How to install wainscoting | Pro Construction Guide
How to install wainscoting

How to install wainscoting

How to install wainscotingTo install wainscoting, whether beadboard or recessed or raised panels, and add old-world charm to a room you only need stock materials and the simple process outlined below. Here is how to install wainscoting and create that classic look for far less time and money.

To install wainscoting on this project, I used 1/8-inch hardboard as faux panels and ¾-inch stock as the rails and stiles for the frame. Another good choice for both components is medium-density fiberboard (MDF), as it is less expensive than solid wood and profiles well if you use a router on the edges. To frame the recessed wainscoting panels, I used cellular PVC inside-corner trim – the only reason I chose PVC over wood was that the dimensions fit with the project better than the wood inside corner trim that was in stock. For the chair rail I went with solid pine because I didn’t want to profile the edges, which often results in visible finger joints and/or voids in the routed edge.

To install wainscoting, the first step is to come up with a layout for the wainscoting. I followed traditional architectural guidelines for this process, which is more fully explained in Planning a wainscoting installation.

Install wainscoting, step by step

To install wainscoting begin by setting up a work area1. Begin the wainscoting installation by setting up a work area to provide plenty of room to work. With the large number of pocket holes to be drilled and the long frames to be assembled, I used a long worktable on sawhorses. You can work on the floor if necessary, but a table allows you to set up a squaring jig (two boards nailed at an exact right angle to each other) to keep your frames square during assembly.

Tack the hardboard to the wall with 1-1/2-inch finish nail2. After pre-priming and ripping the 1/8-inch hardboard to width, tack it to the wall with 1-1/2-inch finish nails at the top and bottom edges. Make sure any seams will be hidden beneath stiles in the frame.

3. Begin assembling the longest frame first, as fitting adjustments are easier to make to the smaller frames of the shorter walls. Pre-cut a large number of stiles, and if your walls are longer than your longest boards, plan the butt joints of rails so they fall on a stud, and make sure the top joint doesn’t fall in the same panel (stud) as the bottom joint. Connect the frame with glue and pocket screws.

Attach the frame to the wall with finish nails

4. Attach the frame to the wall with finish nails into the studs. With a little planning, you should be able to conceal most of your nails under chair rail trim or baseboard. If you have a helper, you can hold the frame up to the proper height and nail it. If working alone, nail a series of cleats along the bottom of the wall to support the frame at proper height. You’ll need cleats later as nailers for the baseboard.

Attach the inside corner trim around all the framed panels

5. Attach the inside corner trim around all the framed wainscoting panels, cutting each just a tiny bit strong (larger) so they “spring” into place and keep tight joints. Use less visible brads for this step.


Attach the chair rail stock to the wall on top of the top rail6. After ripping, routing and priming the chair rail stock, attach it to the wall on top of the top rail with finish nails. I used trim pieces above and below the chair rail, but both are optional depending on your design choices.


Fill all visible nail holes7. Attach baseboard to the cleats and bottom rail with finish nails.

8. Fill all visible nail holes, fill visible seams with putty or caulk, and if necessary, do a little light sanding at the seams and transitions to make sure fit and finish is smooth and flush. Re-prime sanded spots if necessary and then paint.

–By Roberto Franco

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