Installing Flush-Mount Paneling

      Here's a great collection of methods for mounting veneered MDF panels flush against a wall. Advice on Z-clips, shimming, frames, and more. August 15, 2012

We will be supplying 3/4" veneered panels on MDF to be flush mounted on a wall. They will be mounted on a painted plywood substrate with a 1/4" reveal on all sides. I will be routing out the back of the panels to allow the panels to be mounted flush to the wall. What kind of spacing do I need on the Z-clips ? The panels are 2' x 8' running horizontally. I'm guessing two rows at 16" oc and am looking for something a little more concrete than my best guess.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor J:
If you can it would be easier to put a 1/4" x 4" band (top, bottom, sides) where each panel or group of panels go. Paint those, and then you don't have to rout out the back of the panel. I've done quite a number of panel jobs and never routed out the back of a panel. We usually do 16" centers across and 24" vertically.

From contributor E:
You definitely want to do as Contributor J suggested. If you route the panels out on the back you could affect the necessary interference of the parts to drop within each other. As for how to mount to the back of the panels, the spacing vertically is all your choice. We have seen customers do even three rows of Z-clips for taller, heavy, panel applications. Typically I have seen the majority of applications divide the panel into quarters and put on rail between the first and second quarters, and then the third and fourth.

From contributor G:
I am a commercial installer that has done thousands of square feet of wall and ceiling panels. That being said, routing out the back for the Z-clip will be an install nightmare. Iíve been installing for twelve years and never seen a flat wall or ceiling. You will need to shim a lot to get wall cleats flat and plum which will interfere with getting on the panel clip. Your reveal should be 1/4" thick applied to the back of one panel and slide behind the next which gives you ample pad-out off the wall for the shims and cleating. Then just make any open ends 1" thick to be scribed and flush to the wall.

From the original questioner:
Contributor J and Contributor G - I like your suggestions. Do you recommend putting the long piece on the wall and the short pieces on the panel? Would you use two rows on a 2' x 8' panel, grain running horizontally? Although we're not doing the install, I would like to make it as easy as possible.

From contributor J:
Can you give me an idea of the size of the wall youíre working on?

From the original questioner:
Picture an upside down 'U'. The right and left legs of the 'U' are columns built out from a wall with 30" across the face and 20" returns, 24' from outside of column to outside of the column, and 14' tall. Between 10' AFF and 14' AFF there are two rows of 2' high panels that go from outside of column to outside of column. The faces are all on the same plane. There is a soffit return at 10'AFF between the columns. The architect wants the column wraps and soffit returns to be prefabricated with a mitered corner.

From contributor F:
If you have a CNC then you might want to consider creating a cleating system like a web frame in the shop with the clips already mounted. If you make your reveal strips the thickness of the clips, plus what it takes to get to the reveal depth, then you can rabbet the back of the panels with different rabbets top and bottom and also drill for the clips at the same time.

From contributor J:
If you walk up to this wall the first thing you do is lay out a 1x4 grid at every location where a panel begins, ends, or joins another panel and where your Z-clips will mount. That's the easy part. Now you must shim that wall of 1x4's until they are just about perfect. After your wall is plum and straight you can attach your 1/4" material at the reveals, edges, and bottom. We don't attach anything to the panels except the top part of the Z-clip. That way if the reveal needs to be painted it can be done before the panels are hung. All your lower part of the clips are set inside the 1/4" reveal material on the horizontals. Lay out here is critical - use a laser. This is quite an undertaking for someone who hasn't done it before. Preparation is 90% of it.

From contributor G:
I would put the long cleats on the wall and the shorts on the panels. Are the reveals veneered also? I would assume they are. As far as Contributor Jís idea of installing all the reveals first sounds fine to me as you wouldnít have the reveal joints loose. Make them 3" wide or so for a little wiggle room on the layout. It makes for an easier install. It just seems most millwork companies these days apply the reveals to the top and one side of each panel and the next slipping over it. This method works well but you do have some open reveal joints to deal with here and there. I like Contributor Jís method better as you can control the reveal joints much easier. Using a laser and taking your time getting all the cleats right first is key, then the panels just about fall in place.

From the original questioner:
The reveals will be painted. I'm thinking since I won't be installing these panels and the architect wants the 'U' shaped panels pre-made that the best method would be like Contributor J's suggestion to have the installer mount the 1x4 and the reveals of 1/4" MDF. The 1/4" being the same thickness as the Z-clips. The 1x would need to be shimmed, plumbed, etc. as described before. After those are installed, I could then field measure for the 'U' shaped panels and the installer then should be able to mount the prefabricated panels.

The panels are two feet tall. I'm thinking two rows of Z-clips, 6" down from the top and 6" up from the bottom. Are there any issues here that I might have missed? There is 1/2" plywood screwed to the metal studs currently, and the framing appears to be fairly true. I don't see any way to do both concealed fasteners and prefab the corners on the soffit return so I thought I would use some trim screws and construction adhesive on the soffit side and putty the holes. Could I use the Z-clips to mount the horizontal piece on the bottom of the soffit if the architect prefers concealed fasteners to premade corners?

From contributor G:
Yes Z-clips will work fine on the soffit. Also we use PL 375 construction adhesive (low vocs) with 23gauge micro pins to hold till the glue dries. Spacing of the cleats should be fine.

From contributor G:
I would encourage you to consider Contributor F's method as it is a real time saver. In using his system you might want to use dowels for the face of the soffet. As stated, preparation is the key - this method is the ultimate in preparation.

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