How to Repair Wainscoting

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Many homes, especially historical ones, feature wainscoting, which is wooden paneling that is installed on the lower portion of a wall between the chair rail and the baseboard. Covering the lower part of the wall used to be necessary to protect walls from rising dampness, but most wainscoting is now installed as a decorative element. High-traffic rooms still see a lot of abuse on the low areas of walls, so wainscoting does still serve some protective purposes, and also is vulnerable to damage in those areas.

Things You'll Need

  • Wood putty
  • Stain
  • Paint
  • Scraper
  • Hammer
  • Pry bar
  • Keyhole saw
  • Hacksaw
  • Measuring tape
  • Circular saw
  • Nails
  • Nail set
  • If the wainscoting has only cosmetic, surface imperfections, fill in deep scratches and gouges with wood putty. Brush light scratches with a coat of wood stain or paint, depending on if your wainscoting is bare or painted wood. If pieces of your wainscoting are actually broken, skip this step.

  • Several days prior to installation, bring your new wainscoting section into the house to sit and absorb any dampness. This way, any expansion that occurs due to moisture will take place before installation.

  • Pry off the chair rail section directly above your broken piece. Remove any exposed nails with the back side of your hammer. Set it aside; you will be reattaching this piece later.

  • Cut out a rectangular, square or other even shape around the damaged area using the keyhole saw; you will have to be able to later cleanly attach a new piece of wainscoting to the area. The removed area should extend from the chair rail to the baseboard and be as wide as necessary to completely remove the damaged wainscoting section.

  • Pry off the damaged section of wainscoting with your prying tool, and saw through any nails attaching the wainscoting to the baseboards using a hacksaw.

  • Measure your open section of wainscoting. Cut a section of new wainscoting to exactly match the measurements with the circular saw. If your new section has grooves on both sides, cut off one side of the grooves to make insertion easier.

  • Insert the side of the new wainscoting that has a groove underneath the old section still attached to the wall. Nail the new wainscoting into place at the top and bottom of the new piece.

  • Reattach your chair rail over the new section of wainscoting and nail it into place. Countersink any exposed nail heads with your nail set. Cover the exposed nail holes with wood putty. Paint over the new wainscoting if your prior piece was painted, and stain it if the wainscoting was stained.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you have patterned wainscoting, such as wainscoting with vertical repeating grooves, cut your new wainscoting to match the pattern of the remaining wainscoting on the walls.

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