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How to Install Wainscot Paneling

Add architectural interest to any room with wainscoting and chair rail molding.

Tools and Materials:
2-inch finishing nails
35 linear feet 1x4s
230 linear feet 1x4s primed pine
70 linear feet 1/2 x 3/4-inch bead molding
2 gallons red primer
2 gallons white enamel latex
2 gallons red paint
2 tubes white painters caulk
70 linear feet crown molding
pneumatic nail gun
air compressor with hoses
caulking gun
chalk line
circular saw
construction adhesive
safety glasses
tape measure

1. Measure the length of each section of wall for wainscoting and draw up a plan (figure A). Add these up and add 10 percent to get the total linear feet of wainscoting. Multiply this number by 3 (the height in feet of the wainscoting) and you have total square footage. For raised panel wainscoting, you’ll need the total linear feet times 3 of 1x6s, plus the square footage (from above measurements) in 3/4-inch MDF (medium density fiberboard). Add to this the total linear feet in chair rail molding.

2. Prepare the room by removing the existing baseboard molding, any electrical outlet covers and heating/ac vent covers (figure B).

3. Now it’s time to lay out the panels. There will be a 1x6 running along the floor (bottom rail), and one at 36 inches from the floor (top rail). The vertical 1x6s (stiles) between the panels can be laid out to your personal preference, depending on the scale desired. Traditionally, a panel is about 1.25 times wider than it is tall. This is not a rule; vary the placement to suit your design. Just make sure the electrical outlets and vent registers are either completely in a panel or completely in a rail or stile. Do not split a seam with an obstruction.

4. Mark the walls with a level line all the way around the room. Start in one corner and snap chalk lines at 36 inches from the floor on all walls. If your floors are out of level make sure the top of the wainscoting is level and adjust the bottom of the panel to fit an uneven floor. Once the top and bottom rails are marked, draw vertical lines for the stiles. This is the basic layout for the panels.

5. To begin the process, nail the top rail around the perimeter of the room using the pneumatic finish nail gun (figure C). Make sure to hit the studs in the wall as you go. (Use a stud-finder to mark the locations, if necessary.) Next, nail the bottom rail tight to the floor.

6. Next, nail in the vertical stiles (figure D). If you need to place a stile where there is no wall stud, use construction adhesive. Cut any holes for outlets or vents with a jigsaw.

7. Nail the chair-rail molding around the perimeter on top of the top rail (figure E). Cut the angles in the corners using a power miter saw.

8. Prime and paint the wainscoting.

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