How to Install Wall Frame Molding

Learn how to build and install decorative wall frames to add architectural interest to your home.

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Wall frames are a traditional design element commonly found in Georgian and neoclassical settings. However, they can be right at home in virtually any style—even a house that's decidedly modern.

The frames are a purely decorative element that breaks up expanses of wall and add architectural interest. Popular locations include an entry, a hallway, a stairway, a living room, or a dining room.

You can give the area inside a frame a distinctive treatment by choosing a different paint color from the rest of the wall and even choosing a third shade for the frame itself. If you do this, save yourself a lot of work by painting the walls before installing the frames. Prepaint the frames, too. Wallpaper or stenciled motifs are other possible treatments for the field inside the frame.

Expect to spend about 1 hour for a single wall frame; time per frame decreases when you're making and installing a batch. Plan out the sizes of all desired frames before you begin. 

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How to Design Wall Frames

Although you don't have to combine frames with a chair rail, frames that are located low on the wall (below the 36-inch height typical for a chair rail) usually have a longer horizontal element. Frames above the 36-inch mark are almost always vertical. Those installed near a staircase may be triangular, or you can intersperse rectangular and square frames. There are no absolute rules for the proportions of the frame, but the Golden Rectangle is a good starting point.

Here's an example for a typical wall frame. The installation site has a 3-inch-high baseboard and a chair rail with its bottom edge 36 inches above the floor. Assume that you want the frame 5 inches above the baseboard and 3 inches below the chair rail. This produces a vertical frame size of 25 inches. Multiply that by 1.618 for a Golden Rectangle, and the length is 40.45 inches, or approximately 40-7/16 inches. If you're running a number of frames along a wall, the space between them should be about the same as the top and bottom spacing. In this case, 4 inches is a good compromise between the top and bottom spacing.

What You Need

  • Miter saw
  • 2-foot level
  • Hammer
  • Nail set
  • Molding for frames
  • 3/4-inch plywood for assembly jig and gauge block
  • Glue
  • #6x1-1/4-inch flathead screws for construction of jig
  • Construction adhesive
  • Finishing nails
  • Painter's caulk

Step 1: Cut Joints for Frames

Cut the miter joints for your wall frames, using a stopblock setup to ensure uniform lengths. Some saws have an accessory for this purpose, but you can get accurate results by bolting your saw to a sturdy table and adjusting its distance from a wall.

Step 2: Create an Assembly

Create a corner assembly jig by screwing a square of plywood to a plywood baseboard large enough to fully support your frames. Check the accuracy of the corner with a framing square. Clamp this setup to your worktable, and assemble the frames with glue and countersunk finishing nails. Place each frame on a flat surface until the glue dries.

Step 3: Attach Adhesive

Squeeze a tiny bead of panel adhesive onto the rear face of the frame. Make this bead as small as possible so you don't have to clean up messy squeezeout. If you know your walls are relatively flat, you may substitute dots of adhesive, placing one near each corner and no farther than 12 inches apart around the perimeter of the frame.

Step 4: Position Frame

With the help of a plywood gauge block resting on the floor, position the frame on the wall. After you check the frame for level, nail it into position. Nails into studs offer the most security, but even nails driven at an angle into drywall will hold the frame until the adhesive takes over. A pneumatic brad nailer makes nailing easier and minimizes the risk of splitting moldings.

Step 5: Fill in Gaps

Fill any gaps between the wall and the edges of the frame with painter's caulk. If you cut the nozzle at a taper, you'll have better control and an accurate bead. If necessary, touch up the paint.

Bonus: Use the Golden Rectangle

Ever since ancient times, the ratio known as the Golden Section has exerted a powerful attraction for artists, architects, and mathematicians. The design of the Parthenon in Athens is based on the Golden Section, and the ratio has influenced design and proportions of an untold number of paintings, sculptures, and buildings.

The ratio 1:1.618, or about 5:8, is a good working approximation of the Golden Section. But it's helpful to know how to construct your own Golden Rectangle, which is the name of the figure whose sides have lengths that reflect the Golden Section.

This is the construction method employed by the famous Euclid of Alexandria approximately 2,300 years ago. Starting with any measurement (we'll call it CD), construct a square with sides of that length. This is ABCD in the example. Divide the CD side in half (midpoint E), and draw a line (EB) from that point to an opposite corner. With E as the pivot, swing an arc from B to locate point F. Pushing side AB out to point F completes the Golden Rectangle.

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