The In’s-And-Out’s of Board-and-Batten

This page is a reference page of just a bunch of information, not really formatted, and meant to go along with the series: RG’s Complete Guide To Wood Paneling and specifically the post on Board-and-Batten Paneling.

Material Choices

Paint Grade

  • Sheet Materials-
    • Plywood – generally adequate to go with 1/4″ or 3/8″ thick smooth surface material if going over a hard wall surface.  If going directly over studs with no drywall or plaster beneath then you would need at least 1/2″ thick material. Certain grades of plywood work in completely wet areas.
    • MDF – sheet mdf (medium density fiberboard) has the advantage of being very smooth and flat which generally means less prep on the surface (ends or cuts can be hard to finish smooth) but MDF and water are sworn enemies, so not for use in wet areas.
  • Solid Lumber (Planks) -
    • Standard 3/4″ thick “1-by” material is perfect.  It installs easily and does a great job of adding insulating value and soundproofing to the wall.  When painted, solid lumber generally results in a nicer grain than plywood.
    • A good width is a 1×12 – they can be butt-up beside one-another and the seam covered with a batten strip (1×2, 1×3 or 1×4)

Stain Grade

  • When buying stain grade material, the options are similar to above, but it is very important that the batten strips and the panel material match.  Often when you buy stain grade plywood, such as oak or mahogany, it is very difficult to find solid lumber in the exact same species.  Sometimes you have to mix-and-match.  Just be sure, before you buy, that you’re happy with the way the components work together.

Pre-Finished

  • Panels and batten strips (as well as moldings) are available in totally prefinished options.  I’m a bit of a believer in authentic “real thing” stuff inside the house, so I generally shy away from anything with a laminate or plastic finish.  And I’ve found that items that are pre-painted generally get fouled-up during installation.  Making it harder for me to match than if I had just bought it unpainted.

Height Options

Full Wall

  • The old standard for paneling and the only way that it can be a complete replacement for other wall finishes is to simply cover the whole wall.  It looks great, is easy to do, and offers great longevity.  Wood is easy to hang pictures on and easy to repair.

Traditional Wainscot Height

  • Wainscot, traditionally, is installed at the height of the back of an average dining chair, about 32 – 36″.  The purpose being that the “chair rail” at the top would protect the walls from the backs of the chairs scuffing against them.  For many decorative paneling applications, this is the selected height.
  • Another rule-of-thumb I use is more visual (I generally don’t use a tape measure for this, opting instead to just mark the wall where it feels right to me) but it roughly equals 1/3 the height of the wall.  However, in rooms with high ceilings, this can be wrong.  Imagine a room with 12′ ceilings and chair rail at 48″ above the floor.  That wouldn’t look right.  Best bet… measure your chairs.

Picture Mold Height

  • It’s funny the things you remember.  I can see the room I was in with Gene Norton, a man who taught me a whole lot about carpentry, when he first taught me the term “picture molding”.  He was referring to a chair rail like molding at about 3/4′s up the height of the wall.  He said that in the old days they would use that to hang pictures from using chains to hang down.  The plaster was too hard to put a nail in.  But I digress.
  • The height of that molding is another one that is done more by feel for me, but it is between 2/3 and 3/4 up the wall.  This is probably my favorite height to run wainscot.  I have some posts on the blog showing pictures, just search for wainscot or chair rail.

Installing The Paneling

  • The grain should always go floor to ceiling.  Sometime it seems easier to run the plywood side to side (less seams) but the grain will be visible when the job is done and it should run the same direction as the batten strips.
  • Plan ahead, when using plywood, for where your seams will go.  You’ll need a batten strip there to cover it, so think about your spacing before installing plywood.
  • Use Liquid Nails on back of the sheets or the planks.
  • Mark your studs before you start.  You’re covering the wall, so if you have to bust a hole to find a stud, don’t worry about it.  Find all the studs and mark the location below and above your paneling so you’ll be able to see it after the paneling is up!
  • Shoot brad nails, or hand nail trim nails, into the studs.  To strengthen the area between studs, you can use short brad nails (don’t go deep into the wall cavity, you could hit wires or pipes) at opposing angles to anchor the material to the drywall.
  • An alternative is to run strips perpindicular to the panels (parallel to your baseboard) before you start.  This works if you have plaster walls because you can use large screws to hold the strips and small nails to hold the panel to the strip.

Installing The Trim

  • Run your trim in the following order:
    • baseboard first
    • batten strips next
    • top horizontal strip next
    • top cap-rail
    • decorative cove mold under cap rail
    • shoe molding, if used
  • Use brad nails or small trim nails for all of it, an air nailer is highly recommended because of the tiny hole

Finishing

  • finishing is really an entirely separate art.  But a few keys:
    • sand before installing anything – get it very smooth
    • prime most materials before installing – it’s easier that way
    • sand again after primed and installed before finish coats
    • If a little texture is okay, you can skip the sand between coats, but you can’t skip it with clear finish
    • very little caulking should be required, but it’s fine if you need it

I’m sure I’ll think of more later and come back and add it, along with some links.  If you have any questions, just leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it!