No-Nail Wall Paneling Install

French cleats or Z-clips? Pros share tips and tricks. June 16, 2005

I have a large job coming up using 3/4" zebrawood panels. The architect is specifying that these panels, which will be everything from 2' x 3' to full 4' x 8's, have no face fasteners. Most of them are on vertical surfaces, but there is also a good bit on ceiling surfaces. Any suggestions on how to accomplish this?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
Without seeing the job, I can only assume what the panel configuration is. I have done a lot of wall panels with no nails. We usually use metal z-clips or, in a rare situation, a hanging cleat (some people call them j-cleats or French cleats). Typically, we run blocking on the wall to fir the wall out and give us a place to secure the clips. Depending on the situation, the blocking could be to thick and the width will vary depending if there are reveals. If no reveals, it is usually 4 wide.

Figure out your layout and make a story pole and lay out the clips on the back of the panels in the shop. Take the story pole to the field and lay out the walls or ceiling. Every situation is different. I have done most of them, so if you need more info, just email me and Ill be glad to share all of my triumphs and disasters with you.

I have also done a lot of paneling with no nails. We've always used the story pole/French cleat system directly on the sheetrock. Why do you prefer to use the z-clips? Is it easier? Sounds like extra work. Does it take much longer to fir out the wall?

I found the z-clips to be more flexible to work with. I dont run long lengths, just little ones - 2 1/2 to 3 long. Sometimes we would run longer pieces depending on the situation. It seems like even with a good story pole, we were having to make some adjustments in the field and it was easer to move one or two clips then move a j-cleat. I did a lot of commercial buildings and I think it is against building code to build a straight wall. Ive had to deal with some real snakes. Not to mention the floors and ceilings. The jobs just went smoother and came out looking like it should. If you have never tried z-clips, you might want to give it a shot. Its a little bit of an extra cost but I believe its worth it in the long run. If you have tried both and prefer j-cleats, go for it.

The 'Z' clips are more flexible and when the tolerances are tight, as in wall panels, they are easier to work with. I did an entire office with horizontal quarter sawn maple panels stacked with a 1/16" gap running horizontally. The 'Z' clips made this installation much easier than using wall cleats or French cleats. Also, the offset from the wall is a lot less with the clips instead of wood. You will have to have assurances that the walls are fairly good and straight. If not, the clearances may not be enough.

Do you use glue? What's stopping someone from lifting them back off?

Z-clips lock down fairly tight, and require 3/8+ to engage. Vertical reveals vary, if any at all, but typically they are . Even if they are , the panel takes a little bit of effort to remove. You usually have to use a small flat bar to get them to move. I have never had one fall off or be pulled off by accident. In some cases where the panel was damaged and needed to be refinished, it was easier to pop it off and return it to the shop for repair and refinishing. If you dont want the panel to be removable, a little dab of liquid nails will do the trick.

I do drafting work for several high-end millwork companies and all of them use z-clips.
Again, every situation is different and requires a good look at the conditions involved before a decision should be made on how the panels are to be installed.

From the original questioner:
All right, I've got all that. I see these clips in the Louis catalog, so I'm good there. What about going around a corner, where the two panels are to be beveled to each other? And what about horizontal applications? I've got about 20-30 pieces on ceilings and soffits.

Without seeing the drawing and knowing the situation, its difficult to give exact advice, but here are some of the basics. Soffit panels can be installed with Z-clips just like wall panels. Just make sure you have something solid to screw the blocking into.

Mitered corners can be glued and taped in the field using a biscuit or spline to align them.
In some cases, the design called for a vertical reveal 3-6 inches from the corner, allowing us to pre-make the corners and hang them like any other panel.

I try to talk the architect into putting a x reveal at the miter. We call it a quirk miter. It comes out better looking and is less trouble to install. It also creates a dull corner vs. a sharp miter. Regular miters in the field are more difficult to pull together, but are doable.

Do you install the z-clips (panel side) in the shop or in the field?

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I think I have enough to go on now. I'm off to get some sample clips and make a few mockups.

99% of the time, the clips are screwed to the panels in the shop. My philosophy has always been Do as much as possible in the shop to create less work in the field.

Do not try and line the 'Z' clips on the back of the paneling. The installation goes easier if the clips are staggered in a logical pattern.

We preassemble our outside corners in the shop and ship them as complete units wherever possible. We usually add at least a 1/4 x 1/4 hardwood let into the outside corner where the veneer is very fragile. Also, we use u-shaped plastic glazier's shims that come in several thicknesses (each thickness a different color) to get our z clip straight on the wavy sheetrock walls - essential for a good install.