Wainscoting Installation – A step-by-step description of our process

Step 1; Mark for Chair rail

This initial marking of the location of the chair rail does not need to be exact. At this point we are simply marking the level of the chair rail to be sure we do not alter the walls above chair rail.  The chair rail usually sits about 28-32 inches from the floor, although you are free to adjust the height depending on the position other trim and molding pieces on the wall.  You may have to raise or lower your chair rail by a few inches in order to improve the connection of your chair rail to window trim.  In this step of the process are marking the chair rail but not installing it yet.  Not having the rail on the wall allows us to accomplish the next few steps a bit quicker and not have to worry about damaging or getting other materials on the chair rails.  The chair rail will be installed after the drywall mud has been applied and sanded.


Step 2; Sanding the texture

We begin our wainscoting installation project by sanding the existing texture.  Keep in mind that this step of the process is not meant to remove all of the texture.  Our initial sanding simply knocks down the texture a bit and roughs-up the surface to improve adhesion of our drywall mud.  We use orbital palm sanders with a fair amount of pressure and the roughest grid sandpaper we can find.  The idea here is to scratch up the surface as much as possible and prepare the wall for our three coats of drywall mud.



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Step 3; drywall mud

This is a three coat process and it is the most important part of the project. Our purpose here is to make the texture disappear completely.  We like to sand the drywall mud down after the second coat.  After this step the lower part of our wall should appear as though a flat and smooth board has been installed.  We use a sanding block and never hesitate to apply a 4th coat if needed.  We inspect the finished product by shining a floodlight at the surface from different angles.  Keep in mind once the primer touches our drywall mud, alterations will be much more difficult so this is our last chance to make any necessary fine tuning.

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Step 4; Installing the chair-rail

We install the chair rail before applying our primer.  This way we are free to complete this step faster knowing that we still have time to make any needed repairs to the wall below.   We only measure the starting point and the rest is installed using a level and a stud finder.  While this part of the project can be completed with a hammer and nails, a battery powered finish nailer can dan speed things up significantly.  you can make all the cuts using a hand-saw and a miter box available at any hardware store, but again, a powered miter saw can speed things up.



Step 5; Primer

We use a fine-medium nap 9″ roller to roll our primer on our new drywall mud coats.  Be sure to remove the dust first.  We use any standard PVA drywall sealer and roll it on aggressively; rubbing it onto the surface really well to make sure our new drywall mud is completely soaked and a strong bond is formed.  Roller marks are OK at this point since PVA is very forgiving of roller marks and also we will be sanding all surfaces a final before painting and in between coats of paint.  Once our primer is dry, our surface will not be so delicate and we will be ready to move forward.


Step 6; Install baseboards

Following the same process as the chair rail, install baseboards.  We raise our baseboards about 1/16th of an inch from the floor to assist the masking process when we paint the wainscoting.  The gap allows us to slide our masking paper under the baseboards to guarantee that 100% of the paint is kept off the floor.  This gap is created by placing a piece of sandpaper under the baseboards before nailing it down.  Once the base board is nailed down, the sandpaper is simply wiggled out leaving us a perfect gap that is invisible and guaranteed a precise line every time the wainscoting in painted in the future.


Step 7; picture molding

We first cut a 3.5 inch square block of MDF.  This is our measuring block and minimizes the use of tape measure and also significantly decreases our chances for measuring mistakes.

Determining the size of all our vertical pieces:

We begin by placing our block right under the chair rail, mark, then place the block right above the base board and mark.


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To measure the length between the marks and that is the size of all of our our vertical pieces; although we may have to be flexible in some areas to create proper relation to our windows or power outlet.


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Step 8; Caulking and spackling all nail holes, joints, and gaps.

Using interior grade painter’s caulk and wood-filler materials, we fill and seal all areas.


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Posted in Do it Yourself blog.