How to Put Up Wainscoting

Here is a real easy way to spruce up a room if you are looking for a change. A wainscot is an easy project that pretty much anyone can do. It does involve some cutting with some sort of saw and hammering. Now you can do a wainscot with wallpaper or the more professional look, you can use a nice cedar or other nice wood. The first thing you need to do is pick what kind of wood you would like to use. I like a cedar or redwood, these materials add a bit of character with knots and other natural defects which really bring out the look. You need to then decide how high you want to make the wainscot go up the wall most use a 3′ or 4′ length. You can do whatever you want, in fact a new fad among homeowners is to make it really tall, like 5′ or 6′.

Next you need to figure out how much material you will need. Let’s say you are going to use a 1×6 tongue and groove product. You need to measure the wall surface you will need to cover so if you are going up 4′ and you have 35 feet of wall to cover you take the 35′ times the 4′ and that gives you 140 square feet. Or you can take a piece of the material you are using and measure what the actual coverage would be. In this case the 6″ piece will normally have a coverage of 5.75″. Then you can take your total wall space (35 feet, convert to inches) then divide by 5.75″ which would give you 74 pieces, I suggest you get a little extra in case of accidents. Remember you probably won’t be able to get all 4′ material from your supplier so take that into account.

Next you need to cut everything to length and during this step you need to be careful to cut each piece approximately 1/4″ short. You need to cut them short because you will most likely be putting a base board around the bottom and no one will see the uneven pieces behind the base board. If you cut them all exact you will have some pieces that extend over the length you really want and this makes for a nightmare when you go to finish the top with chair rail or whatever you decide to use. You then need to stain each piece before putting it up. You need to stain both sides and both ends with at least 2 coats. This applies whether you are staining or painting. You need to seal the product good because if you don’t it will move once you put it up.

Once your stain or paint is dry you need to figure out where to start and draw a line all around where you want the tops to go, make sure it is level as you go along. There is no secret trick to starting, just put your first piece up and get going. To apply I like to use a combination of some sort of glue and nail, this is probably not necessary but it seems to work well for me. Start in a corner with the groove side toward the wall because you need to nail into the tongue part of the wood. Put a little glue on the back and then pre-drill two holes, one on the top and one on the bottom. Only pre-drill into the product don’t go into the wall, this will take some holding power away. Continue in this manner all the way around making sure you are level vertically and horizontally, if you get off a little you can make minor adjustments along the way until you get back on track.

It’s that simple you will need to make some cuts when you get to the end of the wall but just rip a piece down the entire length of the board and put it in place. Again, like the bottom the corners won’t need to be perfect because you will most likely be putting inside and outside corner to trim it out. To finish, the top is it, I like to make my own trim which usually is a combination of base board and a flat stop. Or you can use just a chair rail if you want something that is not so bulky. Once you get started with this project you will be surprised at how easy it is and how professional it can look.

Good luck and don’t get frustrated, if you mess up rip off the piece and start over. Have fun!

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