The aesthetic advantages of interior wood paneling are obvious. Although no longer as popular as it was 30 or so years back, the right choice of paneling can elevate your interiors a great deal.

It goes up quickly, is durable, and lasts longer than wallpaper. Wood paneling can also breathe new life into an old room. Unfortunately, cutting wood paneling isn’t as easy as most people imagine.

While it’s relatively easy to install over existing painted or wallpapered surfaces, splintering is very common during cutting, often resulting in costly wastage. This guide looks at how to cut paneling without splintering.

How to Cut Paneling Without Splintering

The easiest way to cut wood paneling without splintering is face down with a circular saw. A circular saw cuts in an upward motion. Therefore, the face of the paneling will come out neat and clean.

What is Wood Paneling?

Let’s take a few steps back to understand better why it’s difficult to cut wood paneling without splintering. Paneling traditionally refers to millwork wall coverings constructed from rigid or semi-rigid components.

Although a few are made from plastic or other materials, traditional paneling is made from interlocking wood. Paneling systems were originally developed in antiquity to make stone houses more comfortable.

They insulate the room from stone and reflect radiant heat from wood fires to prevent heat loss. However, paneling systems have become more of a decorative feature recently.

Wainscoting and boiserie paneling styles are common in 17th and 18th-century interior design, especially in the Victorian architecture in Britain.

What is Wood Paneling Made Of?

Wood paneling is made of traditional solid wood, modern engineered wood boards, or wood-like products. These materials are put together in a large sheet or smaller planks.

However, you may also opt for cheaper options such as veneer paneling. Veneer wood panels, for instance, are made of a thin layer of wood adhered to the surface of plywood or a particulate board. Veneer panels resemble real wood but aren’t as durable.

What Kind of Wood is Used for Wall Paneling?

Most woodworkers and builders consider solid wood, plywood, reclaimed wood, and fiberboards the four best materials for making wood paneling.

  1. Natural wood: Most paneling structures, including tongue-and-groove and shiplap boards, are made from solid wood. Pine and poplar are the two most common wood types used for this purpose as they’re more accessible and affordable. However, pricier options, including rosewood, cedar, and cypress, are excellent for cladding.
  2. Plywood panels: Plywood is one of the most widely recognized multi-purpose engineered wood-based panel products used in US construction products. The panels comprise resin and wood fiber sheets bound together to form a composite sold in panels. Most plywood panels have vinyl faces.
  3. Reclaimed wood panels: Reclaimed/salvaged wood panels are found in various species and dimensions from various sources, including barns and factory floors. They can be prefinished or milled into any style you want.
  4. MDF panels: Finally, milled fiberboard wall panels are a popular choice among DIYers because they are very affordable and highly workable. MDF is also exceptionally flexible during temperature swings (more than natural wood). The panels usually arrive pre-primed and take paint beautifully.

Types of Wood Paneling

There are many types of wood paneling, depending on where you come from. However, the most common styles in the US are;

  • Shiplap: Shiplap paneling systems comprise horizontally laid boards rabbeted along the sides to interlock for a tight seal.
  • Board and Batten: Board and batten panels typically comprise a series of vertical boards overlaid with 1x battens that cover the joints. Most plywood panels are made this way.
  • Plank walls: Plank wall panels often use distressed plans made from reclaimed wood (or sometimes new wood) to create an aesthetically-rich or rustic focal point. The planks are installed vertically, diagonally, and horizontally, forming a unique pattern.
  • Tongue and groove: Tongue and groove panels are made from multiple planks, each with a tongue on one side and a groove on the opposite side. The tongue of one wood piece slides into the groove of the next piece to make a single flat surface.
  • Beadboard: Beadboard panels are typically “stick-built” using 2 ½ inch-wide wood strips with beaded edges milled along with the tongue. A matching rounded edge on the grooved side enables the two pieces to fit into a continuous wall covering.

Tips to Cut Paneling Wood without Splintering

Let’s now discuss how to cut wood paneling without splintering. There are three main solutions to avoid splintering when cutting paneling wood;

#1: Use the right tools

Different tools are used to cut wood paneling, and the right tools make cutting panels a walk in the park. However, the wrong tool choice can leave you with significant damage. The following are a few key tips to help you choose the right tools.

  • Consider precision tools

Precision tools are the best choice for cutting wood panels. The good news is that there’s a wide range of tools in this category. These include circular saws, table saws, jigsaws, Sabre saws, and utility knives. Just remember that although all precision tools are good for cutting wood paneling without splintering, not all precision tools cut in the same manner/fashion.

  • A light circular saw is your best bet

A light circular saw with an electric brake cuts wood paneling effortlessly without a hint of splintering. For instance, the Dewalt 7 ¼ inch circular saw is highly recommended. However, any light circular below 8.8 pounds will do the job just as well.

Weight is important as a light circular saw is easier to handle. You can hold the saw for a long time without fatigue, and it’s also easier to maneuver. Meanwhile, the automatic braking mechanism means you don’t have to switch off the saw manually when you’re done. Instead, the tool automatically brakes when you release the trigger.

  • Tool sharpness is just as important

The sharper your tool, the neater the cut and the less risk of splintering. Therefore, you must make sure that your tool is razor-sharp. This applies to teethed tools such as saws and bladed alternatives such as utility knives.

If you’re wondering how a blunt tool affects cutting, cutting edges that aren’t sharp enough weaken the compactness of wood fiber during cutting. This significantly increases the risk of wood damage as the firm core that allows thin wood panels to retain their integrity is compromised. Thus, further movement can “tear” the wood.

#2: Use the Right Cutting Techniques

Using the right technique is very important to prevent splintering when cutting wood paneling. Keeping in mind that splintering usually happens on the backside of the wood, the following are a few techniques to ensure a smooth cut;

  1. Make sure the face of the paneling is facing the right direction: For instance, the face should be placed down when using upward cutting tools, such as a hacksaw. The upward motion leaves the down-facing side of the wood neat and clean. Meanwhile, the face should be up for downward cutting tools, such as table tools. This way, a nice cut is created on the face.
  2. Consider cutting along the grain: Splintering typically occurs when cutting wood across the grain. Therefore, if possible, cut your panels along the grain.
  3. Use masking tape along the length where you’re about to cut: Some people say this technique doesn’t work. However, it works brilliantly when used alongside other panel cutting techniques.
  4. Score the cutting length to further reduce the chances of splintering: Scoring the length you intend to cut with a knife or razor to prepare the grains in those areas for cutting. Use a ruler to score in a straight line deeply.
  5. Always begin with a shallow cut to avoid splintering on both sides: Use the saw to make a shallow cut through the top layer of the fiber. This reduces the chances or degree of splintering when making the final cut.

#3: Work on a Smooth-Faced Surface

This may seem inconsequential. However, it’s very important to ensure a smooth, neat cut. Attempting to cut wood paneling on an irregular work surface typically causes minor “tremors” during the cutting process.

This is particularly true when using a utility knife or circular saw. Therefore, to avoid splintering, you should ensure the working surface is smooth and polished.

Polishing helps to remove any minor fissures on the workbench for the smoothest possible cuts. Otherwise, you risk causing irreversible damage to the thin wood panels before you even start bending and breaking off.

But what if you don’t have ready access to a smooth surface? In this case, consider using floor finishing for a uniform surface for efficient cutting.

The floor may not permit certain power tools, such as the power saw. However, it’s better than using an irregular surface.

What is the Best Tool to Cut Paneling?

So, we’ve discussed the need to choose the right tools to cut wood panels without splintering. But we’ve only rushed over a few common tools for this job. The following is a more detailed discussion to help you choose the right tool.

Table Saw

Table saws are excellent for ripping or cutting wood surfaces lengthwise. You station the saw in position with the blade rotating downward. This way, you can push the wood paneling into the fast-rotating blades.

Circular Saw

Portable circular saws are the perfect choice for cutting then sheets of wood. They cut with an upward motion, though you can also remove the blade and turn it to face downward.

The biggest advantage of circular saws, though, is they come with paneling blades that are extremely effective for cutting wood panels.

Jig Saw

Jigsaws have a single tooth blade. When operating, the single tooth blade moves back and forth against the material being cut.

This allows jigsaws to cut intricate project parts, including curves, shapes, and letters. Similar to circular saws, the jigsaw cuts in a downward tooth motion.

Hand saw

You can also use a hand saw if making small cuts or cutting out the opening for a light switch outlet through the wood paneling. Mark the measurements, lay the paneling with the face side up, and cut slowly but firmly to prevent splintering.

Sabre saw

Finally, a Sabre saw with a fine-tooth blade is an excellent choice for precision cutting or detail work. Snap a chalk line to get your cutting line in place, the clamp the two guide boards to the wood paneling, leaving just enough room for the Sabre saw to cut through. Then begin cutting.

How Do You Cut Paneling with a Utility Knife?

It’s very easy. Make markings for the cut, set the straight edge on the marks, and holding the paneling down firmly with one arm, draw the knife with light pressure across the piece.

Repeat the process, applying more pressure each time until you cut through the paneling.

How to Cut Paneling Already on the Wall

Surprisingly, cutting paneling already installed on the wall is not very difficult. The most important thing is to choose the right tools. Then, take appropriate measurements and drill a hole on the markings before you begin to cut.

FAQs

Do you cut paneling wood face up or down? 

It depends on the type of tool. If using a downward cutting tool, such as a table saw, position the paneling face-up. However, position the panels face-down for upward cutting tools, such as a circular saw.

How do you cut white wall paneling boards? 

Use a circular saw and cut from the backside. Ideally, you want to use paneling blades for the circular saw. However, you may also use a fine-tooth wood blade.

How do you cut breadboard panels? 

The same way you’d cut any other wood panels. Use a circular saw and position the boards face-down. Then cut gently in a straight line.

How do you cut MDF paneling boards?

Attach a sturdy blade to a circular saw and make straight cuts in your MDF. You need a circular saw with speeds between 3,000 and 3,500 meters per second to avoid splintering.

How do you cut paneling without a saw?

Use a utility knife. Use a utility knife to score the board. You may have to score multiple times, applying more pressure each time. Then snap the board in two.

Summary

There you go! Now you know how to cut paneling without splintering. Generally, it comes down to your choice of tools, cutting techniques, and the quality of the cutting surface.

We recommend a razor-sharp, electric-powered circular saw such as the DEWALT 20V MAX 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw for precision and speed.

Next, read on How to Paint Paneling without Sanding.

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