Attaching Plywood Panels to Drywall

Fastening decorative plywood panels to existing drywall is tricky, but doable. In this thread, experienced hands explain several techniques. July 24, 2005

I am bidding a job that has several hundred 2' x 2' x 3/4" plywood panels, and its edge-banded on four sides. My question is, how do I install these flat to a sheetrock wall? Many of these will be on a 16' tall wall with 1" of sheetrock that will show around all 4 sides. There is no face nailing allowed. Any help is appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor D:
I've tried a number of combinations of glues and fasteners to secure plywood to drywall, the latest being Loctite panel adhesive and silicone in combination. I use the Loctite as directed, and it seems to grab really well. Unlike PL premium and other polyurethane adhesives, it doesn't expand as it cures, pushing the panel off the wall opening joints. I use silicone as well because I know silicone works, it's my insurance. I use those yellow jiffy poles, the adjustable ones with the threaded rummer pads top and bottom, as braces.

From contributor R:
I hope you have read the specifications and are aware of the grain matching requirements that will be required, if any. If there are specifications, they may require a panel hanging system. We usually use a clip and rail system that allows us to shim out the wall member to a flat plane and then hang the panel with some adjustment. We use a horseshoe shaped glaziers shim that comes in a variety of thicknesses and we can screw to every stud in the wall.

With a 1" reveal, you would probably have to spline between the panels with some matching or contrasting material, and we have sometimes left out the hanging clip and hidden screws in the spline. This works ok for some applications, but doesn't give you the adjustment if the wall is not flat. If you are responsible for the finish of the reveal, you could also make a lattice of the reveal material, wall mount it shimmed out to flat, and then mount the panels on a French cleat. Look in the AWI Quality Standards for an extensive, clear and well illustrated discussion of panel types and hanging methods.

From contributor C:
You probably can't simply attach plywood to a drywall wall. The nature of drywall includes seams and feathering, which even if done well will make the wall uneven, not to mention most plywood has it's own unevenness.

From contributor A:
I have installed commercial millwork for years with no visible fasteners using a variety clips, blind fastenings, and variations on the French cleat. Over the last few years, gluing architectural panels with polyurethane panel adhesive to drywall has gained acceptance. Now it appears to be the norm.

You can get reasonably acceptable results with glue, but I have never really been pleased and it sometimes takes a great deal of effort and ingenuity to get an acceptable result. The only deficiencies I ever get on these jobs are the occasional bit of caulking.

From contributor J:
Without seeing the exact job, I can only make assumptions. If the wall is already up and its close enough to you, I would make a trip out there and check it out to see how straight it is so you know what you are up against.

If the wall is to be built, make sure you have wall requirements listed in youre bid. Not that they ever do any good, but its something in writing that covers youre butt. You should always have wall requirements listed in all wall-paneling bids, new or existing.

On new construction I have had the contractor fix or rebuild walls to straighten them out (and in rare occasions, they will actually fix them). On existing walls, its always good to notify the contractor of any bad wall conditions before wall panel construction or installation and get a resolution in writing.

The wall conditions will most likely determine the panel construction and installation. Obviously there are many opinions on how to apply the panels. I personally never liked gluing a panel directly to sheet rock especially if it is small panel 16 up over someones head. I sleep better knowing that there is a fastener going threw the rock and I always use a dab of liquid nails, or some type of panel adhesive.

Since you are dealing with small panels, you really dont have a weight problem. Here are a couple of ideas you can kick around that Ive done in the past. Take the panel thickness to 1. Make the face panel from thick material, cut your 2x2 panels, then strip out the back side with x MDF.( I like MDF because its easy to scribe in the field if needed) Then edge band it.

This will give you a hollow area to on the backside of the panel. Get some Z-clips about 2 to 3 long and mount them in the four corners. Z-clips are thick so this leaves you a shim or furring space to the wall. You can cut various thickness of furring strips to apply to the wall, the most common one being a piece of MDF say 3x 22.

The furring strips can be fastened to the wall, hopefully hitting a stud or two with a little line of panel adhesive. Fasten the z-clip mate to the strip and hang the panel. I would usually put a dab of panel adhesive on the back of the panel just in case. This way if the panel was ever damaged, or need to be refinished, it would be less destructive to the wall to remove it. You can make jigs for strip and z-clip placement, so once the first row of panels are up you can rock-n-roll.

If the wall is really good, you can machine the back of the panel in the four corners for the z-clip then apply the z-clip mate directly to the wall with a sheetrock screw and a dab of panel adhesive to the z-clip and back side of the panel.

These are just a couple of methods you can look at, but Im sure with all of the post on this forum you will find one that will meet your needs or spur an idea. Good luck, and dont forget to get as much in writing as possible.

From contributor B:
I have had good results with panel adhesive for holding power, with spots of hot melt glue to hold the panels in place until the panel adhesive sets. You will probably want to use spacers between the panels for locating them accurately. The first few panels are the toughest, and must be installed exactly for the following pieces to index from. You need to work fast with the hot melt, so spacers make that part easy.