DIY Wainscoting for Your Home: 3 Easy Styles

Wainscoting is a decorative treatment that covers the lower three to four feet of a wall. It most cases, wainscoting is made of wood paneling or bead board, but can also be made of formica, sheet metal, plywood, faux rock, or even wall paper. The type of wainscoting you choose for your home really all depends on how and where it will be used. Wainscoting wasn’t always strictly a decorative architectural detail. Back in Ye Olden Days, homes weren’t built quite as well as they are today and walls frequently suffered from “rising damp” as moisture wicked up the walls. Wainscoting was used to camouflage those walls and provide a little structural strength. Even though contemporary homes no longer suffer from “rising damp,” wainscoting continues to be popular decorating accent which also does a fabulous job of protecting the walls. For smaller spaces, a wainscot can make a room look larger and the ceiling appear farther away. Wainscoting can also be used to define a space, such as a dining room or an eating area in the kitchen. Interested in installing a wainscoting in your room? Here are three methods used in our home.

Beadboard

When we remodeled our bathroom, we used a beadboard wainscoting topped with a chair rail. Here’s how it was done:

Step 1: First remove the baseboard and existing outlet covers. Install outlet extension rings (available at hardware stores) around the outlets. This brings the outlets level to the surface of the installed beadboard.

Step 2: Next, draw a guide line for the top of beadboard by taking your measurements from the floor. Once a line has been drawn and checked for straightness with a level, use a stud finder to locate the studs along the drawn line and above the floor. Mark these in pencil.

Step 3: After the studs are marked, cut the beadboard to the proper length, cutting only one or two sections at a time. In older homes, floors tend to sag and it’s best to cut only a few sections at a time so as to camouflage those uneven floors.

Step 4: Apply glue to the back of the first board in a loose, wavy pattern. Use a notched trowel to spread the glue down the length of the board.

Step 5: Press the board into the corner, making sure that the grooved end fits tightly into the corner. Nail it into position.

Step 6: Working with one piece of beadboard at a time, glue the back of the board in a wavy position, spread the glue with the notched trowel, and then insert the “groove” on the board into the “tongue” of the previous board. Leave at least 1/16th space between the visible edges allow for expansions. This will allow for lots of space for the wood to expand when air moisture is high.

Step 7: As you glue the board in place, check the top line for evenness, and drop a plumb line down the side to make sure the board is straight up and down. Press the heel of your hand against the beadboard so that adhesive can grab a gold hold of both the wall and the board. If the board is positioned over a stud, this is a good time to sink a nail. Hammer the nail through the tongue or the grooves of the board to as to hide the nail. Repeat these steps as you work your way down the wall.

Step 8: As you begin approaching the corner, keep in mind that not all walls are straight either. For the last two boards, you may have to install them slightly off plumb so that the corner piece will end up straight up and down.

Step 9: Finish the top edge of the beadboard with a chair rail, and the base with a wooden baseboard molding.

Step 10: Prime and prep.

Wallpaper wainscot

To enlarge a small room or to make a short ceiling seem higher, a wall paper wainscot is an inexpensive way to make a room seem bigger than it really is. Wallpaper wainscoting is quite popular in both kitchen and dining rooms, and can add elegance and interest to a room with plain walls.

Step 1: Draw a guideline along the wall, measuring between 36 to 42″ from the floor. Be sure to check the line with a level so that it’s perfectly straight.

Step 2: Apply wallpaper to the wall (as directed by the instructions). Score the wall paper at the guide mark and pull it away.

Step 3. Once all the paper has been applied, the next step is to prep a chair rail to install over the top edge of the paper. What we did was paint the chair rail first, then glue it into place over the top edge of the paper. The chair rail was secured with small nails driven into the studs. The nails were countersunk using a 5 penny nail and a hammer, then puttied and repainted.

Plywood wainscot

Our kitchen came with plywood wainscot which was a low budget attempt to “craftsman-ize” the kitchen. The original owners left it plain, but the next owner covered it with 10 coats of paint. How it was done:

Step 1: Nail sheets of 1/4″ plywood to the wall.

Step 2: Nail a chair rail above the plywood.

Step 3: Countersink the nails and putty in the holes.

Step 4: Prime it and cover it all with several coats of paint.

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