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How to Install Wainscoting

By Edited Aug 13, 2016 1 4

Many homeowners and home decorators create architectural detail in rooms by adding wainscoting to half the wall or sometimes less than half or more than half of the wall. The height of the wainscot all depends on the look the homeowner or decorator is trying to achieve. Wainscoting can be used to create a variety of themes ranging from formal rooms to informal areas.

What is Wainscoting?

Wainscot is a kind of panel or plank that is attached to a portion of the wall to almost split the room height wise.  Many homeowners paint the wall one color and paint or stain the wainscot a contrasting or accenting color. Wainscoting adds a beautiful detail to the room while create an interesting visual. Most wainscot is made from wood and comes in sheet type panels or some handy homeowners along with creative carpenters lay planks side by side running up the wall perpendicular to the floor. Wainscoting is available in a wide variety of other materials including plastics, fiberglass and laminates.

The History 

Early home dwellers typically lived in houses constructed largely from masonry materials such as stone. Stone walls do little to keep a room warm during cold winters forcing homeowners to come up with a solution. The solution was made popular somewhere in England during the 1500’s – wainscoting. While most homeowners don’t use wainscot as insulation, they continue to use it for decoration.

Installing wainscot is a very straightforward process, which most handy do it yourself type homeowners can handle successfully. When you buy your wainscoting, keep it in the room where it will be installed for 48 to 72 hours prior to installation to allow it to acclimate. The wainscot may expand or contract depending on the temperature and humidity.

Preparing the Room

Move all furniture toward the middle of the room and lay a large tarp over it to protect it from construction dust.

Take all pictures off the walls and set them to the side.

Remove or pin up curtains and drapes so they do not interfere with your project.

Find the studs with a stud finder or other method.

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Use a pencil to mark each stud. It can be as tall as 72 inches or as short as 24 inches. The most popular height range is between 42 and 54 inches. When marking each stud mark it about 6 inches up from the floor and right at the anticipated height of your wainscoting.

Have a helper hold one end of a chalk line at the top marked stud height. Walk the chalk line along the wall to corner of the room. Snap the line to leave a chalk line that sits at the same height as where your wainscoting will end. Repeat for each wall. You will now have a chalk line around the whole room. The chalk line will help to keep the wainscoting at a uniform height around the room.

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Preparing for Installation

Measure from the floor to the chalk line with a tape measure and note the measurement.

Lay a large tarp or blanket on the floor and place wainscoting panels face down on the sheet.

Measure the wainscoting  from the bottom up and mark the back with the same measurement as you noted. Mark the wainscoting at each end and in between.

Lay a straightedge along the marks aligning them uniformly and draw a straight line intersecting the marks.

Lay the wainscoting over two sawhorses.

Cut along the drawn line with a circular saw. Repeat for each section of wainscoting. Make all of your height cuts at once so the installation will go more quickly.

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Place the wainscoting up against the wall mark the back of the sections with numbers or symbols and mark the corresponding wall section with the same number or symbol. Marking the wainscoting allows you to know exactly which section fits where.

As you place sections up against the mark the exact location and size of electrical outlets and any other wall obstruction on the back of the wainscoting.

Cut the obstructions out of the wainscoting panel with a jigsaw.

Installing the Wainscoting

Insert construction adhesive such as Liquid Nails into a caulking gun.

Begin at the top of the unfinished side of the wainscoting and run a wavy bead or line of adhesive down the back. Start about ½ inch from the top edge and end about ½ inch from the bottom edge every 6 to 8 inches over the entire back of the panel.

Place the wainscoting panel’s adhesive side up against the wall and align it to the chalk line. Grab a clean rag and press the wainscoting to the wall while rubbing the rag over the surface. Continue to rub the surface for two to three minutes while pressing firmly. Construction adhesive sets up and adhere quickly so you do not need to brace the panel.

Hold a finishing nail about 1 inch from the top of the panel, aligned with the stud. Drive the nail through the panel into the wall stud. Do not drive the finishing nail so the hammer head hits the wainscoting. Leave the nail sticking up. Place a nail set on the nail head and drive the nail in so it sits just below the panel’s surface. Nail the wainscoting at the bottom using the same method. Drive finishing nails along the top and bottom at every stud.

*Tip* If the wainscoting has a recessed line pattern, try to drive the nails into the recessed lines because it will help to hide the nails.

Continue to run wavy beads of construction adhesive, fit the panel and press firmly in place. One the adhesive sets, drive in finishing nails.

If any panel is too long, mark the excess with a straight line and cut it with a circular saw.

Measure and cut decorative molding to fit along the top of the wainscoting. The molding along the top gives the wainscoting a finished look.

Run a bead of construction adhesive along the back of the molding.

Place the molding along the top edge of the wainscotings. Make sure the molding is sitting directly on top of the wainscoting without gaps.

Drive finishing nails through the molding into the studs.

Fill in nail heads with wood putty to further conceal them.


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Aug 3, 2012 7:40am
Success is never permanent.
Failure is never final.
So never lose hope and keep trying
Until your victory makes a history.
Good luck in your life.
Aug 3, 2012 8:02am
Nov 6, 2012 10:54pm
good article! very informative, I may look into this as a future project, you have given me a great idea :)
Nov 21, 2012 5:09pm
Great article!
I always loved Wainscoting for decorative look.

Thumbs Up!
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