How to scribe a panel to a wall

In this article we discuss how to scribe a panel to a wall so it fits perfectly flush against an uneven wall. The article should be particularly useful if the panel to be installed is floor-to-ceiling and needs to be fitted around existing skirting board and/or ceiling coving.

What is ‘scribing’ and why is it necessary?

To scribe a panel to a wall refers to the process of transferring the contours or profile of a wall / skirting board / ceiling coving on to a panel so that when it is cut the back edge follows the contours of the wall as closely as possible. This process will provide a visually seamless junction between the panel and the wall with only a minimal amount of filling or caulking being necessary. There are a number of situations when you may want to scribe the edge of a flat panel to a wall when installing a sliding door wardrobe, for example:

  • fitting an end panel to an uneven wall;
  • fitting an end panel around skirting board / ceiling coving;
  • fitting an end panel to a curved ceiling / angled ceiling / into the eaves;
  • fitting infill panels into a wall;
  • fitting filler strips into a wall; or
  • fitting a shelf to a wall.

Testing if your wall is plumb and straight

Scribing a panel to a wall will be required if your wall is not absolutely plumb and straight. To discover if your wall is plumb place a long spirit level vertically against it – if the bubble is not exactly positioned within the centre of the indicator lines your wall is not plumb. It may run in from top to bottom or vice versa – see Fig 1a. To discover if your wall has an even surface across the area where you wish to fix a panel, simply place the face of a planed length of timber or the straight edge of a laminated panel vertically against it (or horizontally if fitting a shelf) – any uneveness in the surface will be indicated by gaps being visible between the wall surface and the edge of the timber, panel or shelf itself – see Fig 1b. If these gaps are minimal, eg. 1-3mm, you may decide that filling the gap with caulk will give a satisfactory finish; however, any gaps more than this width, or any running-in or -out of the wall from top to bottom more than 1-3mm over the full height really necessitates that the panel be scribed before fitting.

Tools required for scribing

The main tools required to scribe a panel, timber or shelf to a wall are:

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil / felt-tip pen
  • Callipers / compass
  • Wooden block / plastic packers
  • Gaffer tape

There are also a number of other tools / devices that can make the scribing process a little smoother although it depends on the lengths you wish to go to in order to achieve the closest match between wall surface and the panel as to whether you use these:

  • Contour gauge profile tool
  • U-Scribe Jig

For transferring the contours of a wall to a panel we favour the simple method of using a pencil and wooden blocks or plastic packers taped together and for transferring the profile of skirting board or ceiling coving a compass. It is these two methods that we shall describe below.

How to scribe an end panel to a wall

The panel first needs to be cut to height so that it will fit accurately between the floor and the ceiling – see our article How to cut a full-height panel accurately to fit between floor and ceiling - Coming soon.

Stand the panel temporarily in place ie. in line with vertical guide lines you have previously marked on the back wall at the point it is to be installed. If skirting and/or ceiling coving is present place the panel as close to the back wall as possible so that its back edge is in contact with the skirting or coving (whichever one protrudes furthest from the wall surface). Check again that the panel is vertically plumb on both faces. You may need to use some packers or props to keep the panel standing in place whilst you scribe it.

How to scribe without a compass

You will need to create a ‘jig’ from an offcut of MDF, MFC or planed timber that is equivalent in length to the widest gap between the wall and the panel – see Fig 2a. To the end of this jig securely tape a short pencil so that the tip of the pencil lead is just proud of the surface of the jig block – see Fig 3a.

Holding one end of the timber block against the surface of the wall and the other end with the pencil attached against the face of the panel, carefully slide the whole jig up the wall so that the pencil transfers the contours of the wall on to the face of the panel. The resultant line will be the line you cut the panel to.

How to scribe with a compass and a pencil

In order to transfer the profile of a skirting board and/or ceiling coving to the panel use a pencil and a compass as any intricate detail or curved surfaces will be able to be followed more easily. Adjust the scribing compass so that it is as wide as the widest gap between the back wall and the back edge of panel – see Fig 3. Keeping the scribing compass as horizontal as possible and holding the metal spike against the face of the skirting board/ceiling coving trace the countour of these so that the pencil draws the corresponding profile on to the face of the panel. The resultant line will be the line you cut the panel to.

Cutting the panel

For cutting the panel please refer to our article How to cut melamine with no chipping. If there are a number of intricate or curved shapes to cut around the cut may require the use of a number of saws eg. a jig saw or a fret saw. When the cutting has been completed, place the panel back into its correct vertical position and slide it back toward the wall until contact is made. Any very fine adjustments can then be made using a belt sander or sand paper.

How to scribe to a curved wall / angled ceiling

If you wish to cut a panel edge to match a curved wall, sloping ceiling or to fit into the eaves of a ceiling then the process is slightly different from the above. As it is generally not possible to position the back edge of the panel close enough to the wall to be able to scribe the profile of the curve or the eaves angle on to it (see Fig 4), it is more helpful if first, a rough template is created.

A template can be created using stiff card or corrugated cardboard or a sheet of hardboard.

It is not essential that the cardboard template is the same height as the panel to be fitted – as long as it is the same width ie. 640mm, so that it is wide enough to copy the extent of the curve or angle that the panel needs to be fitted against and deep enough so that when it is placed against the wall a reasonable depth eg. 200mm, can be placed against the vertical part of the back wall. It is a good idea to mark a datum point on the wall and a corresponding one on the cardboard so the two can be matched up when removing and replacing the template as you create it – see Fig 5. Roughly sketch the curve or angle of the ceiling onto the top area of the cardboard and cut it to shape with a pair of scissors. Offer this rough template up to the wall surface (making sure the two datum marks match up). Then with another person holding the rough template in place, use one of the scribing methods above to transfer the curve or angle of the ceiling onto the cardboard.

TIP

You may find it easier to tape a felt-tip pen to the end of the wooden block or to use with a compass in this case as it will create a stronger line on the cardboard template than a pencil.

The resultant line should then provide you with an accurate guide to cut the template to. Once cut, check the template for accuracy again by offering it up to the wall/ceiling. Any minor adjustments necessary can be marked with a pencil and trimmed away using scissors.

TIP

If you find you have cut too much cardboard off in a certain section use a length of masking tape to add the section ‘back’ and trim to the correct profile.

Once you are happy that the template is a close match to the curved wall / angle of the ceiling you can trace its shape on to the top section of your panel, ensuring that the height of the junction between the back wall and the ceiling is correctly copied to the panel, before any cuts are made – see Fig 6. Please refer to our article How to cut melamine with no chipping. A jig saw or a fret saw is best used for following a curved line.

Finishing off

Any final adjustments where slight gaps between the panel and wall or ceiling remain can often be minimised further using a belt sander or sand paper. However, if any such gaps are only minor then they can be easily and neatly filled using decorators caulk and painted when the caulk has dried.

Contact us

If you have any queries in relation to this article please contact our Technical Team on 0800 035 1730.

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