Wainscoting is a classic way to add elegance to any room. In this project, which should take you about two hours for every fourteen feet of wall, we’ll show you how to build and install wainscoting, capped with a chair rail and a decorative profile on the inside edges.
Here’s what you’ll need for this intermediate level project:
- Tape Measure
- Miter Saw
- Table Saw
- Putty Knife
- Stud Finder
- Sanding Block
- Power Nailer or
- Hammer and Nail Set
- Nominal 1” x 4” Clear Pine
- Nominal 1” x 8” Clear Pine
- Shoe Molding
- 3/4” by 1 ¼” Hardwood Molding
- Construction Adhesive
- Wood Putty
- Wood Glue
- 16 and 18 Gauge Nails or
- 4D Finishing Nails
When taking on this DIY task, be sure to equip yourself with the proper safety gear. Throughout the video, we’ll alert you regarding when you should and should not use the safety gear.
Make a layout. There’s no standard height for wainscoting. So, do what’s best for the room where you’ll be installing it. Chair rails are typically placed about three feet from the floor. Our chair rail is 2 ¾” wide. So, the top of our frames will be at the 33 ¼” mark. Stile spacing of about twenty-four inches works well with the height we chose. But, be sure to measure and space them evenly for your specific wall and room layout. One style will overlap the other at inside corners, making one wall 3/4 of an inch shorter. If you have any outside corners, the styles will meet at a miter, which will make both walls 3/4 of an inch longer.
Rip inside-corner stiles. All of the rails and most of the stiles will be made of standard width pine. However, one of the boards at each overlapping inside corner will need to be trimmed down to 4 ¼” wide so both corner stiles will reveal the same width. Set a table saw blade or rip fence on a circular saw to 4 ¼” ripping enough one by six stock for the corner styles. If you have outside corners, set your table saw blade to forty-five degrees, setting the fence to cut the angle without reducing the overall width of the stiles. Once you’ve set your fence, miter two for each outside corner.
Cut stiles. All the stiles in our design will be twenty-two inches long, and all but the corner stiles will be cut from one by fours. Cut as many stiles as you need to length with the miter saw. For the corner stiles, use the pieces you ripped in the last step.
Find studs. Use an electronic stud finder to locate and mark the center of each stud about six inches above the floor. This will help you easily locate the stud when you nail the bottom rail in place.
Install bottom rails. Measure and cut each bottom rail to fit. Place it in place, propping up with shims, if needed. Use a level to make sure the levels are perfectly straight. Any slight gaps will be covered by shoe molding. If you need to use more than one piece of bottom rail to span a wall, cut a forty-five-degree bevel on the first piece, planning the cut to fall over a stud. Nail the first piece in place. A sixteen-gauge power finish nailer will make the job easier. But, you could also use a hammer with AD finish nails. Put the second piece in place and mark where it overlaps. Then, count with the opposing bevel angle or miter. Apply wood glue on the joint and nail the second piece in place. You can putty or sand any gaps or nail holes as you go, or wait until the end and do it all at once.
Install top rail. Measure and cut top rails to fit as you did with the bottom rails, using overlapping miter joints if you need more than one piece on a wall. Measure and mark twenty-two inches up from the bottom rail at each corner. Snap a chalk line. Then, using a level, transfer the stud locations from the bottom rail and nail the top rail in place with your nailer.
Install stiles. Apply a thin even coat of construction adhesive to attach the stiles, using a square to ensure each is perpendicular to the bottom rail. Remember to use four and a half inch stiles on both ends of the first wall. For outside corners, use the pieces you cut with a forty-five-degree angle in step two. Test fit. Make any necessary adjustments. Then, apply adhesive to the stiles and set it in place. If you’d like, begin filling nail holes with wood putty. Once dry, sand with a sanding block.
Install inner molding. Measure and cut your hardwood base shoe molding at forty-five degree angles. Test the fit. Then, use your nailer to secure it in place. You can putty nail holes and sand as you go or wait until all your molding is installed.
Install shoe molding. Measure and cut pieces of shoe molding to fit between your walls, mitering the ends at forty-five degrees. When making your cuts, make sure that the side that will rest alongside the bottom rail is against the soft ends. Use a nailer to secure the shoe molding in place.
Install chair rail. Use a sixteen gauge nailer to install your chair rail. Check out our “How to Install Chair Rail” tutorial for detailed instructions on how to install chair rail.
Finishing touches. Apply wood putty in all remaining nail holes and seams. Let the putty dry per manufacturing instructions. Then, sand until smooth. Prime and paint as needed, using painter’s tape along edges as needed. For a sleek finish, caulk along the top of the chair rail once your paint is dry.
Your installation is complete. Step back and admire your new wainscoting.