to a latex caulk to fill the grooves. It stays semi-flexible (so less fear of cracking) and is paintable, and you can buy it in a tub form to spread with a knife. I used a product from DAP (sold as a crack filler) once to solve a similar problem, filling cracks in a ceiling.

A third option is to buy battens - thin strips of wood moulding, perhaps 1/4 inch thick, and perhaps an inch wide. You can even choose the profile for the moulding if you wish to give it a custom look. Nail these vertically over the grooves, and paint it all. You might also paint the battens a different color to highlight them. This will give the wall a completely different look, rather than just looking like painted paneling, and no spackle will be required.

  • Nice ideas! I'll have to look for that crack filler. – Greg Nov 2 '10 at 19:45
  • I know that DAP sold it, but this was roughly 10 years ago that I used the product, when we moved into our current home. If you can't find that stuff, then you could just use a regular latex caulk in a gun. Squeeze a bead into the length of the groove, then run a taping knife down on top to smooth it out. It will flex with the paneling, so not crack over time. – user558 Nov 2 '10 at 22:20
  • +1 for the wallpaper idea. You can buy paintable wallpaper too. – aphoria Nov 3 '10 at 10:37

That flexing you mentioned in a comment is going to be a real problem for you. Anything you put in those grooves has to be able to flex along with the paneling, otherwise it's just going to crack and/or fall out.

One of my brothers had a very similar situation and chose a rather novel solution. He removed all the paneling and reattached it with the revers showing. He then made a bit of a feature of the less than perfectly smooth surface. It looks rather nice and cost little more than his time.

  • Probably about as much work as filling in the grooves. – Greg Nov 3 '10 at 12:35
  • @Greg - True, it may not save any work but at least you won't have to worry about the filler cracking and falling out. – John Gardeniers Nov 4 '10 at 3:35
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    Sorry, I meant "Not a bad idea, it's probably not much extra work"! :) – Greg Nov 4 '10 at 13:05
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    +1 - I think this would be a great, low cost quick-fix, no worries about cracking and still paintable. Sure, it'll most likely have a texture, but at least there won't be the possibility of the grooves still being seen. I will say you'll need to buy new nails or screws though. – joshmax Oct 25 '11 at 20:37

I had wood paneling at an old house of mine and I ended up just painting it. You could try and skim coat it, DAP makes a product which is escaping me at the moment just for skim coating, but I'd be leary of putting it on paneling. The reason I say this is from my experience, paneling tends to flex quite a bit if put under slight pressure. I'd be afraid that the skim coat would crack or chip as the paneling flexes. I would recommend taking out the paneling and putting up drywall if you can. I was never really happy with the painted paneling and didn't want to skim coat it for the reasons above.

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    I had the same experience / opinion. Eventually it'll be replaced with drywall once I get that far down on the list. – Greg Nov 2 '10 at 19:46

I just finished filling in most of a room of wood paneling by using Elmer's wood putty (comes in tubs of various sizes). It has almost no shrinkage when it dries and goes on easy. You fill the grooves, let it dry (an hour or two) and then sand it with sandpaper so it's smooth. The end result is a very smooth surface that when painted looks like a solid wall. I highly recommend it as a more economical option. Good luck!


Paneling will expand and contract and tend to crack filler in the joints between sheets. Might be better to just paint it with the grooves. I agree that this doesn't look as well as smooth drywall. Drywall is not all that expensive.


Wow people really dont get that you don't have the money to drywall right now! We are going through the same thing we have plaster under the paneling but its cracked and awful! drywall might not be expensive but doing the whole house is! Expecially after mud sandpaper screws and not to mention the time! We are using wood putty works great!

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    I didn't realize wood putty came in large enough quantities to do this. Guess it makes more sense, eh? – Greg Apr 19 '11 at 20:16

My mom had this issue in her basement and she ended up finding a wallpaper specifically for this purpose. It goes right on top of the paneling and bridges all of the gaps. It can then be painted over and looks very similar to a drywalled surface. The wallpaper is thicker than your average off the shelf paper- it's got a similar feel and thickness to strait-flex drywall corner tape.

The other option that would surely work better than regular wood putty is an auto body filler which is a two part epoxy. It dries much harder and adheres much better than regular wood filler. It's a pain to sand once dry so you want to try and get it as smooth as possible when applying.


Use wood putty instead of spackle.

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    Why would you recommend wood putty instead of spackle? – Tester101 Nov 15 '11 at 16:53
  • Wood putty is made to adhere to wood (it's basically sawdust mixed into wood glue). Spackle's made to adhere to plaster and paper; it's basically a plaster compound itself. Tools for tasks... – keshlam Nov 13 '14 at 16:06

I did two bedrooms successfully.

  • I used drywall mud to fill in the grooves
  • I used a special heavy white wallpaper (from Home Depot) to cover the paneling

    Note: I left the bottom half of the room's paneling exposed and used a chair rail although you do not need to do that

  • I used drywall tape to cover the paper seams and mudded over the tape

  • The wall looks like drywall and feels pretty solid.
  • I was thinking of drywall originally but saved a lot of prep work removing paneling, window trim etc.

If you're OK with a textured look, here's the approach I've taken:

First, we lightly sanded the walls.

Then we got a roll of brown paper, and we ripped off 12" by 12" or so and rolled and squashed the pieces to make them wrinkled.

Then after we had a lot done, we made wallpaper paste and applied it to one piece at a time. Then we slapped it on the wall panels, making sure it is wrinkled well and overlapping the other pieces. After it dries, it looks like leather. In one room we did this to, we painted over it. So many of our visitors have said how great it looks.

The total cost was $20 for paper and $15 for paste. It was lots of fun doing it!

  • Interesting trick! I'd try it on a small/disposable surface first to decide if you like it and develop technique, but it's certainly a clever and nontraditional solution, and much cheaper than textured wallpaper. I'll have to play with that eventually, in my Copious Spare Time (TM). – keshlam Nov 13 '14 at 16:08

Fill & sand any nail holes. Paint over the paneling in the color you want. You may be surprised how much just painting it changes the look. You can always do other things later.

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    The OP was talking about how to fill grooves in the wood paneling, which could be 1/4" or more in width and run the entire height of the paneling. This doesn't really address the question. – Niall C. Dec 21 '14 at 2:19

Put another layer of paneling over it, one that doesn't have grooves! Then when someone takes down that wall in years to come they can marvel at the kludge job.


My husband and I had an entire hallway that had old wood panel that had been painted!!!! We used joint compound to fill the cracks and it worked great! Later, sand lightly to keep it all even. Use a flat wall paint to primer, then use your preferred paint. We also wall papered halfway up the wall! Turned out gorgeous. Alot better than the expensive solutions everyone gave us. Hope this helps someone.


My Dad used to have me help him on commercial wallpapering jobs, because I was very tall. "Sanitest" wallpaper is a grade of wallpaper that has cloth imbedded in it on the backside. Many varieties are vinyl faced and shiny - but there are some that are actually embossed with a raised pattern with a flat finish. These come in an off white color. They are used to cover walls with imperfections. Many times we used them in rooms that had sophisticated panel "inlays" where the family couldn't afford the real thing. You hang it like wallpaper but they can then be painted after installation. Many times my Dad used this product to fix walls with small depressions or cracks. These coverings are tough and "flex" as the house expands and contracts. I'd fill in the big seams with spackle and then hang this over it. It looks great and really lasts! Downside is that it's heavy when the paste is on it, but I actually prefer it to regular wallpaper that's super thin and stretches.

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