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DIY Wainscotting

DIY Wainscotting - House & Home

Add texture and character to a room with panel moulding.

Here, we present an easy way to construct and install wainscotting. Because our panelling is painted, we were able to use inexpensive medium-density fibreboard (MDF) and still achieve an elegant look.

The cost of any panelling project will depend on the size of the room being panelled as well as the costs of the materials you choose. To keep costs low, run panelling only to chair rail height as opposed to full ceiling height and select less intricate mouldings.

Materials and Tools

  • Tape measure
  • 4' x 8' x 1/4"-thick Masonite sheets
  • 1/2"-thick medium-density fibreboard (MDF)
  • Sandpaper
  • Level
  • T-square
  • Wood glue
  • Hammer and nail punch
  • 1-1/2" finishing nails
  • Saw and mitre box
  • Baseboard and chair-rail mouldings
  • Quarter round
  • Primer and paint

Step 1: Determine height and spacing of panelling

The amount of Masonite and MDF you need will depend on the size of the room you plan to panel. Before purchasing materials, decide on the dimensions you'd like your panelling to be, including the height of the panelling, the width of each panel, and the distance between each vertical strip. Keep in mind that the MDF strips forming the raised part of the panelling should cover the seams between the Masonite sheets. The panelling we show is 49-1/2" h. (including moulding at top), the top horizontal strip is 5" h., the bottom horizontal strip is 12" h., and the vertical strips are 4" w. x 31" h. The vertical strips are spaced 20" apart. At the lumberyard, have MDF sheets cut to the size you want for your top horizontal strip, bottom horizontal strip and vertical strips.

Step 2: Build out the wall

Remove any existing baseboard mouldings. Build out the wall by affixing 4' x 8' x 1/4" Masonite sheets to it. The long side of each sheet should rest on the floor. Apply wood glue to the rough side of the Masonite sheets and nail them into place using 1-1/2" finishing nails. Continue to attach Masonite sheets end-to-end, until the walls are covered.

Step 3: Attach MDF strips to Masonite sheets

Lightly sand the MDF strips with sandpaper. Attach the bottom horizontal strips over the Masonite, using wood glue and a nail punch to countersink 1-1/2" finishing nails. These strips should rest on the floor. Next, attach the vertical strips over the Masonite, using the same glue and nail procedure. When attaching the vertical strips, cover the seams between the Masonite sheets. The vertical strips should fit firmly against the bottom horizontal strips. Space the vertical strips evenly along the wall. Finally, attach the top horizontal strips over the Masonite using the same glue and nail procedure. The tops of these strips should line up with the tops of the Masonite sheets.

Step 4: Finish panelling with trim

To give the panelling a finished look, add decorative moulding above the top horizontal strip. Before installing moulding, prime and paint it, allowing to dry and sanding between coats. With wood glue and countersunk 1-1/2" finishing nails, install the moulding above the top horizontal panel. The panelling we show layered two pine trims above each other, one slightly deeper than the other. The bottom part of the trim is 1" x 3/4", and the top part is 1-1/2" x 3/4". Mitre moulding to 45° angles in the corners of the room.

Step 5: Finish with baseboards

Prime and paint 1” x 6” baseboard mouldings. Install baseboard over the bottom horizontal panel, using wood glue and countersunk 1-1/2" finishing nails. The baseboard should rest on the floor. Mitre corners as necessary. Because the baseboard is only 6" high, part of the bottom horizontal strip will still be visible. Finally, paint, let dry and install quarter round at floor level using wood glue and nails. Wipe away any excess glue.

Step 6: Prime and paint

Use wood filler to fill nail holes. Allow to dry. Prime and paint the panelling, allowing to dry in between each coat.

Photographer: 

Michael Graydon

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