I once thought that old wood-veneer paneling needed to be torn out and replaced with new drywall to properly give paneled rooms a smooth, painted finish. But about 25 years ago, a good friend of mine showed me how he skim-coated paneling with Durabond setting-type joint compound (USG, 800/874-4968, www.usg.com), a technique he'd used to renovate several of his apartments. To this day, those walls are as smooth and sound as can be, even after years of being rented out to families with youngsters.

Over the years, I've skim-coated a lot of paneling. It seems that in the late '60s and early '70s, almost every home received some sort of wood-veneer-paneling makeover. In fact, a few government-subsidized projects, such as the housing built for workers involved in the construction of Chicago's O'Hare Airport during World War II, actually...

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