Natural Timber Wall Linings

A natural timber wall lining is attractive and warm looking and can be used to cover up a poor wall surface. It is therefore ideal for old houses where walls are so badly cracked and plaster surfaces so full of defects that no amount of repair work can effectively disguise them. Walls subject to rising or penetrating damp, however, must be treated before a timber covering is used. If there is damp due to condensation, this can be cured by timber covering; but do make sure it is only condensation. As an added precaution, treat your timber with wood preservative.

There are two types of timber wall covering (or cladding) — tongued and grooved boarding and panels. Tongued and grooved boarding comes in widths of 100 and 150mm (4 and 6in) and is cut to the length required. It is very light and easy to handle. Panels are more difficult for the beginner to handle since most are 2440 x 1220mm (8 x 4ft) and have to be butt-joined.

Tongued and grooved boarding is available in a range of softwoods and hardwoods. Panels are available in man-made boards with a natural or simulated wood finish. The surface in each case may be untreated or prefinished. An untreated surface may come sanded ready for finishing; if not, sand it before you fix it in place on the wall so it will be ready to receive the finish you choose.

installing timber wall lining

Using battens

The most common method of fixing is to fit timber battens to the walls, then fix the wall covering to the battens. Before starting to fix battens, however, check the shape of the room you are going to cover. Like striped wallpaper, tongued and grooved boarding placed vertically has the effect of adding height to the wall; used horizontally, it will make the wall appear longer and the ceiling lower.

Use 50 x 25mm (2 x lin) softwood, treated with wood preservative, for the battens. Cut them to the required length and fix them to the wall 400-450mm (or 16-18in) apart at right-angles to the way in which the boarding is to run. For vertical boarding. Fix the top batten at ceiling level and the bottom one at top of skirting level.

Architraves and skirting Prise away all architraves around windows and doors and replace them with battens. Skirtings are usually best left in place to form a recessed plinth with the bottom batten fixed directly on top of it. However, if the cladding is to go all the way to the floor, the skirting can be used as the bottom fixing as long as it is the same thickness as the battens, that is 25mm. If it is thicker than this, it should be replaced with battens; if thinner, it can be made up to the batten thickness using hardboard or plywood of the appropriate thickness.

It is worth remembering that boarding taken to the floor is prone to damage from furniture and vacuum cleaners and may suffer additional wear and tear particularly if it is of softwood such as cedar. Sockets Fix battens around plug sockets and check any new cable runs are safely tucked behind conduit channels; cut the battens to accommodate any new runs. You can then bring the socket outlet through to the level of the new surface.

Fixing battens

To fix the battens in position, you can either use masonry nails or plug the walls and screw the battens in place. Where you have a soft thick plaster, it is better to use plugs and screws since they will give you more control over the tight fixing of the battens — masonry nails may work loose.

Whichever method of fixing is used, make sure all the battens are level and lie in the same plane. Check the level of the battens with a straight-edge; you may need to pack with offcuts of hardboard where you find depressions in the wall. If necessary, the screws can be slackened off and more packing placed behind where required. Number 8 or 10 countersunk screws 63mm (2j-in) long are suitable for fixing. Drill and countersink the battens to take the screws before placing the battens against the wall. Push a bradawl through the holes to mark the walls for drilling before inserting the plugs. If you have to fix battens to a hollow partition wall, use the appropriate wall fixing.

Dowel fixing

An economic alternative method of fixing battens is to pre-drill the battens at regular intervals (but don’t countersink the holes). Place the battens in position and drill through the wood into the wall, with a masonry bit the same diameter as the holes, to a depth of twice the batten thickness. Drive a wood dowel, the same diameter as the hole, through the batten into the wall. When the dowel is securely in place, snap it off at the front face of the batten. Finally drive a cut nail into the dowel, making sure any packing pieces are inserted before hammering home the nail since it will be a permanent fixing. You will need help to hold the long battens against the wall while you are drilling and nailing.

Fixing tongued and grooved boarding

Start fixing the boarding in a corner and make sure the first length is truly vertical or horizontal by checking with a plumb line or spirit level. It may be necessary to trim the grooved edge of the first length to follow the line of the side wall or ceiling. To do this, scribe a line along the edge of the board by running a pencil flat against the adjacent surface. If the wall is badly out of true, you may need to raise the pencil on a piece of hardboard. Trim back to the scribed line with a sharp plane.

To fix the first length in position without any nails or pins showing, use a small amount of impact adhesive. Smear a little adhesive on each of the battens close to the adjacent surface and do the same on the back of the first length of boarding so the smears correspond when the wood is positioned on the battens. When the adhesive is touch dry, bring the two surfaces together and hammer them lightly, using a block of wood for protection. Drive the panel pins obliquely through the tongue into the battens behind and use a nail punch to sink the heads of the pins slightly below the surface of the tongue.

Continue to cut lengths of boarding to the exact size. Where the ends of the boards meet an uneven surface, scribe them by running the pencil flat against the surface, raising the pencil on a piece of hardboard if the surface is badly out of true. Trim on this line to give a close fit.

The second length must be closed tightly onto the first. Slide the grooved edge over the tongue of the first length and, using an offcut of the tongued and grooved boarding, slip the groove of the offcut onto the tongue of the second length. Tap the tongue side of the offcut gently so the joint between the first and second lengths closes up; do this before pinning along the entire length of the board. Put up subsequent lengths in the same way.

Corners

When you come to the end of the run you may need to trim away part of the last length to fit the remaining space. Measure the space accurately and transfer the measurements to the piece of boarding; take measurements at several places in case the adjacent surface is badly out of true. Trim the boarding, cutting off the tongue side. Smear the battens with impact adhesive and make corresponding smears on the board, as for the first length.

When the adhesive is ready, slip the final groove onto the last tongue and, using an offcut of wood to protect the surface, bring the two coated surfaces together to form a tight bond.

Projections

If you have a projection such as a chimney-breast, you will have to deal with internal and external corners. For internal corners, use the glue and pin method for starting and finishing. At external corners where the boards are laid vertically, trim off the tongue of the last length of board on the return wall and form a square edge so it lies flush with the front face of the battens on the front wall. Plan the boarding so you have a complete board at the end of the return wall — it may mean you have to fit a narrower board in the internal corner.

Drive pins through the square edge into the battens in the same way as you drive them through the tongues. Trim the grooved edge of the first board on the front wall so it will lie flush with the face of the board on the return wall. Glue it in place and pin it through the tongue.

Fixing panels

There are two ways of fixing panels: they can be pinned to battens or glued direct to the wall with adhesive or adhesive pads. If you decide to fix the panels to battens using ordinary panel pins, punch them below the surface and take great care when filling the pin holes in order not to spoil the finish. To avoid the need for filling, you can use noncorrosive pins which match the colour of the panel grooves; drive these flush with the surface, using a nail punch for the last 3mm to prevent the hammer damaging the decorative face.

In all cases, first plan the layout of the panels. If boards have to be cut to fit, cut the first and last boards to an equal size so they give a balanced look. Butt-join the panels carefully to give a close fit. Batten fixing Fix horizontal battens at 400mm (or 16in) intervals as described for tongued and grooved fixing, inserting vertical battens where the panels will join and at intervals between. Pin the panels to the battens, spacing the pins at 100mm (4in) intervals around the top and bottom edges of the board and at 150mm (6in) intervals elsewhere. Where the panels butt together, use impact adhesive to hold the butting edges to the battens. The half grooves at each side of the panels are not large enough to take pins successfully; if you do try to use pins, the edge of the panel may split away or the decorative face may be spoiled.

Pad fixing

Apply the adhesive to the wall in strips about 250mm (or 10in) apart and leave it for three to five minutes to become tacky. Cut the pad strips to length and apply them to the lines of adhesive. Leave them until the adhesive is thoroughly dry.

When the pad strips are firmly stuck, apply a thin coating of the same adhesive to the surface of the pad strips. Place the panels accurately in position and press, transferring the adhesive lines to the back of each panel. Using these lines as a guide, apply more adhesive over them and leave both the panel and pad adhesive to dry; this usually takes 30-45 minutes.

When both surfaces are dry, place the panels accurately in position and apply firm hand pressure all over to ensure good contact. It is important to get the position of the panels right first time since the grip is instant and permanent, leaving no room for manoeuvre. The pad will absorb any unevenness, giving complete contact between each strip and the back of the panel.

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