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Putting up Wainscoting

Wainscoting is a style of wooden paneling that is usually found lining the lower part of the wall in any room. Wainscoting is a lengthy process to do yourself but not as hard as you might think. With the right tools and supplies plus a little time invested you can obtain classic looking wainscoting in your own home in a weekend or less!

Materials That You Will Need:

This wainscoting adds a lot to an already lovely dining room.

  • Safety Goggles
  • Pry Bar
  • Level
  • Measure Tape
  • Painters Tape
  • Pencil
  • Circular Saw
  • Plywood
  • Panel Adhesive
  • Caulking Gun
  • Stud Finder
  • Nail Gun
  • 2 1/2″ Nails
  • 1 1/2″ Nails
  • Miter Saw
  • Hand Saw
  • Speed Square
  • Chisel
  • Wood Filler Putty
  • Calculator
  • Stile

1. Determine Where The Wainscoting Will Go

You can tell that wood wainscoting has been caulked well.

  • Remove the old trim with a pry bar carefully and slowly if you want to reuse the trim again.
  • Determine where you want to install the wainscoting and mark it off with painters tape.
  • Divide the width of the wall by the number of panels you want and mark that measurement on a piece or strip of wood longer than the wall. This is called a swing stick and it basically serves as a tool that will keep the spaces between each panel precise.
  • Pad out the lower corner of the wall with one stile plus the thickness of the opposite wall’s wainscoting. Put the swing stick against the blocking and lower the opposite end until the mark lines up with the wall’s furthest edge. Tape that firmly in place.
  • With your level as a guide put hash marks on the painters tape.
  • Now you have the distance marked from the outside edge of one stile to the inside edge of the next one.

2. Level and Find Studs

  • With your level, draw a straight line to determine the height of the wainscoting minus the height of the chair rail cap. Draw this line around the whole room that you will be installing the wainscoting in.
  • Make sure you wear your safety goggles and, using a circular saw, cut a 1/4″ piece of plywood vertically so it will fit between the old trim/baseboard and the level line.
  • Rip panels so the seams can be covered by the stiles.
  • On the back of each panel, apply panel adhesive generously using a caulk gun.
  • Find any studs behind the wall with a stud finder and mark where they are with painters tape.
  • It is always a good idea to have someone assist you with this part: with your circular saw cut the top rail to the length of the wall.
  • Nail through the rail with a nail gun and into the studs using 2 1/2″ nails.

3. Find The Stile Length, Measure and Fill

Wood wainscoting can definitely improve a living room.

  • You need to find out how long the stiles need to be cut, so measure the distance from the top rail and the old baseboard at 3 points. Subtract the shortest one and the height of the bottom rail stock.
  • With a stop block on your miter saw, cut all the stiles the length you came up with after the calculation.
  • Find a spacer block by cutting a scrap piece of wood and cut it to the calculation of the panel width marked on the tape subtracting the width of one stile and use that calculation as your spacing reference.
  • Put panel adhesive on the back of each one and attach them together using a nail gun and your 2 1/2″ nails.
  • Right where the two stiles meet by the corners, the overlapping piece needs to be wider for the depth of the stock for the corners.
  • Rip a wider stile from a larger stock for every corner. Put the wider stile next to the adjacent wall and glue as well as nail securely.
  • Make sure the bottom rail is snug against the ends of the stiles and if you need to use shims, be sure they are securely between that and the baseboard. Don’t worry if there is still a small gap at the bottom – the trim/baseboard should cover that up later.
  • Nail through the rail and into the studs as well using the 2 1/2″ nails.
  • Nail any scraps from the plywood and pad out prior baseboard so it is flush with the bottom rail. Make sure the baseboard is in place and use shims to make sure the lower end is level.
  • Measure the gap between the bottom of the baseboard/trim and the floor, then cut a scrap block that measurement to fill it in.

4. Apron Installation

  • Cut a spacer and match the space of the bottom rail that will be exposed and then use that to position the baseboard so you can nail it securely.
  • Since each run of molding will be at a corner you can miter the end or the opening. Miter the run at 45 degrees for an outside corner and then cut a second piece that will meet the 45 degree and die square it into the wall or casing.
  • Make sure the top edge of the apron is aligned with the top edge of the rail and nail secure. Glue the return into the slot with caulking.
  • You may have to notch the chair rail if your existing casing is not in the best shape. Hold the chair rail firm and scribe the shape of the molding, use a hand saw to cut the notch and it will give you a better looking joint.
  • Now that the returns are taken care of and assembled in place, miter any of the ends that end at a corner. Caulk and nail to the ledge from the apron and upper rail.

5. Finish Off

  • Priming and panting your wainscoting can make it really shine!Position the shoe molding so it is on the floor and against the baseboard and the base cap on the upper edge of the baseboard. Using a nail gun, nail with 1 1/2″ nails and work around the room wherever necessary.
  • Miter the panel molding 45 degrees so that it lines along the inside edges of the panels. Glue or nail into place. Using a wood putty filler, fill in any holes along the way.
  • Sand any rough surfaces and later you can choose to prime or paint it!

Now that you have successfully learned how to put up wainscoting, you have probably discovered how long the DIY wainscoting process can be! But you probably also realized that with the assistance of another person and all the necessities for this project, it wasn’t as hard as you thought! If this is too long of a process for you, give Home Painters Toronto a call and they can help you out, they’ll also finish off your project by painting or staining for you so you don’t need to invest anymore time with this! Call us NOW at 416-494-9095 or email [email protected]!

Brian Young - Home Painters Toronto

From The Owner & Founder


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Since 1987 when I was at York University simply earning my way through school, I’ve had the privilege to meet and work with thousands of amazing homeowners like yourself.

Besides the birth of my daughter, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a homeowner’s life change when we have transformed their dream home into a masterpiece. For that reason, we take our jobs very seriously and are committed to our cause.

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