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Adding Wainscoting to Your Room Remodel

Pamela Cole Harris

One of the hottest looks today (and yesterday!) is wainscoting. Whether painted or natural, it can add character to any room. It can also add durability to playroom or family room walls. Most home improvement stores have precut wainscoting in a variety of styles and colors.


To add wainscoting to your room:

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. Be 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. Mark the height you have decided upon then subtract the width of the cap rail. This is the height for the top end of your vertical wainscoting.

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 ¼” notched trowel (disposable is best). 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.

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 ¼” 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.

Voila! Your room is finished! Time to relax and enjoy (at least until you start on the NEXT project!

About The Author:


Pamela Cole Harris is an editor and writer with 35 years experience. Her interest in do-it-yourself projects dates from the time she helped her father, who was a builder, work on new homes after school. Her website, http://www.homeandgardenmakeover, is full of remodeling, home improvement and decorating ideas.


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