How to Make Raised Panels on a Table Saw

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Raised panels provide a stylish detail and are easy to add using just a table saw, some plywood and a bit of trim. Wainscoting is available in kits or can be fabricated along with your panels. Although you'll want to use a miter box for the trim, which is too delicate to cut on a table saw, the rest of the pieces can be easily cut and set aside, saving time and producing identical panels.

Things You'll Need

  • Table saw
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Miter box
  • Level
  • Chalk line
  • Nail set
  • Four- and six-penny finish nails
  • Small finish nails
  • Hammer
  • Sand paper
  • Lumber
  • Chair rail and shoe molding
  • Trim for panel edges
  • Design your panels using the dimensions of your room. Begin your design from the center line of each wall. Let the wall people see when they enter the room be the focus for your design, and figure panels so you don't have to make them an odd width to fill in at the corners. Figure the number and size of pieces you'll need for rails, end and interior stiles and panels. Cut, lightly sand edges, and set aside.
    If the wall behind your wainscoting is not sound, cut a piece of thin plywood or composition board to use as a backer board and attach to the wall, being careful to nail into studs so that the board forms a sturdy base. The chair rail will cover the layers made by backer and rails.

  • Assemble the rails and stiles for your wainscoting first. End stiles will go from floor to chair rail (or top rail) and other stiles will fill in between bottom and top rails. Set the first stile by marking the height of the chair rail and dropping a plumb line a few inches further than the stile is wide away from the corner. Tack up the first stile and check it with a level. If you have an uneven wall, measure the difference between the distance from the top and bottom of the edge of the stile to the wall, scribe the stile and fit it to the wall. Tack in the other end stile at the opposite end of the wall. Set the top rail in, and check it with the level. Set in the bottom rail and intermediate stiles, checking fit and level as you go.

  • Once you have the rails and stiles in, cut the raised panel pieces out of 1/4 to 3/8 plywood or composite board, depending on the type of finish you want to use on the wainscoting. Generally, panels are not higher than the surrounding stiles and rails. Fit panels in the spaces between stiles.
    Be sure to cut the panels smaller than the full width of the design to allow for the addition of trim around the edges. Sand edges before final installation---it's easier than trying to do it to vertical panels on the wall. Glue the panels in place, checking that each is centered and level.

  • Rim panels (and stiles if desired) with quarter-round, half-round, cove or fancy molding. Be sure to choose molding that requires a minimum of sanding to match your panel. All corners should be mitered at 45-degree angles. Install trim with small finish nails. Set (tap the heads of nails just below the surface of the wood) and fill holes with spackle or plastic wood. Sand the edges where the trim and panels meet.

  • Add trim to rails and stiles if they are to be trimmed. Attach chair or top rail to the top of the wainscoting or paneling and the "shoe" trim to the bottom of the base rail.

Tips & Warnings

  • Before planning your design, check with your local lumber-supply to find out what sizes of trim and lumber they carry. Baseboards should be wider than stiles, but top rails may be the same width because they are capped with a chair rail. Put painter's tape along the marks you make as guides to use as you cut pieces on your table saw. The wood will splinter less. Use drywall or construction adhesive to attach panels and wainscoting before nailing to minimize the nail holes you'll have to fill and to allow some "wiggle room" to fit. Lay out or "dry fit" baseboards and other elements before installation to anticipate any last-minute alterations. Install wainscot panels with some space between the base and floor to compensate for uneven floors. Make alterations to the baseboard to compensate.
  • Always wear safety glasses when operating a table saw. Although they make cutting the numerous pieces for this and other projects easy, they are powerful tools and can be dangerous.

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  • Photo Credit DRW & Associates, Inc
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