How to Install a Chair Rail
Chair rail molding adds a bit of elegance to any room. It serves as a good transition between wall colors, and can also be used to cap wainscoting. Installing chair rail molding is something you can do on your own in about 45 minutes per wall. Here’s what you’ll need for this inexpensive intermediate-level project.
TOOLS & MATERIALS
- Measuring Tape
- Stud Finder
- Miter Saw
- Sanding Block
- 16 Gauge Finish Nailer or Hammer & Nail Set
- Chair Rail Molding
- Nails for Nailer or 4D Finish 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.
The first step in learning how to install a chair rail is to lay out rail height. If you’re using a chair rail to cap wainscoting, skip to step three. Otherwise, measure a third of the way up each wall, marking each side of every corner. Snap chalk lines between your marks on each wall.
Find studs. Move a stud finder along the chalk lines, marking the center of each stud.
Install first piece. Measure along the chalk line to determine the length of your first piece of molding. Cut the ends at 45-degree angles with a miter saw. Align the rail along the top of your wainscoting or chalk line and fasten with a 16-gauge finish nailer. If you have wainscoting, you can nail directly into it, or nail into your wall studs. If you don’t have a finish nailer, use a hammer and two 4D finish nails, one above the other into the stud. Be sure to use a nail set. If you need to use more than one piece of molding to span a wall, cut a 45-degree miter on the first piece, planning the cut to fall over a stud. Nail the first piece in place, then put the second piece in place, marking where it overlaps the miter. Miter the second piece. Apply wood glue on the joint, and nail into place.
Install first outside corner piece. If your molding turns an outside corner, cut the other end as needed to fit into the corner, or join another piece at 45 degrees. Put the piece in place, and mark where the molding meets the wall. Set your miter saw to 45 degrees, and with the back of the molding against the fence, make an outside miter cut from the notch to the front of the molding and nail it into place.
Install second outside miter piece. Like inside corners, outside corners may not be perfectly square. To check, cut a 45-degree miter on a scrap of chair rail and test the fit. If the miters don’t match perfectly, adjust the angle of the saw and make test cuts until you get a perfect joint. Apply wood glue to the piece that’s already nailed in place. Put the second piece into place and secure with nails.
Creating returns. Make a 45-degree cut on a piece of wood that’s long enough to safely cut. Flip the board over and make a straight cut where the 45-degree cut meets the back of the board. Then glue the return piece into place on the molding that needs a return.
Finishing touches. Fill all nail holes with wood putty, Once they’re dry, sand until smooth. Take the sandpaper or sanding block and slightly round all the meeting edges of outside miters. Then prime and paint as needed. Once your paint is dry, caulk along the top of the chair rail for a smooth finish.
That’s how to install a chair rail!