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How To Install Wainscoting

Wainscoting adds an element of elegance to any wall or room. It is traditionally a wood paneling that covers the lower portion of an interior wall. Wainscoting originated in England in the 1500s as a way to cover up the lower third of a wall and thus hide creeping moisture damage or other wall finish problems. Today, wainscoting can be a fabric, ceramic tile, wood product or plastic, plaster, marble, stone, or other manmade materials. No matter what the material, wainscoting is usually capped by a chair rail or other type of molding. It is installed over lathe and plaster or sheetrock, or even other types of paneling. It is not particularly difficult to install, especially if the adjoining walls are plumb and square to each other.

Lay the new wainscoting in the room where it will be installed for at least 48 hours to let it become acclimated before installation.

Installing wainscoting

Wainscoting adds an elegant touch to any room

Wainscoting adds an elegant touch to any room

  1. The wainscoting comes in panels that are usually about 32″ tall although the height can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
  2. It is best to start in one corner of a room and work from left to right.
  3. Measure from the finish floor up the wall the height of the wainscoting plus another ½” and make a mark on the wall.
  4. Using a hand level or a laser level on a tripod, mark a level line around the room on each wall. You can also use a chalk box and string level or a water level if you have access to it and know how to use one.
  5. Just above the level line, mark the location of each wall stud all the way around the room. Use a stud locator to find them.
  6. Install the first wainscoting panel leaving about 1/16″ gap between the edge of the panel and the corner.
  7. Secure the panel with finishing nails at the wall stud locations at the top edge of the panel and evenly spaced down to the floor.
  8. You may want to countersink the finishing nails with a nailset and fill the holes with wood putty or wood filler.
  9. Install the next panel adjacent to the first, once again leaving a 1/16″ gap between the two panels for wood expansion.
  10. Work your way all around the room leaving an expansion gap between panels, in corners, and between the panels and the floor.
  11. Lay out the location of electrical outlets, tv cable outlets, telephone jacks, etc. and cut them out with a jigsaw from the back side of the panel. Once again, allow a little room between the edge of the boxes and the panel for expansion.
  12. After you install the last panel, cut the base molding to fit and install it. Countersink the finishing nails or brads, fill the holes, sand smooth, and finish to match the paneling.
  13. Install the chair rail or molding on the top of the wainscoting paneling. Once again, countersink the fasteners, fill them with wood putty, sand smooth and finish.
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