Installing Wainscoting

This step-by-step guide shows you how to install wainscoting to update a room without breaking your budget.

Teal paint color

Sometimes all a room needs to make it sparkle is a little attention to detail. Wainscoting adds character and architectural detail in just a few hours.

The typical height for wainscoting is 32 to 36 inches up from the floor or about one-third of the height of the wall. A good way to cap the panel is with a chair rail. For a more dramatic look, run the wainscoting two-thirds of the way up the wall and top it with a picture rail. Beaded-board wainscoting is named for the rounded beadlike strips that hide the edges between tongue-and-groove planks. It is especially useful in high-traffic area to protect walls against dings and dents while adding both texture and visual height.

What You Need

  • Beaded-board panels
  • Base molding
  • Cap molding
  • Electrical outlet box extenders
  • Construction adhesive
  • Finishing nails and brads
  • Paintable caulk and putty
  • Paint


  • Tape measure
  • Carpenter's level or water level
  • Chalk line
  • Safety goggles
  • Handsaw or circular saw
  • Jigsaw or keyhole saw
  • Hammer and nail set or air-driven nail gun
  • Miter box
  • Caulk gun
  • Paintbrush or roller


Several days before painting or installation, acclimatize the panels to your house. Stack them horizontally, placing thin blocks of wood between the panels so air can circulate. This allows any excess moisture to escape and helps reduce expansion or contraction. Remove any base moldings in the room where you will be applying the panels; you'll add new ones to complete the project. If your panels are unfinished, you may want to paint or stain them before installation.

Note: Use safety equipment for the cutting, sanding, and painting necessary to complete the project.

Step 1: Measure and Mark

Because most floors are not level, you'll want to create a level line on the wall to mark the top of your wainscoting panel installation. Base molding installed later will disguise any variance at the bottom edges. Choose a starting point on your wall, and measure the desired height of the wainscoting. (Remember that the cap molding applied along the top edge of the beaded-board panels will add slightly to the finished height.) From that point, use a level to draw a horizontal line and extend it around the room. Use a chalk line to connect the points.

Step 2: Cutting the Board

Using a handsaw or circular saw, cut the wainscoting panels to the desired height. Measure the positions of any outlets or other electrical boxes on the wall, then sketch the dimensions onto the backs of the corresponding panels with a pencil. Use a jigsaw or keyhole saw to cut the holes. Install a box extender at each electrical point to contain wires.

Step 3: Fasten to the Wall

Squeeze construction adhesive in a zigzag pattern onto the wall side of a panel, and press the wainscoting panel into place. Nail along the edges as indicated by the manufacturer. If you're hammering the nails by hand, use a nail set to indent each nail so you can cover it with putty. Repeat with the remaining panels. As you apply each panel, make sure you space and overlap them according to manufacturer recommendations. This allows the panels to expand and contract in response to seasonal humidity and temperature changes.

Step 4: Install Molding

Use a miter box to cut angled joints on the cap molding where walls meet. Fasten the cap molding with brads at the tops of the panels. Install base molding with brads.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

Fill visible nail holes with putty, and caulk gaps as necessary. Touch up with paint.

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