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How to Install Wood Wainscoting

Wood wainscoting is a classic architectural element that can add incredible visual depth and elegance to any space in your home. Common in dining rooms, dens, home offices, hallways and even living room and bedrooms, there are few spaces that can’t benefit from wood wainscoting if you love the look.

Learning how to install wood wainscoting can be a tricky process, but if you have DIY experience, it may be a project you can handle. It will certainly be a satisfying way to spend a few days of time updating your home if you have the appropriate skills.

Use this guide to learn more about how to install wood wainscoting from start to finish.

Install Wood Wainscoting

Different Types of Wainscoting

Wood wainscoting panels come in a range of different looks, giving you options for your room design. Here are the five most common types of wood wainscoting panels you’ll see in residential spaces:

Raised Panel Wainscoting

The most common style of wood wainscoting in many areas, this design has a center panel raised off the back wall. This is a common choice for living rooms, dining rooms and home offices.

Flat Panel Wainscoting

Flat panel wainscoting provides more depth to your walls since the center panel looks recessed compared to the surrounding rails. Some people choose to paint the center panel a different color for added visual appeal.

Beadboard Wainscoting

beadboard wainscoting
Beadboard Wainscoting

This type of wainscoting is made with a center panel area featuring individual boards placed right next to each other. This slightly more ornate style is a great choice if you’re working with natural wood in a more traditional home.

Overlay Wainscoting

Overlay wainscoting is a design that combines the look of both raised panel and flat panel wainscoting. To create this look, flat panels are installed before an additional smaller raised panel is centered on top. This provides more depth and detail for larger rooms.

Board and Batten Wainscoting

Board and batten wainscoting is similar to flat panel styles. However, vertical boards are then placed on top. Board and batten wainscoting is a popular choice for farmhouse looks and areas where you want your wainscoting to extend higher up the wall, like in a mudroom or laundry area.

Tips Before You Install Wood Wainscoting

board and batten wainscoting
Board and Batten Wainscoting

Determine Wainscoting Height

Choosing the right wainscoting style for your home depends on your space and design goals. While determining the right height for your wainscoting is also up to your personal vision, there are some general guidelines to follow.

Typically, wainscoting should be one-third the height of your walls. For example, if you have nine-foot walls for floor to ceiling, 36-inch wainscoting is an excellent choice. This 36-inch height should include any moldings you use.

It’s important to note that higher wainscoting may be a preferred option in spaces like your laundry room or mud room. Higher wainscoting panels can also be used in hallways, but the traditional one-third height is more common in these areas.

What About Paint?

You know what style and height you want for your wainscoting. Now you need to decide whether you want to paint above the area where you plan to install wood wainscoting panels.

If you want to paint, do it before you start your wainscoting project. This will ensure that you don’t drip paint from the walls and ceiling above your wainscoting onto your newly installed wood.

Make a line with painter’s tape to mark the top of where your wainscoting will go. You can paint this white later. For now, focus on the rest of your room.

Pro Tip:

Planning to paint your walls? Remove your baseboards first. While you can do this later if you aren’t painting your walls, it’s generally best to do it now since removing baseboards can cause damage to the walls down the road even if you’re careful.

Measure the Space Before Buying Supplies

Once your project is planned out you’ll need to determine how much wainscoting material you need for your wall or room. This process is relatively simple for panel-based designs since you’ll really only need to measure the width and height of the area you plan to cover.

To measure for wainscoting, you’ll need to multiply the desired height by the desired width of each individual panel you want on your wall. You can then multiply that number by the number of panels needed.

As an example, a panel that is 24″ high by 36″ wide totals six square feet. If you’re planning six panels for your wall area, you’ll need 36 square feet of material.

Take care to measure your space correctly. In general, you’d rather have too much material to work with than not enough, so buying a little extra is always a smart choice. This will also allow you to make mistakes if you’re trying to install wood wainscoting for the first time.

Here’s an online calculator that can make measuring for wainscoting material easier.

Prep the Wall Properly

Installing wood wainscoting requires a smooth, well-prepared wall surface. Here’s how you can get your walls ready for the job:

Step 1:

Remove the baseboards if you have not already done it. A pry bar is typically all that’s required for this job.

Step 2:

Wipe down walls with a clean, non-abrasive cloth and a small amount of diluted soap. Dish soap works well for cleaning walls when used sparingly. Other products like a Magic Eraser can also help remove scuffs and stains before you begin.

Step 3:

Fill any holes or cracked areas in your walls using standard drywall filler and a putty knife. Sand these areas to make sure they’re smooth.

Step 4:

Mark the appropriate height for wainscoting using painter’s tape. The most important marking is the top height of your finished wainscoting panels.

Step 5:

Remove excess dust and paint your wall up to the point where you plan to install your wainscoting. Eggshell or semi-gloss white paint is typically used for this job.

Step 6:

Use a stud finder to mark where the studs are in your walls. These markings can help guide you when it’s time to secure your wainscoting with nails.

Installing Wood Wainscoting: A Basic Step-By-Step Guide

flat panel wainscoting
Flat Panel Wainscoting

The process of installing wood wainscoting is somewhat complex, and in general, it probably shouldn’t be your first DIY project. Hiring help or working with more experienced friends and family members is often a smart idea.

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide that can give you the basics of how to install wood wainscoting in your home:

Step 1:

Install new baseboards to match your wood wainscoting design. MDF is a common choice for this. You can cut your own baseboards, buy pre-fab options or have a local store make the precision cuts for you. Make sure you properly nail your baseboards in place for long-term security.

Step 2:

Attach the top rail of your wainscoting at the desired height. Working with a partner here can be very helpful, but you can use a spanning clamp if you’re alone. Use nails to secure the top rail in place once you’ve leveled it.

Step 3:

Apply a coat of glue to the first wainscoting panel and put it in place. If you’re using board and batten wainscoting, you’ll install the battens at properly spaced increments this same way. Secure panels to the studs wherever possible using appropriate brad nails.

Step 4:

Use adhesive to place the cap board if you’re using it. Some designs call for cap board as extra trim while others do not. Nail it in place from the top.

Step 5:

Add a shoe molding on all the baseboards. Cut it to fit and use standard pin nails to secure it in place.

Step 6:

Caulk the corners and gaps to create a smooth, even finish throughout. Fill your nail holes with putty.

Step 7:

Paint or stain your wood wainscoting. Apply a second coat if required before admiring your work! Need a little help with your DIY wainscoting project? Reach out to our trained representatives today. We can help you learn more about wainscoting and find the right materials to make your dream project a reality. We’ll even ship your materials right to your door so you can have them as soon as your walls are painted and prepped!

are you ready to make a solid choice?

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