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How to Install Wainscoting

General Expertise
By on Jul 1, 2019
How to Install Wainscoting

Step-by-Step Wainscoting DIY Illustrations

1) Use a flat pry bar to remove the old baseboard. Push the bar behind the top edge, then work the baseboard loose. 2) Use an electronic stud finder to locate the wall studs. Place a mark on the wall to indicate the center of each stud. 3) Draw plumb lines at stud centers. Extend lines from the floor to an inch above the intended top of the plywood panels. 4) Use a straight bit and edge guide to rout the 3/8 x 3/8-in. rabbets in the baseboard, corner-board and chair-rail stock.

5) Place 5/4 baseboard against 3/4 in.-thick doorcasing and mark the end of the board with the casing thickness. 6) Then, use a block plane to trim a 45° bevel on the baseboard end to meet the line taken from casing thickness. 7) Use a circular saw to miter the baseboard when it wraps an outside corner. A square clamped to the work guides the cut. 8) With the first mitered piece secured, apply glue to the miter-joint mating surfaces and nail the second piece in place.

9) At an inside corner, place the first piece tight to the wall. Then, butt the second piece against the first and nail to wall studs. 10) Nail the narrow corner board so its edge is flush with the adjacent wall. Add the 3-1/2-in. piece so it covers the edge of the first. 11) At an inside corner, first fasten the wider corner board. Then install the narrow board, angling the nails to reach the stud. 12) Cut the panels with the good side down to minimize tearout on the face. Use a straightedge to guide your circular saw.

13) With the panel cut so its lap joint falls over a stud, and adhesive applied, fit the trimmed end in the corner-board rabbet. 14) Use 4d finishing nails to fasten the panel to the wall studs. Drive nails approximately 6 in. apart along each stud centerline. 15) After nailing the first panel to the wall just behind the lap, position the second panel over the first to form a tight joint 16) To fit a panel to a doorcasing, measure between the last panel and the casing at the top and bottom of the panel.

17) Cut and install the chair rail in the same manner as the baseboard. The rabbet on the bottom edge fits over the panel. 18) Install shoe molding over the joint between the baseboard and the floor. Nail the molding to the baseboard only. 19) Apply a bead of caulk to the top edge of the chair rail where it meets the wall surface to seal any gaps.

The next time you get the urge to redecorate one of the rooms in your home, you might think twice before heading straight to your favorite paint or wallpaper dealer. Instead, why not consider a traditional option that's equally suitable for today's modern houses—wainscoting. Here, wood paneling is applied around the lower section of the room. It generally takes the form of many narrow, beaded tongue-and-groove boards installed vertically. At the floor, the wainscot terminates in a wide baseboard and the top ends of the paneling are covered with trim called a chair rail.

However, if you find the thought of installing hundreds of solid-wood strips daunting, there's an easier way. We installed a paneling called ply-bead. Each 3/8-in.-thick 4 x 8 sheet is milled with decorative grooves that run the length of the sheet. The grooves are spaced just over 1-1/2 in. apart to replicate the look of individual beaded boards.

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This treatment is suitable for virtually any room in the house, from the bathroom to the bedroom. Since the product looks best when painted, you can use caulk and wood filler to neaten any less-than-perfect joints. Before ordering the panel material, determine the height of your finished wainscot, including the baseboard and chair rail. For our installation, we used 5/4 x 8 stock for the baseboard and a 5/4 x 4 stock for the chair rail. These widths comprise 10-1/4 in. of the total height of the wainscot, after subtracting a 3/8-in.-deep rabbet in each to house the panel edges. By making the height of the wainscot about 42 in., the beaded panels are cut into three equal pieces just under 32 in. long, so there's no waste. Whatever wainscot height you choose, be sure that the chair rail doesn't pass through wall switches or other obstacles that are built into the wall.

In addition to the 5/4 material for the baseboard and chair rail, you'll need 1 x 4 stock for trim at inside and outside corners, or corner boards. It's possible to use nominal 1 in. lumber for the baseboard and chair rail as well, but 5/4 makes for an easier and better-looking joint with the corner boards. You should also get panel adhesive, caulk and 4d and 8d finishing nails. If you like, you can add shoe molding to cover the joint between the baseboard and floor. Continue reading if you would like to learn how to install wainscoting.

Wall Preparation for DIY Wainscoting

Begin by removing the existing baseboard from the walls. Use a flat pry bar to gently loosen the molding, then pull it from the wall. Find the centerline of each wall stud around the room. An electronic stud finder makes this job quite easy, but if you don't have one, use a finishing nail or drill bit to prove the wall. Once you locate one stud, the rest are generally found on 16-in. centers. Test each location to make sure a stud is really there. use a level to mark a plumb line at the stud centers from the floor to one inch above the panel height. These lines will make fastening the baseboard and beaded panels easy and quick.

Installing Wainscoting Baseboard

First, prepare all the baseboard, chair-rail and corner-board stock by routing a 3/8 x 3/8-in. rabbet along one edge of each piece. Use a straight bit and router edge guide for the job. The panel stock slips into these rabbets, eliminating the need for careful fitting of the panels to the trim. Begin the baseboard installation by cutting each piece to length to fit the walls. Where the baseboard meets a doorcasing, shape the end to make a gradual transition between the two surfaces. Place the piece against the casing with the rabbet against the wall and mark the casing thickness on its end. Plane a 45° bevel from the face of the 5/4 stock to the scribed line.

Next, nail the baseboard to the wall studs using two 8d finishing nails per stud. If your baseboard must wrap around an outside corner, use a miter joint at the ends of the mating pieces. To cut the miters with a circular saw, first set the saw blade to 45°. Clamp a Speed Square to the baseboard stock to act as a guide for the saw. Run the base of the saw against the square to guarantee an accurate cut. To attach the mitered baseboard, nail the first piece in place, apply glue to the miter joint and then fasten the second piece. Drive 4d finishing nails through the miter from both directions and set the nailheads below the surface.

For an inside corner, simply butt two baseboard pieces together. Run the first piece into the corner so that its end is against the wall, then butt the second piece against the face of the first. Apply caulk to fill any small gaps in the joint.

Adding Corner Boards

The next step is to fit the corner-board stock. Since the panels sit in rabbets at both top and bottom edges, the corner boards must be cut 3/4 in. shorter than the height of the panels. Cut the stock to length, then rip one of the two boards for each corner to a width of 2-3/4 in. Use your circular saw with an edge guide to make these cuts and then plane the sawn edges smooth.

For an outside corner, begin by installing the narrow board flush to the corner with the rabbeted edge toward the wall and facing away from the corner. Nail the board to the corner stud with 8d finishing nails. Next, install the wider board so it overlaps the edge of the first. Drive 4d finishing nails through the corner-board joint to keep the boards tight.

At an inside corner, fasten the wider board first, pushing it tightly into the corner. Then install the narrow board. You may have to angle the nails in order to hit the wall studs. Fill any small gaps with caulk before painting.

Installing Wainscoting Panels

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To crosscut the beaded panels, first place a 4 x 8 sheet facedown on a set of sawhorses and lay out the cut lines on the back. It's best to cut the material facedown to minimize tearout on the veneered surface. Clamp a straightedge across the panel to guide the saw. Position the straightedge to match the distance between the circular saw blade and the saw's baseplate edge, and run the saw base against the guide to make the cut. The edges of the panel stock are milled with lap joints to guarantee a tight and neat joint. Start running the paneling from either an inside or outside corner board. Cut the panel to length, so that the outside edge has a lap on the face and the lap falls over a stud. Be sure to allow for the extra 3/8 in., which fits in the corner-board "X" pattern across the back. Slide the first panel in place so its edges fit in the rabbets in the baseboard and corner board. Use 4d finishing nails, about 6 in. on center, to fasten it to the wall studs, and then set the nails below the surface.

Apply adhesive to the next panel, position it on the wall so its edge overlaps the first and nail to the wall studs. At the lap joint, keep the nails back about 1 in. from the edge of the panel, and angle them slightly to hit the stud.

When you approach an outlet, turn off the circuit breaker that supplies its power and remove the cover plate. Then take careful measurements for the outlet location from both the preceding panel or corner board and baseboard. Mark the location on the panel back and use a sabre saw to cut the opening. Since the paneling is only 3/8 in. thick, you should not have to move the outlet box, but check with your local code authorities just to make sure. Remove the screws that hold the receptacle to the box and pull it out while leaving the wires intact. Position the panel, feeding the receptacle through the opening. Secure the panel and reinstall the screws that hold the outlet to the box, tightening them until the tabs of the receptacle sit tight against the panel surface. To fit a panel against a doorcasing, measure the distance between the last panel edge and the casing at the top and bottom of the panel. Fit the new panel and fill any small gaps with caulk.

Chair Rail and Finishing

Cut the chair-rail stock to size and install it using the same techniques at the corners as for the baseboard. The rabbet at the bottom edge of the rail fits over the top edge of the panel stock and the bottom of the rail sits directly on top of the corner boards. Use glue and nails to fasten the miter joints at outside corners.

To cover gaps between the baseboard and the flooring material, we installed a shoe molding. Cut the molding to length and use miter joints at the corners. When the molding ends at a doorcasing, cut the end at 45° to ease a transition to the opening. Fasten the shoe molding to the baseboard with 4d finishing nails. Don't drive any nails into the flooring.

Fill all nail holes with wood filler. When dry, sand the filler flush. Sand all surfaces, easing the sharp corners of the baseboards, corner boards and chair rail with 150-grit sandpaper. Thoroughly remove all sanding dust and caulk the joint between the chair rail and wall. Then check for any overlooked gaps and use caulk to fill them. In addition to improving the appearance of the joint, the elastic caulk will keep cracks from opening up later as the wood shrinks and swells with changes in humidity. Apply a good primer to the wainscoting, and allow it to dry thoroughly. Lightly sand the primer and apply your choice of paint, following the manufacturer's directions.

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