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Wainscoting Solutions

Construction How-To, Molding May 4, 2017 Sonia








Check out these four DIY-friendly approaches to wall trim.

By Matt Weber

The term “wainscoting” refers to almost any treatment you give to the lower portion of a wall that’s in contrast to the upper portion. This often involves a system of panels capped by a chair rail that lines the lower wall. Wainscoting can be comprised of raised panels, bead-board, sheet paneling, picture-frame molding and more.

The original purpose of wainscoting was reportedly to cover the lower part of house walls that were often affected by rising dampness. These days wainscoting is used as a trim detail to enhance a home’s interior décor. The general rule of thumb is that the wainscoting panels are usually 1/3 the height of the wall, but ultimately the decision is up to you, and your pattern and color choice can dramatically change the overall look of a room.


Traditional bead-board wainscoting is easy to install for DIY’ers because of the narrow repeating pattern. You can essentially cut the tongue-and-groove panel along any of the bead-board joints and then seam it to the next panel by hiding the cut edge inside a shadow line. This ability to cut the panels at any point without interrupting a visible pattern is why bead-board is often a favorite wainscot pattern for small rooms like bathrooms, where the walls may be too short to accommodate a larger pattern such as raised panels.

The easiest wainscot pattern to install
is a bead-board panel.

Plan the bead-board installation so full panels are most prevalent with cut panels located in a less conspicuous areas. When possible, use a single bead-board panel until the wainscoting meets a corner. Apply construction adhesive to the backs of the panels and fasten them into the wall studs with brad nails. Install the panels perfectly level. Any gaps at the floor can be concealed with base or shoe molding. Nail the trim profile of your choice on top of the paneling to serve as chair rail.

A panel can be cut along the “bead” and joined to the next panel with a seamless appearance by concealing the cut inside the shadow line, then caulking and painting it as a single piece.

Preformed Raised Panels

Raised panel wainscoting gives a room a more formal appearance that is popular in dining rooms, foyers and hallways. Assembling the panels from scratch, however, requires careful measurement, shrewd carpentry skills, plus a lot of time and labor. You’ll need a powered saw, a router, a router table, as well as the specialized raised-panel router bits in order to fabricate each rail (horizontal piece), stile (vertical piece) and interior floating panel.

Since the bead-board pattern repeats every couple of inches, the panels can be cut and joined to suit small spaces like bathrooms, whereas a larger pattern such as a raised panel would be interrupted by the short walls.