How to Install Easy DIY Wainscoting
This Old House general contractor Tom Silva helps homeowners dress up their dining room walls using stock molding from the home center
When Lucy and Steve Crowley e-mailed Ask TOH, seeking help enhancing the dining room walls in their nearly-70-year-old Colonial Revival home in Cincinnati, the space already had decorative baseboard and chair-rail moldings. They thought about changing the look with wainscoting, but Tom Silva had a plan to get that look with less fuss. “Traditional stile-and-rail wainscoting is a nice detail,” he says, “but it’s expensive, and in a finished room it usually means making a mess of your molding.”
Tom’s trick to getting the wainscot look for less keeps the existing molding in place and uses the wall to stand in as the frame and panel. He builds rectangular picture frames from base cap molding, then spaces them evenly around the room for a custom look, attaching them to the wall with nails and glue. Real wainscoting often calls for twice the work: building frames from square stock around a decorative panel. Tom’s easy DIY wainscoting solution can finish 33 linear feet of wall in a day. The base cap stock adds architectural detail and texture to the wall without busting the budget—it runs $1 to $2 per linear foot for primed pine, and comes in a range of styles to complement moldings you already have.
Follow along to learn how to install wainscoting the easy way.
Pick Your Look
Base cap molding, which has flat sides that rest against the baseboard and the wall, is sold in 8-foot lengths starting at about $1 per linear foot. Home centers usually stock profiles made from primed pine or MDF, though PVC is also an option for outdoor projects. Styles range from simple coves to ornate ogees. Panel molding, which can also be used for wall frames, is usually wider, thicker, and sometimes includes a rabbet that fits over a piece of square stock, giving the frame a more substantial look.
Here are some common base cap profiles.
A: 3⁄4-by-1 3⁄8 primed MDF; $1.30 per linear foot
B: 5⁄8-by-1 5⁄8 pine; $1.22 per linear foot
C: 3⁄4-by-1 1⁄4 aspen; $1.50 per linear foot
D: 11⁄16-by-1 3⁄8 primed poplar; $1.25 per linear foot
E: 3⁄4-by-1 1⁄4 aspen; $1.62 per linear foot; all from The Home Depot