How To Install Wainscoting

One of the most up-to-date wall treatments today (and yesterday!) is wainscoting. Whether painted or natural, it can add a lot of character to any room. It can also add durability to a playroom or family room walls. Most home improvement stores have pre-cut wainscoting in a variety of styles and colors. Here we'll show you the steps in how to install wainscoting to any room!

wainscoting usually covers the bottom half of a wall.

What Is Wainscoting?

Wainscoting is a decorative wall covering typically made of wood, and usually covers the bottom half or so of a wall. Traditionally, wainscoting was used to either cover up blemishes or holes in the wall, or to prevent them. Wainscoting has been used for centuries and it's still a popular wall decor choice. It's nothing new but seems to be found in higher end homes. I guess because it is an added cost to any home, new or old, which makes it a great addition! Because installing wainscoting is fairly easy, it's a great way to raise the actual and perceived value of your home!

How To Install Wainscoting

1. First remove the baseboards and cover plates in the room. A wide-blade putty knife is ideal for removing the baseboards from the wall. If you need more leverage, you might try using a pry bar that's suited for the job. Be very careful not to damage the drywall when using the pry bar. Take special care in removing the baseboards if you intend to reuse them. Remove any electrical cover plates that will be covered with wainscoting.

2. Next establish the wainscoting height which would look best in the room. As a general rule, the lower the ceiling, the lower the wainscoting should be. A good way to check for the ideal height is to make mock wainscoting with cardboard or poster board. Raise or lower the height to create a visual balance in the room. It is said that the bottom third of your wall is best. So, just measure your wall and divide by three!

Mark the spot with a pencil then subtract the width of the cap rail. This is the height for the top end of your vertical wainscoting.

wainscoting is pretty easy to install with a little knowledge and the right tools

3. Lay out the top edge around the room with a level and a pencil. Used a stud finder to go around the room again to locate and mark the studs. Then draw a vertical line at the center of each stud to just above the height line. 

4. Next, starting in a corner or at the edge of a door, measure for the length of the wainscoting. Cut the wainscoting to length with a power saw (use a saber or coping saw to cut the boards around windows or outlets.) Continue around the room. Be sure to measure each board to compensate for an uneven floor.

5. Apply construction adhesive on the back of each board. The adhesive should be spread with a 1/16" - 1/8" inch notched trowel (disposable will make cleanup a breeze). Slide the board in place with its grooved edge facing the corner or door (sliding helps spread the adhesive). Cleanup any mistakes with mineral spirits.

6. Use a level to make sure the board you just installed is plumb. Don't force the boards together, but leave a tiny space between them to allow for contraction and expansion with the changing humidity.

Finishing Up..

7. Nail each board on its face just above the floor into the wall. Nail the boards at the top end at an angle in the area made by the tongue. You should use a nail set to prevent damaging of the tongue. Face-nail the boards into studs wherever possible.

8. The next step is to miter the cap rail pieces at a 45 degree angle where they will meet at the inside and outside corners. Some corners are not at a 90 degree angle, so it's a good idea to make test cuts on scrap pieces.

9. Attach the cap rail with 1 inch finish nails, driving them into the wainscoting. Nail the cap rail into the studs wherever possible. A nail set should be used to recess the nail heads.

10. The baseboards should be installed by mitering the baseboards in the same way you mitered the cap rails. Use 2 inch finish nails to attach the baseboards into the wainscoting and studs. Use a nail set to recess the nail heads.

11. Using matching wood putty in all the nail holes in the wainscoting, cap rails and baseboards.

12. Paint or finish any way you want!

Of course, you'll probably have questions along the way, and if you do we're here to help answer any question you might have. Also, please feel free to comment below on your experience installing wainscoting in your home!

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