How to Install Wainscoting Without a Professional
What Is Wainscoting, and What Are My Options?
Wainscoting is the wood paneling found lining the lower section of the wall in your home. It easily updates the interior design and offers your walls extra protection from nicks, scuffs, and other imperfections that accumulate over time. Having a lot of woodworking done can be expensive, especially when you hire someone to do the labor. Going the DIY route by installing your own wainscoting, however, is fairly simple and much more budget-friendly. Below are three ways you can approach this project without hiring a professional.
1. Beadboard Wainscoting: The simplest form of DIY wainscoting I found was beadboard wainscoting. You can buy and install pre-cut beadboard panels at your local hardware store and install chair rail molding above it. The final result creates a cottage-style vibe, which is great if that's what you want. We decided this style didn't suit our home and looked into other methods.
2. Pre-Made Kit: We then considered buying a pre-made kit. Many of them exceeded our set budget, but we found a few reasonable options. In the end, we didn't go with this either because the ones we liked were only 32-38" high. We wanted the wainscoting around 38-42" high to cover up scuffed areas. Even though we could have tweaked the kit to make this happen, we didn't feel confident that we could pull off the job.
3. The Full DIY: If you don't like the first two options, you can go the full DIY route and create your own wainscoting with trim work. The tutorial we found basically entailed making "picture frames" from molding, applying them to the wall, adding chair rail molding, and then painting the whole thing to pull it together.
We ended up choosing the third route and adapted an online tutorial from This Old House because:
- It required fewer tools than other options.
- We didn't have to remove the baseboard or cut around outlets.
- We could make the design as simple or complex as we liked.
- The height of the wainscoting could be adjusted for our needs. We wanted it to be higher to get the best wall protection, and many kits didn't provide for that option.
- It was very affordable and used less wood than other projects.
What You'll Need
We tried to minimize the number of tools and supplies we used and had to buy. Here's the list of everything we used for this project:
- Mitre Box and Saw: to cut molding
- White Panel Board Nails (1-5/8" and 2"): to hold frames/molding together, and to attach the frames to the wall
- Polyurethane Construction Adhesive: to hold frames and chair railing to the wall.
- Hammer and Nail Punch: to drive the nails in
- Picture Frame Clamp (Optional): to keep the frame in shape as the glue dries
- Krazy Glue: to put the frames together. Clamps weren't necessary with this glue.
- Molding and Chair Rail: to make the picture frames.
- Primer and Semi-Gloss Paint: to brighten the wall and make the area washable.
- Stud Finder: to find studs and hang the frames/chair rail in them
- Sander: to make the wall smooth before applying primer
- Tape Measure, Level, and Square: to measure the lengths accurately
- Mineral Spirits: to clean up adhesive that seeped out from behind the frames
- One-Gallon White Primer, One-Gallon White Semi-Gloss Paint: to paint
- Small Paintbrush, 3' Roller, and a Sponge: to apply paint
- Vinyl Spackling and Fine sandpaper: to fill nail holes and gaps
How to Wainscot Your Room
1. Measure the wall sections you want to cover. Determine the frame size you want, as well as the distance between, above, and below them. I used 4" above and below, and 3" in between. You want it consistent to create a professional look.
2. Draw one of the designs on paper and tape it to the wall to see how the design looks. Make sure none of the frames interfere with outlets, which would create more work for you to work around.
3. Visit the hardware store and choose your molding and chair rail. I took a picture of the existing trim work around our doors to help choose the chair rail.
4. Cut the molding and make the frames. Lay them on paper and use a square to line up the pieces.
5. Attach the pieces with Krazy Glue and hold the joint for 30 seconds until it's bonded. Sand off the extra glue.
6. Sand the wall to make it even and smooth. Remove any wall plates and tape off the area around the doorways and the baseboard and clean the area you're going to work on.
7. Find the studs so you can try nailing the frames in them for maximum support.
8. Use the level, measuring tape, and pencil to mark your frame placement.
8. Apply the construction adhesive in a single bead all the way around the frame.
9. Place your frames and rail on the wall. Repeat until the design is complete.
10. Apply two coats of semi-gloss paint. The installation went just as planned with one exception on the final wall which I'll talk about below.
Our Wainscoting Obstacle
Things were going smoothly, until the final section of the hallway wall. A stud in the center of the wall section had moved a little as the house settled, making the wall a little bowed. We could either remove the drywall and correct the problem or try to shim our wainscoting frames, molding, and chair rail to minimize the bowing. We opted for the second idea and decided to use shims to fill the space between the wall and molding/chair rail.
We used a string pulled from one door frame to another to establish a straight line. We held the molding up to the line to see what areas needed to be shimmed. We marked the molding, glued the shims (we used thin paint stirrers) to the back, and attached them to the wall. We filled gaps with painter's caulk, sanded them down, and then painted over everything. This helped lessen the visual impact of the bowed wall.
Our Wainscoting Approach
Our home has a very long, narrow hallway near the back door. It's so narrow that we frequently brush against the wall when we carry bags into the house. The area is also quite dark, with canned lighting and a 9-foot ceiling that makes the hall look like a cave.
Some people suggested that painting the walls a lighter color, removing a portion of the wall, and using some horizontal lines would both brighten and widen the space. However, our hallway walls were frequently scuffed, and the existing wall paint was hard to clean. For us, trying to paint such a large area with a semi-gloss paint wouldn't have added any visual appeal. So, we approached the wainscoting process with the following steps:
- Researching ideas online
- Collecting a few different options
- Determining which method matched our budget and skill level
In the end, my husband and I liked the idea of covering the lower portion of the wall with panels to add a horizontal pattern and better protect the wall. Wainscoting would cut the wall down into sections that could be touched up more easily and make washable, semi-gloss paint more acceptable.
Paying someone else to design and do the work exceeded our budget, and I found many affordable kits online. As we evaluated them, however, we saw numerous factors that made us fear we would botch the job up. I'll include some of them below if you're more DIY inclined than me.
I also found a number of helpful tutorials to actually perform the work and described the process, from using a mitre box to building your own wainscot panels. My husband and I are DIY impaired and didn't want to invest in tools that would only be used for this project. The option we ended up choosing was one that cost us very little, could be completed within a few days, and would (hopefully) result in a look we would enjoy for years to come.