How to Install Wainscoting

Wainscoting adds an elegant look to a room.

Learning how to install wainscoting can enhance an ordinary room and dress it up with a look of elegance.

What Is Wainscoting

Wainscoting is wood, usually in the form of panels, that line the lower portion of an interior wall and that is topped with a chair rail. Historically, this decorative touch could be found in elegant homes of the wealthy, but today's precut panels make it an affordable option for everyone.

If you're worried about how to install wainscoting, you can relax. The installation process is easier than ever. Tongue-and-grove edges fit flush along the wall, or Beadboard panels can be installed side-by-side, leaving 1/16 of an inch between panels. Because pieces come in pre-cut panels, the process is fairly easy, and wainscoting can be purchased in a variety of styles to fit your unique tastes and décor.

  • Raised paneling - the style most often used in formal settings and was first used in the seventeenth century.
  • Beadboard - often used in cottages, hallways and foyers.
  • Modern - an ideal choice for commercial and institutional use such as conference rooms or reception areas.

If you're trying to decide what style is right for your home improvement project, visit your local Home Depot or Lowe's Home Improvement Store to check out their in-store selection and styles.

What You Need

Before you begin your wainscoting installation, make sure you have all the materials you need to complete the project.

  • Wainscoting panels
  • Baseboard
  • Trim
  • Brad nail-gun or hammer and finishing nails
  • Level
  • Adhesive
  • Painter's Caulk

Panels usually come in four-by-eight-foot sheets and most often wainscoting is about 45 inches tall when installed with moldings and a chair rail. Before you start the project you'll have to decide if you want to work with pre-finished or ready-to-finish panels.

Before You Start

  • Measure the perimeter of the room or area you plan to panel. Figure the number of panels needed.
  • After purchasing the wainscoting, carry the panels into the house and allow them to sit for a few days before you begin. This acclimates panels to your home's climate and humidity. Because wainscoting is a wood product, it expands and contracts.
  • During the time you're waiting for the panels to acclimate, empty the walls of everything including outlet covers and switch plates.
  • Remove existing baseboards and molding.
  • From the floor, measure 42 1/2 inches up the wall. Use your level to draw a line around the entire room. Because floors tend not to be level, this line will ensure that the wainscoting is level at the top.

How to Install Wainscoting Step by Step

Now that you have the materials and tools you need, and have allowed the wainscoting to adjust to your home's temperature and moisture content, you can complete the installation process by following these simple steps:

Begin with the Baseboard

The first step in installing wainscoting properly is to install the baseboard, which works as the foundation to this project. It's important to make sure the baseboard is level and installed parallel to the floor, because this is what makes the other pieces line up and fit right. Nail the baseboard to wall using about two nails for each section to secure the baseboard.

Install Wainscoting

Start in a corner. Apply construction adhesive to the back side of the panel at the corner. Install the first panel 1/16 inch from the corner. Double check that the top edge is level with the line you drew. Fit the tongue-and-groove edges of the panels together, affixing the corners to the walls by pressing into position. Leave 1/16 inch between panels. Secure the panel with a couple of brads.

As you work around the room, measure where panels overlay outlets and cut the panel appropriately.

Shoe Molding

After the wainscoting panels have been installed, it's time to set the shoe molding, also known as quarter round, into place. This attractive trim lines the bottom of the baseboard, adding a finished, professional look that will cover discrepancies. Attach the molding to the baseboard using a brad every few feet.

Top Molding and Crown Cap

Once you have installed the base, paneling and shoe molding, it's time to install top molding. This molding rests along the top edge of each panel. The mitered ends make for a snug fit and perfect alignment when joining corner pieces. Once this has been secured with brads, you'll give your project that finished, decorative touch by installing the crown cap along the top molding. This should be secured with the brad nailer.


Painter's caulk should be applied at the corners and to fill gaps between panels. This allows the wood to expand and contract with temperature changes. Choose caulk of the same color as the wainscoting or once it's dry, it can be painted over, making it invisible.

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How to Install Wainscoting