How to Build Wainscotting


When considering home remodeling options, take a look at your walls. Are they bland? You could add a little more zip with some simple design elements like wainscoting. Wainscoting was once used to prevent rising damp from rotting out a home's walls. Modern home building materials are treated against rising damp, so wainscoting is now more a design feature than a necessity. If you are looking for a traditional, elegant look for a room, a simple wainscoting design can help you achieve that.

Things You'll Need

  • Plywood of your choice, 3/4-inch Sections of 2-by-4, length will vary Drafting paper Table saw Router Plumb bob Cordless drill Drill bit 1 1/2-inch and 3-inch screws Level Pencil Ruler Tape measure
  • Design the wainscoting you want to apply to your remodeling project. By building your own wainscoting, you can create the design of your choice. There is no designated height for wainscoting, but general design rules indicate it should be a third of the height of your entire wall. To determine the length of plywood you need, use a tape measure to measure the length of your wall.

    You can build a raised-panel, flat-panel or overlay-panel wainscoting. Routing tools can help create grooves and panel shapes. Stiles and rails--longer wooden pieces running vertically and horizontally to the wainscoting--are other popular wainscoting design features. You can use many different tools to help build a creative design. Compile a scale model of the design onto your drafting paper using the ruler and pencil.

  • Remove any existing trim or baseboards that might interfere with wainscoting. Locate the wall studs and mark their vertical placement using the plumb bob. Wooden wall studs are generally spaced 16 inches apart and you can use an electrical outlet as a reference. Electrical outlets are generally located on wall studs. Test to see if you have properly located a wall stud by using a small drill bit and the cordless drill to drill into the wall. Extra resistance means that you have found the wall studs.

  • Use your pencil, tape measure, level and any other measuring tools you might own to apply your design to the wall. This might be tedious, but it will help you make better decisions down the road. You must start with a vertical stile and end at another vertical stile. Wainscoting should not end with a panel. If it does not end at a stile, tweak your design to ensure that it does. When applying your design to any inside corners, only one wall's wainscoting will occupy the corner space, so mark it appropriately. If you plan on painting the walls after this project, do not worry about placing marks outside of the wainscoting. This will help later when most of your design is covered by the wainscoting.

  • Cut plywood to size. The plywood panels will make up most of the wainscoting design and they will be separated by stiles. Make a note of how many panels you need and if there are any short panels, in the case of a panel running into a corner. Compile the individual dimensions of each. Use the table saw to create the panels you will need. Use your router, or other tool, to create the design you laid out for your paneling.

  • Cut your stiles. Stiles are vertical and horizontal and separate individual panel sections from each other and the wall. You will need stile rails for the bottom and top vertical lining on your wainscoting. Vertical stile rails are a personal preference but highly recommended. Stiles will be cut from your 2-by-4 sections. Vertical stiles can be cut from the 2-by-4 without any shaping, unless your design calls for thinner vertical stiles. You must cut horizontal rails and molding to the correct thickness. Use your table saw to cut the 2-by-4 to the length you need for stiles and again for the appropriate width. Use your router or any other tools to create any molding designs necessary for your stiles.

  • Install your bottom horizontal stile or baseboard. Use your level to ensure that the baseboard is level. Attach the baseboard to the wall using a cordless drill and appropriate sized screws. Make sure your installation lines up with the wall design you drew. If your baseboard was thinned significantly, you might be able to use the 1 1/2-inch screws. Otherwise, use the 3-inch. Drill into the wall at the wall studs to ensure your baseboard is installed correctly.

  • Install the vertical stiles and paneling. The plywood paneling can be attached with the cordless drill and 1 1/2-inch screws. Attach them to their corresponding place on your wall design. The vertical stiles will be attached using the 3-inch screws. Again, attach all screws to the wall studs, ensuring proper installation of your wainscoting.

  • Install the top horizontal stile or molding. Use the appropriate screws to install and drill them directly into the wall studs.

Tips & Warnings

  • Instead of routing your stiles to create a molding design, you can purchase molding to fit over your flat 2-by-4. You can buy molding from most hardware stores. Leave a small space, about 1/16 of an inch, between all panels and stiles. This will allow your wood room to expand during the hot summer months, protecting it from excess pressure and cracking.
  • Always take the proper precautions when working with power tools.

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  • Photo Credit Photo by Vitamin C9000
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