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Lightening Up Dark Paneling

Great Paint Finishes for a Gorgeous Home - Chapter 4

Dark paneling now lightenedThis chapter will show you how to take a dark stained wood or processed paneling of years gone by and bring back its beauty by lightening up its color. This will allow you to keep your wonderful wood texture and grain but bring the color tone of the wood into the 1990s and beyond. By lightening up your dark paneling, you will be able to coordinate your room with today's styles, fabrics, tile, carpets, draperies, and more. All of this without the extraordinary expense of tearing out the wood and starting from scratch!


First, you need to make sure the surface you are going to work on is free of any dirt, grease, or wax buildup. If your surface has any dirt or grease on it, you need to wipe it down with a good cleaning agent that will not leave a residue when dry, such as T.S.P. or Soilax. If it is waxed wood, you need to remove the wax remover.

Next, you need to use a product like ESP, which will change the chemical composition of the varnish or urethane that was originally applied to your wood as a protective coating, so that your new oil-based stain will adhere to the wood. If your surface is rough-sawed wood paneling, you do not need to do this step. Just make sure the surface is free of dust, and then go ahead and stain it.

Now, mix up an oil-based, low-luster paint in an empty 1-gallon bucket. Use 1 quart of paint to 1/2 to 3/4 quart of paint thinner. The exact mix will depend upon how porous your surface is. The less porous, the less thinner you use.

  • A cleaning degreasing agent such as T.S.P
  • E.S.P.
  • Paint thinner
  • Oil-based low-luster paint
  • Cotton rags
  • 1 empty gallon bucket
  • Stir stick
  • 1 2.5 -or 3" oil brush
  • 2 3 - or 4" clip brushes
  • 2" blue tape
  • Gloves
  • Beugler striping tool
  • 4'-long (1.2m) level
Pro Tips
  • Stain only two to four boards at a time and keep a clean edge down your outside groove as you go.
  • Avoid working back into finished areas. This can create a "hole" in your finish.
  • Pay close attention to any runs or drips in your finish after you have completed an area.
  • Use a dry chip brush to help even out your stain around any molding areas.
  • Practice on the back side of a door or the underside of a shelf before doing a noticeable area. This will help you verify your color and technique where it will be least noticeable.
  • Apply a little stain on the board and work it out to all areas. A thin, even coat is best.
  • On rough-sawed wood you can apply a full wet coat of stain because it will soak in. You need to wipe it off to even out the stain.

Introduction | Steps 1-3 | Steps 4-6 | Finish
Rough-sawn Paneling | Beaded Paneling