How To: Installing Wainscoting Yourself
Learn to put up wainscoting without the help of a professional.
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Materials and Tools:
1x 4 pine lumber
1. The wainscoting has a top horizontal board and a bottom horizontal board. (Note: All measurements for this project are the exact measurements that I used in our room. You certainly will need to modify for your space.)
We wanted a wainscoting that was higher than chair-rail height, so we placed the top horizontal board at a height of 54 inches, with the bottom board running along the baseboard. Measure the width of the wall that you are working on and cut the top and bottom board to length using a miter saw. All corners will be butt-jointed so you don't have to cut at mitered angles, just cut square.
Measure up from the baseboard 54 inches and make a pencil mark, Using a level, lay out a horizontal line for the top board. This will be your guide line. Locate the studs along the wall, and place a small piece of tape for a location reminder.
Attach the top board along your guide line. Using 6d-finish nails or a nail gun, nail into the studs you pre-marked. Set the bottom board along the baseboard and attach. Countersink all the nail heads with a nail set and spackle.
Hint: You may want to pre-prime all your lumber before you start attaching it to the wall. You can put it on a pair of sawhorses and prime all pieces at once. Believe me, it's much easier.
2. Now it's time to cut and attach the vertical boards of the wainscoting. First decide how big you want each box to be.
We decided that 21 inches wide would give me the look I wanted for our room. Measure the length of the wall (my wall length was 156 inches). Divide 156 inches by the 21 inches desired width, for a total of seven boxes that would fit on the wall. Still with me?
OK. But don't forget you have to take in account the width of the 1x4 boards, which are 3-1/2 inches wide. We know that in order to make seven boxes, it will take eight vertical 1x4s. Multiply 8 x 3-1/2 and you get 28 inches. Subtract 28 inches (board width) from 156 inches (wall width) and you get 128 inches. Divide seven boxes into 128 inches and you get an approximately 18-inch inside box width (which will be the measurement between each vertical board).
Believe me, it will all make sense once you start laying out your walls.
- 156 inches (wall width) divided by 21 inches (desired box size) 7 boxes
_3-1/2 inches (1x4-board width) times 8 (number of boards for seven boxes)
28" (board allowance)
- 156 inches (wall width) minus 28 inches (board allowance) 128 inches (total distance minus board allowance)
- 128 inches divided by seven boxes about 18 inches inside box width
3. Now, cut the vertical boards to length, checking each measurement between the bottom and top horizontal boards before cutting (even though you placed a level line, the floor may slope). Starting at the corner, place a 1x4 vertical board in position for reference and make your measurements for the layout. From the board, measure over 1 inch and place a mark at that point. Then lay a board and mark that position and continue across the wall using the 18" measurement, until you have laid out all the boxes.
Starting in the corner (yes, again), place a vertical board in position and attach using 6d-finish nails, spackle and sand flush.
Repeat this process for all the walls. At the corners where the boards meet, just butt the two corner boards together. The thickness of the board will be made up as you work your way around the room.
4. In each corner of the boxes, I added a quarter round block for a finish detail. Make these out of 1x4s. Cut out a block that measures 3 inches in length. From the top corner, draw an arch (you can use a compass if you don't feel comfortable drawing freehand) to the opposite bottom corner. Cut out the block using a jigsaw with a scroll blade attached. When cutting, leave a little line, then sand the block smooth using a hand sander or belt sander (this will give you a softer curve). Draw a template on a piece of cardboard using this finish block to help you draw all the remaining blocks.
Attach the blocks into the corner, using finish nails. To give the boxes a completed look, I placed a 1x2-inch board as a small shelf on top of the horizontal board. Just cut the shelf to the length of the top horizontal board and attach from the top using finish nails. Where the two boards meet, I used a decorative coving placed underneath the shelf and attached to the horizontal board.
5. To make the wainscoting look like it's all one piece — I can always dream — sand everything with a fine grit sandpaper and dust with a tack cloth or damp towel. If you haven't primed, prime all the bare wood with a multipurpose latex primer. Allow to dry, then paint the entire area — walls included — with latex satin paint in the color of your choice.
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