Installing DIY MDF Wall Panelling In 10 Easy Steps A How To Guide

Whether you’re a DIY novice or A Do-It-Yourself pro – fitting mdf panelling can present some challenges. We’ve put together an easy to follow 10 step guide on how to install MDF panelling yourself.

Want to learn how to panel your walls?

We’re not surprised, the wall panelling trend has boomed in the last 12 months and we’re receiving more and more requests on how to install MDF panelling at home. There has been a massive upward trend in search increases for terms such as ‘DIY Panelling’ and ‘diy mdf decorative wall panelling panels’. We’ve seen an abundance of home transformations via DIY MDF wall panelling and we want to share the process with you. 

Is DIY panelling easy?

Don’t panic, with this handy and simple guide you’ll be able to install decorative wall panels with minimal fuss and cost – once you’ve completed your panelling project people will start coming to you for your wall panelling expertise. 

DIY Wall Panelling with MDF is a really clever way of decorating interior walls via the use of wall panels, these panels give texture to a room that might otherwise be a bit dull. Wall panels give personality to any room. Whether you’re thinking of fitting some elegant bedroom wall panels or transforming your bathroom with a clever wall panel makeover – this guide will help. 

Geometric Wall Panelling
Geometric Wall Panelling courtesy of Pinterest https://pin.it/2byJBKz

What type of wall panel should I use?

There are two primary options for wall panelling, there’s the modern version of mdf wall panelling or the traditional style of wooden wall panels. What’s the difference? Firstly, cost – MDF is definitely the more cost effective choice. Wooden wall panelling is expensive and the installation must be carried out by an experienced professional. MDF wall panels are much easier to install yourself, they require less time and skill – you can also create a variety of wall panel styles with them. You can buy mdf wall panels online either as a kit or simply as sheets of mdf which you can then cut to size yourself. In this guide we are going to focus on how to install DIY MDF wall panelling, if you’re searching for a guide on how to install MDF wall panelling kits, try this page instead.  

MDF Sheet
A sheet of MDF. Image courtesy of PS Timber https://www.pstimber.co.uk/products/6mm-mdf-board-1220mm-x-2440mm?_pos=2&_sid=4574534ed&_ss=r&variant=33076314964077

What Do I Need For Wall Panelling?

Before you begin your project, the essential items you will need are:

  • MDF Sheets
  • A spirit level
  • Heavy duty adhesive
  • Caulk
  • A Saw / Utility Knife
  • MDF Primer
  • Paint
  • Paint Brush / fluffy roller & tray
  • Sandpaper/ electric sander
  • Hammer (optional)
  • Nails (optional)
  • Tape measure

Fitting DIY MDF Wall Panelling

If you plan on creating your own decorative wall panels and cutting them out of MDF, congratulations you’re in the right place this is the 10 step guide for you. 

Step 1 – What style of wall panel should I use?

The most important part of panelling is picking the panel style. There’s quite a few different styles out there so we recommend doing your research first and then choosing the style that will suit both your interior walls and your tastes. For example you might want to install shaker style panels in your bathroom but maybe you don’t have the space? Tongue & Groove MDF wall panels would be a better option as they are fitted alongside each other and can open up smaller rooms quite significantly. If you’re stuck for panelling inspiration – check out our Panelling Ideas & Inspo Blog – there are heaps of designs to get your imagination going. It’s important to keep in mind that you will be measuring and cutting the panels yourself, don’t get carried away and over complicate things. 

Jacobean Wall Panelling
Jacobean style panelling via House and Garden https://www.houseandgarden.co.uk/gallery/wall-panelling#zVdwypznp1d

Step 2 – Plan Your Wall Panelling 

Planning your panelling usually begins with picking a room to panel. There are no restrictions when it comes to wall panelling, you can panel any room you please. But you will need to keep in mind the type of MDF you purchase depending on your room choice. For kitchen and bathroom panelling you will need to use MR MDF, MR stands for moisture resistant. Moisture resistant MDF is perfect for applications in rooms which are exposed to more humidity, like Bathrooms and Kitchens. It’s quite common in these rooms for the walls to be exposed to the odd splash of water. Now moisture resistant doesn’t mean waterproof but it’s a much better choice than regular MDF as this won’t withstand exposure to water. MR MDF is slightly more expensive than regular MDF but it’s worth the extra cost if you want your wall panels to withstand the test of the time. For panelling rooms such as bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms and hallways – standard MDF will be absolutely fine to use.  

Tongue & Groove wall panelling bathroom
A beautiful country style bathroom featuring slat wall panelling from Ideal Home. https://www.idealhome.co.uk/pictures/country-bathroom-pictures/page/2

What size MDF should I use?

You also want to take into consideration the thickness of MDF you use, 6mm and 9mm are the two choices. You want to take into account how pronounced you want your panels to be and this will help you decide on the thickness of the MDF sheet to use. 

Where can I buy MDF for wall panelling?

You can buy sheets of MDF online or from your local hardware / DIY store. 

Step 3 – Measure Your Walls

Don’t overlook this step, it’s vital to any successful wall panelling project. Once you’ve decided upon the theme of panelling you’ll be using – you need to measure the area. Once you’ve worked out the surface area you’ll be covering, you can then measure out how many wall panels you will need and subsequently work out the number of MDF sheets you will need to buy. You should measure the full width and height of the walls you plan on panelling, take into consideration the skirting board, coving, plug and light sockets and any fitted furniture you might have. Always, always double check your measurements to ensure the panels will fit and absolute symmetry will be achieved. We found a really helpful wall panelling calculator if you’re finding it difficult to calculate the amount of panels you need.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Step 4 – Cut The MDF Panels To Size 

Cutting your MDF panels to size can be a daunting task, there are several ways you can cut DIY MDF Wall Panelling to size. But it all depends on the tools you have to hand. You can use a table saw which can be used to make cuts lengthways – often referred to as ‘ripping’ this is a great option for strip panels which can be used to make Shaker, Jacobean and Geometric style panels. If you don’t have access to a table saw, you can use a Miter/ Mitre saw or a circular saw. 

What’s the difference between a Mitre saw and a Circular Saw?

The Miter/ Mitre saw offers a more precise cut, however Circular Saw’s are handheld so you can cut a variety of different ways. The Mitre Saws are typically the more expensive option whereas Circular Saws are usually cheaper. 

A Circular Saw – Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash

Now if you don’t like the sound of either of those options, and if you’re feeling a bit brave – you can use a Utility/Stanley knife. You can use the blade to score the cuts and then snap the boards – this should prevent splintering but you will need to be incredibly accurate with your scoring. 

Heavy Duty Utility Knife via Toolstation https://www.toolstation.com/heavy-duty-retractable-knife/p11162?store=S1&utm_source=googleshopping&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=googleshoppingfeed&mkwid=s_dc&pcrid=515847200339&pkw=&pmt=&gclid=CjwKCAjwr56IBhAvEiwA1fuqGqq9GQuppR0Y-jWe6uTHP-cQq8qXf6lkKkmIJnuvKbrhel4ETJ8F6BoCRIEQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

Once you have cut your first panel, you can use this as a template for the others which should reduce the time spent cutting and also ensure uniform panels. Once all the MDF panels have been cut to size, you will need to lightly sand all of the ends until smooth. This will allow the panels to meet seamlessly. 

Step 5 – Check & Fix Your Walls

It’s really important that when fitting mdf panelling you inspect your walls beforehand. Look for lumps, bumps, holes and cracks – now if you find any of these blemishes and they aren’t affecting the overall structure of the wall i.e a gaping hole. You can fix them yourself, sand down any lumps or bumps with sandpaper and ensure the wall is nice and smooth – you can use an electric sander if you have a large area to cover. For holes (small ones) they can be filled and sanded until unnoticeable. Cracks are something we would recommend having a professional take a look at – however if they are merely superficial and don’t affect the structural integrity of the wall – sand it down. You need to sand the wall to ensure the panels are fitted to a smooth surface, otherwise it could throw off the symmetry. 

Uneven Wall
A general example of a wall that needs a bit of TLC before panelling.

Step 6 – Fixing Your Wall Panels

The type of panelling you have chosen will decide how you fix the panels to the wall. We always advise starting from the middle of the wall to ensure symmetry. 

How do I glue MDF panels to the wall?

It’s best to use a strong heavy duty adhesive like  Gorilla Glue or No Nonsense Grab adhesive. We’ve listed links to their products below. In order to fix the mdf panels to the wall, you need to apply the glue in a zigzag motion to the MDF and then press the panel firmly against the wall – then leave to dry. For extra hold you can use both glue and nails.

Gorilla Heavy Duty Grab Adhesivehttps://uk.gorillaglue.com/gorilla-heavy-duty-grab-adhesive/

No Nonsense Grab Adhesivehttps://www.screwfix.com/c/sealants-adhesives/grab-adhesives/cat850076?brand=no_nonsense

When applying the panels to the wall start with your base panels, marking where the panels will be placed with a pencil is a great way of guaranteeing a uniform design. Once you’ve fixed the base panels you can then add to the top. Use a laser or spirit level to ensure the panels are straight. Add your vertical panels first and once completed, you can begin to add your horizontal panels (depending on the style of panelling you have chosen). 

Step 7 – Check For Gaps & Fill

Once your panels have dried and are securely fixed to the walls, you will need to check for gaps. Believe it or not most walls aren’t completely even and there may be some gaps that need filling. You can use caulk to fill these gaps to create seamless joins and disguise any blemishes. 

No Nonsense Decorators Caulk via Screwfix – https://www.screwfix.com/p/no-nonsense-decorators-caulk-white-310ml/57568?tc=ST5&ds_kid=92700058176434275&ds_rl=1249416&gclid=CjwKCAjwr56IBhAvEiwA1fuqGkvMFiSpve5B1u8a9Y1FCOpvFsNmJ7Oi6Fl_lYf_eQCgwuF9A9EBMhoCT6wQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

Step 8 – Prime Your MDF Wall Panels

This step is key to ensuring your paint job really pops. Before you begin, ensure the panels are securely fixed and the caulk has completely dried. You must always prime your MDF wall panelling before painting. MDF is extremely porous, so if you paint it without a primer it will absorb the paint and large bubbles will gather on the surface. If you don’t prime the panels beforehand you’ll end up spending a fortune on paint or even worse have to start from scratch. You need to apply two to three coats of primer and let it dry before you start painting. 

Applying Primer to MDF
Applying Primer to MDF

What Primer Should I Use for MDF panelling? 

There are lots of primer options available for MDF. We’ve listed some below, always read the instructions and follow the directions to a tee.

Leyland Trade Specialist White MDF Primer – https://www.diy.com/departments/leyland-trade-specialist-white-mdf-primer-2-5l/1335260_BQ.prd?storeId=1002&ds_rl=1272379&ds_rl=1272409&ds_rl=1272379&gclid=Cj0KCQjw3f6HBhDHARIsAD_i3D_1jZ8d6AOoqjyLjKX2M1q-LMjETejNHDAbqvaMP7TICHNhjcpVhRsaAlnAEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

Wickes Trade MDF Primer White – https://www.wickes.co.uk/Wickes-Trade-MDF-Primer-White-1L/p/121751

Dulux Trade Quick Dry MDF Primer Undercoat – https://www.duluxtradepaintexpert.co.uk/en/products/dulux-trade-quick-dry-mdf-primer-undercoat

Step 9 – Painting Your Wall Panels

In our opinion this is the best bit, bringing your wall panelling to life! Once again there are no limitations on the shades you use, it’s down to personal taste. If you’re stuck for panelling paint inspo – take a look around the site we have plenty of designs.

Ultimately you want to pick a colour that will complement not only your design but your living space too.  

Shaker Style
Shaker Style Wall Panels via https://www.neptune.com/

What type of paint should I use for MDF wall panelling?

Well if you prime it correctly, you can use any paint. From emulsion to satinwood the options are endless. 

How do you paint MDF panelling?

We recommend using a fluffy roller to paint the wall and the strips and then you can cut in using a brush. Make sure you paint it evenly to ensure there aren’t any patchy areas. 

Step 10 – Admire Your Handiwork

You are now a wall panelling pro! Pat yourself on the back and sit back and enjoy your beautiful new decorative walls.