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Home Theater Paneling Construction Approach 

Step 1: Cut the panel frames out of plywood.  

Step 2: Apply Liquid Nails or other panel adhesive to the birch door skin veneers.

Step 3: Position the veneers and nail them to the studs, putting the nails at the top of the door skin where they'll be covered by the panels. Be sure to align the veneers so that they cover the full width of the panel-frame cutout.

Step 4. Nail the frames over the veneers, being sure to nail into the studs. I nailed at the very top of the board, where the nails would be covered by the crown molding, and right next to the cutouts on the frame, where the nails would be covered by the panel molding.

The pictures at left show what the panels look like after these first steps.

Step 5. Attach crown molding and chair rail. On many projects, the crown molding would be a big part of the project. I deliberately designed my room to minimize the amount of crown molding work I had to do. I ran the corner columns all the way to the ceiling so that I could just butt the long runs of crown molding into the sides of the column. I didn't have any inside corners. The only outer corners I had were at the tops of the columns, and those pieces are only about 14" long, so I could easily recover from any mistakes I made. Nonetheless, I still learned a few things about working with crown molding, so here are some tips on using crown molding.
Step 6. Install the panel molding. This was the longest part of my project and took almost 3 full weekends. Here are some tips for panel molding.

Step 7. Install the baseboards. There are several routes you can go with baseboards. The purist route would be to take dimensional lumber and use a router to get the contour you want for the top edge. I felt that my level of skill with the router would lead to bumpy looking edges. The easiest route (I suppose) would be  to buy pre-made baseboards and then cut them to the right lengths, but I couldn't find a source for those. Finally, my father-in-law suggested that I cut the flat part of the baseboard out of birch plywood and then top that with 3/4" base cap molding. This turned out to be both easy and inexpensive. It was inexpensive because I spent about $0.60/foot on the base cap molding rather than $1.50+/foot for stain-grade baseboard. I had a lot of leftover 3/4" plywood from the middle parts of all the frames I cut out, so that was essentially free.
     It was easy because I just ripped a bunch of the leftover plywood to make up the lower part of the baseboard. I nailed that onto the bottom part of the panels, leaving room to tuck the carpet in under the baseboard. Then I cut  the base cap molding and glued it on top of the plywood. I didn't stress about cutting the plywood because I had so much left over from the panel frame cutouts that it didn't really matter if I wasted some of it. The gluing was easy because I just set the base cap on top of the baseboard. After all the fitting and balancing and propping I did with the panel molding, being able to put glue on something and just lay it into place was a nice change.
     When finished, the stain goes into the crevice between the plywood and the base cap molding and looks really dark, so you can't tell those are two separate pieces of wood. The overall effect is that the baseboard looks just like all the other stain-grade baseboard in my house.
     One issue that I would consider next time is that, because I was using leftover pieces of wood, some of the grain on the baseboards was vertically oriented instead of horizontal. It turned out OK, but it would have been easier to sand if I had been sure to cut the boards so the grain went horizontally. 
Step 8: Sanding. The sanding and staining steps were the most physically demanding part of this project. I didn't have any tools that would help with this, so I ended up doing all the sanding by hand. But a good sanding job is incredibly important to the quality of the finished product, so I had to do this part well. 
     One issue I ran into is that the moldings, which are hemlock, and the paneling, which is birch, take stain differently. In addition, the moldings will look blotchy if they're not sanded well before staining. After sanding and staining some test boards, I concluded that I had to sand the molding as smooth as possible, i.e., finishing with 400 grit sandpaper, and sand the birch with 240 grit. 
     I should have sanded the plywood back after Stage 1. I thought that when I sanded wouldn't much matter, but considering my panel design approach, it turned out to be kind of a pain to sand the "runners" with the grain oriented vertically on narrow stretches of board that have panel molding on each side. These sections would have been easier to get a sanding block into before putting on the panel molding, and I wouldn't have had to be so careful not to scratch the panel molding. It also would have turned out better. 
Step 9: Staining. The staining turned out to be almost as much work as the sanding. It took quite a lot of effort to work the stain into all the crevices in the panel molding, and then I had to remove it, which required a lot of rubbing. I tried several different methods of applying the gel stain. I tried using cloths at first, but it took forever. Brushing it on worked OK, but it was a lot of work to do the large flat surfaces. I ended up using a sponge for the flat surfaces and a brush to work the stain into the crevices.  
Step 10: Polyurethane coat. I tried several varnish-type products before settling on Minwax oil-based polyurethane. It gave me reasonably good coverage after two coats. Most products I tried had too much gloss, and reflected light was something I was trying to avoid. I ended up putting two coats on most of the paneling, with 3-4 coats on the higher-use areas (i.e., on baseboards, chair rail, and around the light switch). 
Step 11. All done!

 

Email me at stevemcc@construx.com.