How to Install Recessed-Panel Wainscoting
Wainscotting is a relatively affordable upgrade that adds a special touch to any room. Including time for painting, this project is doable in a weekend. Standard-sized lumber is used to minimize cuts and make the process fairly easy.
Plan the Layout
To make this DIY project easy, use hardwood plywood along with pre-squared, pre-planed, dimensioned hardwood lumber, or S4S (“surfaced on four sides”) which can be found at better home centers. By using readily available stock lumber sizes, such as the 1x4 and 1x6, this project becomes more of a simple assembly job and less of a custom-cutting and fitting chore.
Start by measuring the length of each wall (Image 2). Draw a layout plan (Image 3) that divides the walls into panel sections of equal size. An accurate plan will also provide a template to use for buying and cutting the wood. The size of your room will influence the width of the panel sections, but because hardwood plywood comes in 4' x 8' sheets (48" x 96"), it is more economical in both materials and labor to create sections that make the best use of these dimensions.
If you have a large room, for example, the optimum proportion for each panel section would be 48" x 48", which includes the width and height of the (overlapping) vertical and horizontal rails. This allows you to use a full plywood sheet to cover two panel sections. If your room is small, or if its dimensions don’t accommodate equal 4-foot sections, reduce the width increments to 32 or 24 inches and still retain the 48-inch height (Image 4). The goal is to use full sheets wherever possible. If your room’s dimensions are slightly off, you can usually slightly adjust the width of each wall’s end panel sections.
Laying It All Out05:19
Mark Stud Locations
When you measure the walls, use an electronic stud finder to locate and mark the position of the wall studs. It is to nail the vertical stiles to a stud so they'll be firmly anchored; however, because all of the stiles will be connected to the top and bottom rails, which span multiple studs and are well anchored, this is not required. In your layout, try to avoid placing any of the stiles over an electrical outlet.
If you are going to be painting the wainscot panels, it is best to prime them before installation.
Install the Plywood Panels
Begin the installation at one corner of the longest wall. Measure up from the floor to the height you want your wainscot (ours is 35 inches), then use a level (or ideally, a laser lever) to extend this mark across the length of the wall. This line marks the top of the paneling and upper rail. The measurement includes a 1/4-inch gap at the bottom to allow for any variations in floor height.
Remove the room’s existing baseboard and discard it (Image 1). Also remove any electrical outlet covers, but leave the outlets in place.
Use a caulking gun to apply a continuous, serpentine bead of construction adhesive to the wall below the level line, extending the adhesive from top to bottom.
Place the first plywood sheet against the wall (Image 2), even with the level line, and tack it to the studs with two 1-1/2" finishing nails (Image 3). The next sheet should butt against the first and follow the level line. It is more important to maintain a level line along the top of the plywood, even if the joints do not butt tightly together; these joints will be covered by the vertical stiles.
Continue installing the plywood sheets to the end wall. Measure the last section to butt against the corner, and use a circular saw to cut it to fit. At electrical outlet locations, carefully measure and mark each panel before you install it, and use a razor knife or jigsaw to cut out the opening (Image 4). When all of the plywood sheets are up and level, fasten them to the wall studs with 1-1/4" finishing nails.
Cut and Fasten Plywood Panels02:59
Install the Top Rail
Install the horizontal top rail directly atop the top edge of the plywood. Use 2-1/2" finishing nails to fasten this rail through the plywood and wall and into the studs. If you have to connect two running pieces on a long wall, cut opposing 45-degree-angles on each piece to create a lap joint. Place a little wood glue on each cut end then overlap the pieces and fasten to the wall. For the corners, use a standard butt joint.
Add the Top Rail01:10
Cut and Install the Stiles
Cut all of the 1x4 stiles to size (ours measure 27-1/2"). Use a miter saw to ensure square (90 degree) cuts on the end of each board.
Measure and mark the stile layout; if it corresponds to the stud spacing in your walls, each stile will be directly over a stud. It is best to start in a corner and work out. For aesthetics, we choose to butt two pieces together in the corner (Image 1). Check each stile with a plumb level as you nail them in place with 2-1/2" finishing nails. Use a spacer board to ensure a uniform size in between each stile (Image 2). If any of the stiles do not fall on a stud, secure them by toe-nailing to the top rail using 1-1/4" finishing nails.
Install the Baseboard and Cove Molding
Measure and cut the baseboard. Where two boards meet, cut mating 45-degree miters on the end of each board to create an “invisible” lap joint. Add glue to the baseboard where it meets the bottom of each stile (Image 1). Use a pry bar or wood shims to raise the baseboard to meet the stiles. Secure the baseboards in place, nailing through the plywood and wall surface into the studs with 2-1/2" finishing nails. Adjust your pneumatic nailer to drive all nail heads slightly below the wood surface, or sink the nails with a hammer and nail set.
Measure and cut the cove molding to sit on top of the top rail (Image 2). As with the other horizontal rails, use miter cuts for intersections. Secure the cove molding using 1-1/4" finishing nails. To give your panels a more detailed look, you can also install cove molding completely around the inside of the stiles.
Measure and cut the shoe molding to run along the bottom of the baseboards to hide the gap where the paneling meets the floor.
Install the Top and Bottom Pieces01:14
Stain and Finish the Wainscot
Fill all nail holes with wood putty and allow it to dry. Lightly sand all of the wood surfaces with fine (#200) sandpaper and wipe away dust with a tack cloth the paint.
If you are staining the paneling, use a brush or rag to apply wood stain. Apply a full coat and allow it to penetrate for about 15 minutes, then wipe away excess stain. When dry, repeat with a second stain coat.
Allow the stain to dry overnight. Brush or spray on a light coat of polyurethane finish. Allow it to dry, then sand lightly. Use a tack cloth to wipe away dust, then apply a second coat of finish.
Watch the Entire Step-by-Step Process04:10
See how our experts dress the walls in elegant-looking panels.
A house with good bones has pleasing lines on the outside, but that artful composition has to be echoed on the inside, too. And nothing's better for giving rooms a handsome, well-built look than wainscoting on the walls.
What is the purpose of wainscoting?
A combination of decorative boards or panels and moldings that extend partway up a wall’s face, wainscoting is a centuries-old marriage of form and style. Dating to the 1300s, the Dutch used it to shield the bottom half of plaster walls from such hazards as jostled chairs, spurs on riding boots, perhaps even carelessly swung scabbards.
Wainscoting still guards our walls, but today it's from dirt-caked gardening shoes in mudrooms, olive-oil fingerprints in kitchens, and the inevitable scuffs in the close quarters along hallways and stairways.
Covering your walls with wainscoting made from stock boards—or "sticks"—and panels is easy to do yourself, if you know your way around a chop saw. And if you don't, there's wainscoting that arrives on your doorstep fully assembled and ready to install.
Below we show these and other products and some basic design options, plus a how-to plan for creating a pleasing layout. Just the kind of knowledge you'll need to boost the architectural integrity of any bare walls in your house.
Key Questions Answered
How do you say it?
Wayne's coating? Wayne's cotting? Wayne's kitting? Merriam-Webster prefers the first pronunciation, but all are acceptable. It's also fine to call it wainscot; the terms are interchangeable.
Is it right for you?
Available in a variety of patterns and panel options to suit almost any decor, it's often used to stylishly safeguard walls that tend to take a beating, such as those in kitchens, foyers, and baths.
What's it made of?
Traditionally, solid wood, but these days wainscoting is also milled from plywood, plastic, and medium-density fiberboard (MDF).
How much does it cost to do wainscoting?
It starts at $1 per square foot for beadboard wainscoting that you assemble yourself and goes up to $31 per square foot for custom-crafted hardwood panels.
How much care?
Top it with semigloss paint or clear polyurethane finish and you can wipe stray marks with a sponge and soapy water.
Where to use it
Elegant armor for your walls, wainscoting is particularly well suited to rooms that take a lot of wear and tear
In mudrooms, where boots, backpacks, and wet umbrellas can damage walls, beadboard makes a good choice because there are fewer prominent edges to dent and ding. The walls in more formal foyers are often clad in paneled wainscoting.
2. Stairs and hallways
The walls of these narrow passages benefit from wainscoting's scuff and mark protection. The horizontal rails and the cap generally follow the pitch of the stair; the stiles or beadboard remain vertical.
3. Eating areas
Dining rooms wainscoting could use tall wainscoting topped with a grooved plate rail displays fine china and serving pieces. For more casual kitchens, wainscoting capped at chair height with a prominent top rail safeguards walls from being marred when diners push back from the table.
4. Family rooms and dens
Adding wainscoting to areas where kids—and pets—congregate can have a calming effect, the architectural equivalent of a shhh. Rec rooms benefit too, with a cap rail that's wide enough to perch a drink, Ping-Pong paddles, or pool-cue chalk.
A traditional alternative to pricey tiled walls, wainscoting made from warp-resistant wood, specially treated MDF, or solid surfacing helps protect the drywall or plaster underneath from water damage. It also has a warming effect in this room, where cold porcelain fixtures, ceramic floors, and tub enclosures can predominate.
6. Kids' rooms
Children probably won't give two hoots about it, but parents will appreciate the way wainscoting looks and how easily it cleans up after being used as a canvas for finger paints and crayons.
Types of Materials You Can Use
Wainscoting’s looks, how it holds up, and its cost depend on what it’s made of.
The original wainscoting material. Paint lesser species, such as pine, or clear-coat the good stuff, such as walnut and cherry, to highlight its color and grain. Wood requires careful installation and finishing to prevent cracks and gaps caused by seasonal expansion and contraction.
Medium-density fiberboard cuts like wood but doesn't expand, contract, warp, split, or have knots. Comes either primed for paint or veneered. Keep it away from water, which causes it to swell and break down. Specially treated moisture-resistant MDF, however, can stand up to steam in a bath.
Made from either cellular PVC or the same solid surfacing material used for kitchen counters. Looks like painted wood but won't rot, making it ideal for baths, laundry rooms, and even a kitchen backsplash.
The long, wide sheets make installation fast—just rip it down, glue it to the wall, and finish with cap and base moldings. Unlike those in other materials, the groove profiles tend to be shallow and rough.
Design Rules of Thumb
Follow these guidelines for pleasing proportions.
What is the proper height for wainscoting?
Generally, the cap sits about one-third the way up the wall. So if the ceiling is 9 feet, go for 3-foot wainscoting. For taller wainscoting, such as one with a plate rail, cap it two-thirds the way up the wall.
How wide a panel?
They should all be the same, so avoid cutting individual panels down at corners and doorways to get them to fit walls of varying lengths. Architects and kit makers use computer-aided design software to calculate panel widths that work for your specific room dimensions.
What to do under windows?
For beadboard, simply cut it to size. For paneled wainscoting, order a center panel that's the same width as your cased window. Its height will vary depending on the distance between your window's projecting bottom stool and the floor or baseboard top.
What about the base?
Baseboard topped with a profiled cap visually anchors wainscoting in a room and adds a little extra kick protection. Cover the joint where wainscoting meets the floor with shoe molding.
Four Ways to Save on Costs
Get the look of wainscoting without the pricey panels.
1. Painted on Planks
Roll vertical stripes in alternating hues over the lower third of your wall for a cheery two-tone plank effect. A horizontal painted band mimics a cap rail.
2. Wall Frames
Install a chair rail and glue and nail frames made from decorative panel moldings beneath it. Paint the chair rail and everything below the same color for the look of raised-panel wainscoting.
3. Faux Flat Panel
Glue and nail rails, stiles, and cap molding directly to smooth drywall or plaster to mimic flat panel wainscoting. Paint the boards the same color as the wall, or finish the wood in an accent color to match the rest of the trim in the room.
4. Stain-Grade Wall Veneer
Affix hardwood plywood directly to the wall. Then nail on your stiles and rails, and top the plywood with cap molding. For the look of a solid-wood assembly, cut the plywood so that its grain runs vertically on the wall.
Wainscoting Kits, Wall Paneling & Beadboard
Congratulations… you’ve discovered our collection of Wainscoting—ever so popular for its beauty, strength and durability.
Wainscoting is the wall paneling used to line or wainscot (pronounced wān′·skət or wān′·skŏt) the lower third of an interior wall, just below the chair rail and above the baseboard or skirting. Though wildly popular today, the Wainscot interior design element has sustained its place throughout history—dating as far back as the 1500’s!
At one time wainscoting served the functional purpose of making rooms more comfortable by paneling the walls with wood to insulate a home. Not so much these days… the popularity of wainscot has since evolved into a feature that provides aesthetic warmth and integrity.
Whether the goal is to create a rustic, cozy feel or a stunning look of sophistication, the plethora of options that wainscoting offers is vast, adding just the right touch to whichever area you intend to embellish.
Class, style and quaint comfort are what your newly wainscoted rooms will offer. Be it a raised panel, recessed panel, planks or beadboard, wainscot paneling effortlessly adds elegance and character to any area. AICMillworks.com proudly offers such timeless inspirations.
What Are Wainscoting Panels?
Raised panel means that the inside panel is flush with the outside trim pieces and has a beveled edge to create the raised panel. I think it’s easier to visually see the difference rather than explaining it.
This is the oldest form of wainscoting and began as a means of insulation. It’s typically installed 30-40” high around the entire room, though it can go higher. It’s most commonly used in dining rooms and living rooms.
Flat panel is the opposite of a raised panel and means just as you would think. The panels are flat and installed behind the moulding and trim so it appears flat.
Beadboard is comprised of thin rails that are connected oftentimes with tongue and groove. They make beadboard now out of many materials including MDF sheets. Lots of times you’ll see beadboard in bathrooms. Check out this post to learn more about beadboard and how to install it for a budget-friendly update.
Overlay is when flat panels are installed and then additional panels are installed on top of them giving the look of a raised panel. This is a combination of styles using both flat and raised.
Board and Batten
Board and batten is essentially vertical boards mounted on either drywall or a flat panel used to cover seams. The vertical boards are called battens.
Beadboard is a type of wainscoting style where thin boards are used along a wall with moulding detail. While it was once individual thin boards used to create the bead board pattern, now they manufacture large sheets that give the illusion of thin individual boards, making install much easier.
Shiplap is another type of wainscoting that uses boards, either horizontally or vertically, usually across the entire wall, not just a ⅓ of the way up. This blog post goes in detail about the different kinds of shiplap and the best one to use.
As I stated earlier, there are a variety of materials now to make wainscoting.
Wood is the original form, and the most authentic and customizable. You can paint it, stain it, and achieve just about any look you are going for using wood.
However, wood needs to acclimate to your climate and your home, otherwise it can cause problems down the road. Wood can shrink and expand with changing temperatures and if the right wood isn’t selected, you may see gaps or cracking in your wainscoting.
Vinyl wainscoting is a newer alternative to wood and therefore can be more expensive. It’s waterproof and easy to clean so you can see why people may opt for it over wood! It’s a great option for bathrooms because it resists mold and mildew, but can absolutely be installed anywhere in the home.
Vinyl usually comes pre-finished in white and can be painted to any look you desire.
Wainscoting can be used in any room in your home to add character and interest. Let’s take a look at some examples of spaces that use wainscoting for a truly beautiful result.
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