DIY: Stair Wainscoting

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Measure correctly before attaching wainscoting to the walls of a staircase.
Measure correctly before attaching wainscoting to the walls of a staircase. (Image: David Sacks/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Wainscoting along a staircase is a project you can do yourself to create a design element that adds character to the home. Attaching wainscoting in an angle may seem like a daunting task, but this construction project is not difficult. Take the time to measure the angle of the stairs so the wainscoting strips are vertical after installation. Inaccurate cuts in wainscoting panels is a costly mistake that you want to prevent.

Things You'll Need

  • Yardstick
  • Pencil
  • Stud finder
  • Saw
  • Hammer
  • 2-inch finishing nails
  • Caulk
  • Wood putty
  • Paint

Measure the wainscoting height along the walls at the top and bottom of the stairs. Measure this height on each stair by placing a yardstick against the wall to mark the correct height placement along the stairs. Connect the marking with a light line to create a straight line as a guide for installation.

Find the wall studs using a stud finder and make a pencil mark along the attachment line so you know where to place the nails.

Determine the angle of the stairs with an angle finder. Another option is to calculate the angle manually by measuring the width of the step tread and the height of the each stair, and then dividing the height into the tread width for the angle in degrees.

Cut a piece of cardboard or heavy paper to the height of a wainscoting panel. Cut the top right and bottom left corner areas of the cardboard to the calculated stair angle as a test that you calculated the angle and cuts correctly. Adjust the measurements and cuts before cutting the wainscoting panels.

Cut the top and bottom edge of each piece of wainscoting needed for the height of the stairs using the calculated angle and test piece of cardboard as a guide.

Attach the wainscoting panels with finishing nails pounded into each wall stud, spaced about 3 inches apart vertically along the wainscoting. Continue to add panels of wainscoting along the stair wall, making sure the ends are tight together and panels stay straight along the marking.

Attach a strip of chair rail to the top edge of the wainscoting with finishing nails to complete the top edge of the wainscoting panel.

Apply a thin beading of caulk along the top edge of the chair rail where the strip joins with the wall so it is easy to remove dust and dirt. Apply wood putty to the wainscoting joints to fill in cracks. Paint the wainscoting in a coordinating color to the wall once the caulk and putt are dry.

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