January 12, 2016

I (Finally) Painted Our Wood Judges' Paneling!

Our house was built in 1970-something, and like many homes of that era, we had a room covered in judges' paneling. It was neat when we bought the house - my husband had dreams of it becoming a man cave full of leather chairs, animals on the walls and full of cigar smoke. I had other ideas.

Painting wood judges paneling in den DIY paint panelling | A Crafty Wife

Fast forward seven years and this room, now with an updated stacked-stone fireplace, wood floors, and 2 kids running/crawling around had become our den, where we spend most of our time when not eating, sleeping or bathing. It was so dark! Photos taken in the room had an orangey glow. I wanted to rip all the paneling down and replace it with drywall and a light color paint. In the interest of saving a few thousand dollars on labor and materials, hubby and I finally agreed to take a shot at painting it. What a difference it makes!

judges painted paneling before and after | A Crafty Wife

Sidebar: in our house, I do all of the interior wall painting. I like it; hubby HATES it. He did paint the nursery before the first baby came, but I think that had more to do with me being super-preggo. So painting the den was going to be my project.

Since there was no going back once we started, I did my research first. Surprisingly, there isn't a lot of info online about DIY painted judges' paneling. I was worried about bleed-through from the wood, covering the wood grain texture, and I absolutely did NOT want to have to sand the wood first before priming. Plus, there is just SO. MUCH. TRIM. that I was nervous to dive in (seriously, look at all that trim! Someone spent a lot of time on that!).

wood judges paneling painting in den | A Crafty Wife
detail look at trimwork on judges wood paneling  | A Crafty Wife

I talked to friends who had painted their paneling and found out what primer they used. I talked to the paint department people at 2 different home improvement stores. And I read what little I could find online...everyone said to use different primers. I finally narrowed it down to Zinsser brand primers, and I ended up contacting the company to see what they would recommend for my specific application.

They recommended Zinsser B-I-N primer, which is a shellac-based primer. No sanding necessary, it seals in wood sap, and it's quick drying. It's not cheap though - $40+ for a gallon! I wasn't going to cheap out on this critical step though. Other supplies:
  • Angled brush (for the trim & edges)
  • Several roller covers (I used 1/4" nap to really get into all the grooves. I bought 3 and threw them away after every coat of primer/paint - easier than trying to clean them)
  • Painter's paper & tape (for covering floor & mantle from drips)
  • Denatured alcohol (not pictured - for cleaning the primer off of the brush in between coats. Mineral spirits/paint thinner don't work on the shellac-based BIN primer.)
  • Paintable, flexible interior caulk (I used DAP Window/Door/Trim Sealant in white) 
  • Latex paint
Zinsser BIN B-I-N primer for painting paneled wood walls | A Crafty Wife

First step: clean the walls and prep the space. I started priming with a small angled brush and did all of the trim work first, then used a standard roller for the large flat areas. The B-I-N primer was interesting - it has a milk-like consistency and dries to the touch on the wall within a minute. It did a pretty good job of filling the wood grain texture too. After 1 full coat there was already quite a difference!

Zinsser BIN primer on judges wood paneled panelling walls | A Crafty Wife
close up of trim work detail priming wood panelled walls | A Crafty Wife
First coat of BIN primer on wood judges paneling walls

After 2 coats of primer, it was time for caulk. This step takes forever, but do not skip it! Now that the dark wood color was gone, every nook and cranny created shadows that made the trim look unfinished. I filled every single one (some took 2 or 3 times) to create a seamless look.

DAP caulk for filling holes in wood judges panelling

I used 3 bottles of caulk over 7.5 hours (over the course of a couple days) to get all of the trim looking right. I found that using my finger and a wet rag to smooth the bead out was the most effective. Messy, but effective. I filled every nail hole, every place a piece of trim met another piece of trim/wall board, where the crown molding met the ceiling, and even some of the wood knots that were clearly visible through the paint.

caulked judges panelling vs no caulk in judges paneling | A Crafty Wife

After the caulk came 3 coats of paint (the first coat was a flat finish, and somewhere during that we decided to switch to eggshell. It probably would have been fine with just 2 coats of paint if we hadn't changed mid-paint-job). I used Behr paint and primer in one in a color match to Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray. It's a light, almost beige-y neutral that picked up the lighter colors in the fireplace stone and floors. Just like with the primer, I started with the angled brush for all of the trim, then used the roller on the larger flat areas.

painted judges paneling in den BIN primer Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray paint | A Crafty Wife

Just when I couldn't bear to look at trim anymore, I had more trim to paint: the door & window casings, window stiles and muntins, and back of the interior door (which had been stained in 1970-something). All of these areas had already been primed with 2 coats of the B-I-N primer, and subsequently got 3 coats of white trim paint.

painted judges paneling in den BIN primer Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray paint | A Crafty Wife

I am soooooo happy with how this turned out! The room feels so much bigger and brighter (and no longer orange). I only wish we had done this sooner and not lived in a dark cave for so long. This room is now begging for grown up furniture and pretty things on the walls...so that's my next project!

painted judges paneling in den BIN primer Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray paint | A Crafty Wife

In case you are contemplating a project like this, here is a quick rundown on the time involved for our approximately 15' x 20' room:
2 hours prep work: cleaning walls, taping off windows
11 hours for 2 coats of trim primer
7.5 hours of caulking (so. many. edges.)
8.5 hours for 3 coats of paint
8 hours for 3 coats of paint on crown mold/door trim/door/window trim
1 hour clean up/scrape splatter off windows
about 38 hours

If you are thinking about painting old judges' paneling in your house, do it! It really updates the room and it's crazy how much bigger it makes the space feel. Good luck!


  1. hello,
    I a planning to do this to our living room, we have the exact same paneling. I'm just curious, How is it holding up?

    1. 1+ years later and ours is holding up just like it did the day after it was painted. Take your time with the prep work (cleaning, priming and caulking) though - that's what will make all the difference. Good luck!

  2. Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative article, painting with airless spray gun will be faster and more interesting!

  3. AMAZING! I looked everywhere for someone who did a project like this and you're basically the only one who has ever done it before :) We just finished our project today with the same paneling in our downstairs! Thank you for your super detailed post!

  4. I have been looking for examples all day online because I'm scared to take the plunge. THANK YOU for taking the time to document your hard work! This, and by this I mean you, are a great inspiration.