How to Install Wainscoting to a Wall

Add an instant touch of class to a room with these step-by-step instructions.
Related To:
Blue Cottage Master Bath

Blue Cottage-Style Master Bath

This cottage-style master bathroom, an addition that hugs the existing structure of this charming Jamestown, Rhode Island, bungalow, features soft blue walls, white wainscoting and built-in cabinets that flank the mirror. Lighting is installed directly on the mirror inside a built-in niche, adding to the room's cozy ambiance. Nautical-style light fixtures and beadboard paneling are among the many details that tie this room to its location and give it a breezy, coastal vibe.

Photo by: Nat Rea

Nat Rea

Looking for a sure-fire way to create an air of elegance? Check out this wainscoting project.

Materials and Tools:

4-by-8-foot wainscoting panels
¾-inch MDF medium-density fiberboard (MDF)
base molding
chair rail
construction adhesive
2-inch brad nails
table saw
laser level
chalk line
miter saw
brad nailer
caulk gun


1. Remove any baseboard molding around the room.
2. Set a laser level to the desired height of the wainscoting. Measure from the laser line down to where the baseboard will fit, based on the height of the wainscoting boards. Any imperfections in the floor will later be covered by the base molding.
3. Based on these measurements, mark the wall with chalked twine at the point where the top of the MDF baseboard will go.
4. Rip the MDF into strips 5½ inches wide. Cut the strips to length to fit around the base of the room. Wherever the strips meet along the straight portion of the wall, cut scarf joints so the pieces match up to hide the seam. One piece should be cut at a 15-degree angle to the front and the complementary angle on the back. Join pieces in the corners with 45-degree angles. Attach the strips to the wall with 2-inch brad nails.
5. Cut the 4-by-8 sheets of wainscoting in half.
6. If any electrical or cable outlets or phone jacks are exposed, measure and mark the location on the piece of wainscoting to make cutouts. Using a drill with a bit large enough to fit a jigsaw blade, drill a hole on the edge of the area to be removed. Be sure to drill within the mark, and then cut around the marked area with a jigsaw, starting in the drilled hole.
7. Liberally apply construction adhesive to the back of a wainscoting panel and hold up to the wall so the beading runs vertically.
8. Place the wainscoting on to the wall with the bottom resting on the MDF strips that were added at the base. Quickly pull the panels off the wall part of the way so the adhesive becomes stringy and covers a greater area on the back.
9. Quickly tack the wainscoting down with 2-inch brad nails to keep them flat against the wall and prevent them from shifting.
10. Unless the room's perimeter measurement is divisible by 4, trim a wainscoting panel to fill in the smaller gaps.
11. Tack the base molding to the outside of the MDF at the base with 2-inch brad nails. Be sure the molding also has scarf joints to hide the seams.
12. Add a chair rail to the top of the wainscoting using the same scarfing technique as you did for the wainscoting and the molding.

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