How to Install a Chair Rail

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A chair rail is one way to dress up and make a plain room look more interesting--not to mention garner a little more attention from prospective buyers. Following these steps, you'll learn how this simple addition can add character and style with minimal cost and effort.

Get Materials and the Room Ready

  • Measure the linear footage needed to cover the length of your planned chair rail installation. Add 10 percent to this figure for waste and mistakes.

  • Select the material and finish you want for your new chair rail at a lumberyard or home improvement center.

  • Buy your trim in lengths that will require few splices as possible. (Very long walls may have to be spliced; 14 to 16 feet is about the longest you will find, and these longer pieces are more susceptible to warping and damage.)

  • Stain, finish or paint all the wood to your satisfaction, then allow the finish to dry thoroughly.

  • Determine the height of your chair rail and mark a straight level line on all walls where the rail is going to installed.

Putting Up The Chair Rail (Inside corners)

  • Cut the first piece to length with a regular 90-degree cut going into the corner. Using a simple miter-cut for inside corners maybe tempting but this often leads to unsightly gaps and misaligned joints because the corners of a room are almost never true 90-degree angles.

  • Cut with a coping saw (see Glossary) the second piece in the shape of the profile of the molding so that it can butt neatly against the face of the first piece.

  • Use the miter box and a fine-toothed backsaw to make a cut on the second piece that reveals the profile of the molding (in other words a 45 degree miter cut with the tip pointing into the corner).

  • Cut away the excess wood along the back side of this profile line with a coping saw. Err on the side of removing too much rather than too little; only the outermost edge of the coped molding will be seen.

  • Use a utility knife to remove any excess material you missed with the coping saw. Be careful that you do not cut into the exposed face of the molding. Hold the piece in place to test the fit and do more carving if necessary.

  • Once the fit is acceptable attach the rail to the wall with 6d finish nails into wall studs. Counter sink all nails with a nail set. Use wood putty to cover holes and finish to match.

Putting Up The Chair Rail

  • Mark outside corners by butting one end of the molding in place (this may mean leaving enough extra length to go an inch or so longer than the wall; remember to take into account if one end is a coped joint). Allow the outside corner end to extend past the corner. Make the mark exactly even with the corner of the wall.

  • Use this mark as the short point of your miter cut for the outside corner. The other side of the outside corner will be cut with an opposite angle. Once the fit is acceptable attach the rail to the wall with 6d finish nails into wall studs. Counter sink all nails with a nail set. Use wood putty to cover holes and finish to match.

  • Using "Corner Blocks" is another option. Corner blocks are pieces of wood trim used in the angle of both inside and outside corners. Corner blocking adds a more detailed decorative touch to the trim. It also reduces all corner cuts to simple straight cut "butt joints."

  • Choose one of several styles when you pick out your chair rail molding. Make sure to get the proper amount of inside and outside pieces to complete the job.

Tips & Warnings

  • Inspect all materials carefully. You want your trim to be straight, with no warps or twists. Avoid knotholes or any kinds of dings or rough spots.
  • In new c0onstruciton, install all trim around doors and windows before putting up the chair rail.
  • Cutting the needed angles for the corners of your trim is handled most accurately with a miter saw.
  • Map out the job so that one end of each piece of chair rail always will be cut straight and one end will be mitered and or coped. Use butt joints for long runs. Practice on parts of the room that are less visible and keep the more visible cuts for later in the job when you have honed your skills.
  • Predrilling nail holes prevents splitting of easily damaged trim pieces.
  • The job will be easier if you have a work station. This should consist of a long bench at a comfortable height (several long 2-by-4s laid out on top of saw horses will suffice). This will hold your miter saw (electric or manual) and support the trim as you work on it. Set up your work station where power is readily accessible and there is plenty of light.
  • Be careful when using power miter saw. Inattention can result in injury.
  • Use caution and common sense if you are using a power miter saw. Keep your fingers well away from the blade when making tricky cuts and always wear safety glasses.
  • Using a simple miter-cut for inside corners may be tempting but this often leads to unsightly gaps and misaligned joints because the corners of a room are almost never true 90-degree angles.

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  • Photo Credit http://www.loboservicesltd.com/carpentry.html
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