How to install wainscoting

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When we first moved in, my husband used the room that was supposed to be a dining room as his office. It was an EYESORE. Don’t tell him I said that. He moved his office because he missed having a door anyway, so he could shut the door for his conference calls. I was excited that I didn’t have to stare at his messy desk anymore. But after he moved all his stuff, we were left with this empty room. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I didn’t need a dining room and I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on furniture. We decided to make it a nice sitting room so we could reshuffle some of the sofas we already had. I convinced him to install wainscoting and I LOVE the way it came out! We still need to decorate, that will come soon!

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I can’t take any of the credit really. This preggo only helped paint. My stamina and range of motion is limited at 38 weeks pregnant. He did about 75% of the work and I did 25%. I also can’t lift any of the furniture that we planned on moving to this room so we can’t reshuffle the furniture just yet.

Here’s what we (he) used to install wainscoting:

I want to quickly mention how well the Purdy brushes work, I’ve linked them above. I used a different brand of brush (but I wouldn’t recommend it), while my husband used the Purdy brush. I quickly grabbed the brush out of his hand to touch something up and WOW IT WAS SO MUCH BETTER than other brand’s brush I was using. He knew his brush was better too; he’s so fresh. It was smoother to use and it applies paint better.

For this project, you’ll need to have a general understanding of how to cut your pieces properly with a miter saw.

You’ll need to first measure your room to determine how much chair rail molding you will need. Then you’ll need to do some math for the boxes on the wall so you know how much to buy.

To determine the size of the boxes needed on your wall you need to:

  • Measure the total width of the wall.
  • Look at the overall length of the wall decide how many boxes/panels you would like to have. We chose 5.
  • Determine how much spacing you want to have between the boxes, between the top of the box and the rail and same for the bottom of the box and the trim.  We used 3″.
  • Then you will take the width of the wall measurement, subtract (gap spacing multiplied by 2) for each end and subtract the spacing between the boxes.
    • Our Example: 138″ wall minus 6″ (3″x2 for each end), minus 12 (each gap between boxes, you will always have 1 less gap then the number of boxes you determine (4 gaps multiplied by 3″ for spacing = 12″ total).  This will give you a total of 120″.
  • Then you divide by the number of panels/boxes you want.
    • In our case we chose 5, therefore 120″ / 5 = 24″.  This is now the width of each of your boxes on that wall. (The width of the boxes includes any width of your molding).
  • To determine the height, we just took the measurement between the chair rail and trim and subtracted 6″ for the 3″ gap on top and 3″ gap on bottom, giving us 28″.

Next, you cut your pieces the right size for the wall and install them with a nail gun. My husband made markings all over the wall with a pen so he’d know where to add the pieces. It was okay since we were going to paint over them anyway.

After every piece is installed on the wall, we filled in all the nail gun holes with caulking so you wouldn’t see a indent from where the nail was. Then, we painted from the chair rail molding and down. We also painted the baseboard trim to ensure it matched. We painted inside the boxes with a roller and it helped minimize any brush strokes.

I discovered a technique with the pesky brush strokes. When you try to spread the paint too thin, that’s when brush strokes show more. You need to make sure you have enough paint on your brush and don’t spread it out too much. You don’t want to glob it on the wall, but you need to make sure you have enough to get a good layer of paint on the wall. We used 2-3 coats of paint (depending on the area) for this project.

We got really lucky with outlets! Try to plan around them if you can, but you may not be able to avoid them. All of our outlets fell in between a box or inside a box.


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