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Install Wainscoting

Looking for a stylish way to makeover your walls? Add Old-World charm and the warmth of wood to any room with wainscoting. All you need are a few basic tools.


Tools & Materials

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Prepare to Install Wainscoting

Wainscoting is a wood product and is subject to expansion and contraction. Always allow the panels to acclimate in the room where they'll be installed for 48 hours prior to installation. Leave a 1/16" gap between panels to allow for seasonal wood movement.

Step 1

Measure the total linear footage of the room and divide by the width of the panels, in feet. If the answer is fractional, round up to the next whole number. The whole number is the number of panels you need.

Step 2

Remove any base moulding or chair rail moulding in the room. If you intend to reuse the moulding, be careful not to damage it during removal. Remove all outlet covers in the room.

Step 3

Establish a level line for the top of the panels. Measure up from the floor 32 1/2-in and make a mark. Use a level as a straight edge and lightly draw a line around the room. As you install the wainscoting, make sure its top is even with the level line. Since wainscoting is 32-in tall, measuring up 32 1/2-in should solve any problems caused by an uneven floor.

Step 4

Locate the wall studs and mark them lightly just above the level line. The marks are useful when you nail the wainscot panels in place.

Install the Wainscoting

Wainscoting installation diagram.

Wainscoting is usually installed from left to right. For the purpose of this instruction all directions are given assuming you are working from left to right. If you must work from right to left, simply reverse the direction of the measurements.

Step 1

Start in one corner of the room with a full panel. Apply construction adhesive to the back of the panel and set it in place. The top of the panel should be flush with the level line on the wall and 1/16-in from the adjacent wall.

Step 2

Hold the panel in place and secure it with paneling nails. If the panel covers an outlet, cut a hole for the outlet before installing.

Step 3

Measure down from the level line to the top and bottom edges of the outlet opening. Transfer the measurements to the back of the panel and draw horizontal lines on the panel through the marks.

Step 4

Measure from the corner to the left and right edges of the outlet hole. Subtract 1/16-in from each measurement to account for the expansion gap between the corner and the panel. Transfer the measurements to the back of the panel and draw vertical lines on the panel through the marks.

The lines should make a vertical rectangle. Cut out the rectangle with a jigsaw and install the panel.

Step 5

Install the second panel 1/16-in from the first and flush with the level line.

Step 6

Continue installing panels until you reach the next corner. Cut holes for any fixtures as described in earlier steps, measuring from the right edge of the previous panel instead of the corner. Remember to account for the expansion gap.

Step 7

There probably won't be room to install a full panel at the corner, so you'll have to cut a panel. Measure from the top of the last full panel to the wall and subtract 1/8-in from the measurement (Mark 1). Measure from the bottom of the last full panel and subtract 1/8-in (Mark 2). Transfer your measurements to the back of the panel you need to cut and draw a line between the marks.

Step 8

Lay the panel face-down and use a jigsaw or circular saw to cut it. Taking measurements from the top and bottom should make up for any wall intersections that aren't perfectly plumb or square. Once cut, install the panel 1/16-in from the last full panel. You'll have a 1/16-in expansion gap to the adjacent wall.

Step 9

Continue installing the rest of the wainscoting.

Step 10

Install moulding and outlet covers.