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How do I Install Wainscoting?

By Lou Paun
Updated May 16, 2024
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At one time, when wainscoting was built on-site, it took a master carpenter to install wainscoting. Today, prefabricated wainscoting panels are available. It is now possible for a do-it-yourselfer to install wainscoting.

Wainscoting panels, like other wood products, expand and contract slightly as the moisture content in the room changes. A small gap of about 1/16 inch (0.16 cm) between panels will accommodate this movement. It is advisable to leave the panels in the room where they will be mounted for at least 24 hours before installing wainscoting.

The first step to install wainscoting is to mark a level line for the top of the panels using a straight edge and a level. An older house may have slightly uneven floors or walls caused by the house settling over time. Creating a level top line when starting to install wainscoting eliminates any problems from the settling.

Always start to install wainscoting in a corner and work around the room. Start installation with a full panel. Make sure the top of the panel is even with the line, and use adhesive and paneling nails to hold it in place. Leave a small gap and mount the second panel in the same way.

It will probably be necessary to cut panels at the corner of the room to install wainscoting. Cut the panel 1/8 inch (0.32 cm) smaller than the length of wall to be covered. Install the new panel 1/16 inch (0.16 cm) from the previous panel, leaving a 1/16 inch (0.16 cm) gap in the corner.

Wainscoting panels can easily be cut with a jigsaw. Measure carefully when cutting openings for outlets and switches. Don’t replace switch plates and outlet plates until installation is complete.

The last task to install wainscoting is to mount the wainscoting cap at the top of the panels and the baseboard along the floor. The wainscoting cap visually divides the wainscot from the upper wall. The baseboard covers any gaps or uneven places near the floor.

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