How To Install Wainscoting – Our Cure for Being In The Pink!

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A friend once said of my wife that she is not afraid of color. There is ample evidence of this in our home, with its yellow kitchen/family room, gold rag-painted living room, blue and deep-red sunroom, and so on. And most of the rooms actually look great, as she is good at picking the right shades. With one notable exception: Our side hallway, which some years back fell victim to a sneak attack of pink paint. (She claimed it was rose, but it sure as hell looked pink to me; anyhow, a rose by any other name is still pink, and still looketh like crap, as wise Willie Shakespeare aptly observed.

After running the Pepto Bismol gauntlet one too many times, I finally snapped. I decided to boldly disregard Marriage Rule #1 (Happy Wife, Happy Life), and give her a surprise do-over while she was out of town for a week. (This is a technique I frequently employ, having long ago determined that it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission). I didn’t much care WHAT color the walls ended up, as long as they were no longer pink; I ended up choosing a couple of shades of bluish/grayish/green (I’m sure they had cutesy, irrelevant names like Salamander Susquehanna Sea-bisque Sandpiper and Galloping Guantanamo Gypsy Gauze, but I lost the paint chips and can’t seem to recall. Sorry). Anyhow, I figured they’d go OK with an adjacent green bedroom. Most importantly, they were NOT PINK.

Pink or rose? Who cares?

Paint Prep and Banishing the Pink!
After determining the height I wanted for the top of the wainscoting (42”, which I arrived at purely by personal preference), I snapped horizontal lines on the walls at about the mid-point of where the wide horizontal trim piece would go, fired up the paint rollers, and slapped on one color above and one below the line. Talk about instant gratification—the pink had been banished!

The Pink is Dead!

Trim and Moulding for the Stairway Wainscoting
The baseboards in the hall are made of 1X6 painted white. To tie the project together, I chose 1X4 clear pine for the main framework and 1X2 for the top cap. The curved interior moulding was 1 ¼” wide, 5/8” thick at the thickest point; the dentil moulding was 1 ¼” by 3/8” thick.

The four components, ready to come together…

How To Install Wainscoting
Using my laser level, I snapped horizontal lines slightly above the line dividing the paint colors, to mark the top of the 1X4 horizontal run (making this the only level woodwork in the entire house). If no laser level is available, simply hold a long piece of trim up to the wall (easier with a helper), set a level on it, level it up, and mark the ends. Set the level down, and run a pencil along the trim, connecting the two marks. To transfer the level line from one wall to another, place one end of a piece of trim on the existing level line, place the other end of the trim on the other wall, level it up, and place a mark on the new wall. Next, simply use that mark for the height of your new wall’s level line.

After pre-painting all the trim, I installed the horizontal 1X4s, held to the bottom of my line. The house is old, with somewhat wavy walls (aka character), so to get the best attachment possible I used construction adhesive on the back, and drove two 8p finish nails through the trim and into each stud, holding the top nail up high enough to be covered by the dentil moulding. I used a nail gun, which greatly simplifies this task; if you don’t have one, you are hereby granted permission to add one to your tool crib. Where I had to go around a corner and into a small side hallway, I mitered the corners and nailed the joints with 3p finish nails.

The next step was to divide up the length of the wall into roughly equal-sized “boxes.” The size is determined partly by what proportions look good to you, and partly by the overall dimensions, keeping in mind that the box sizes should be approximately the same on all the walls. My dimensions (between the edges of the 1X4) ended up being 26 ½” side to side, roughly 32” top to bottom (actually varied from 30 ¾” to 32 ¼” due to the top rail being level, while the floor obviously was not; but ah, the character!).

Come up with a “box” size that looks good to you.

I cut and installed the vertical 1X4’s using the same technique of adhesive and 8p nails. Naturally, almost none of the pieces landed on a stud, so I drove the nails through and into the wall at an angle to increase their holding power. (Note: to prevent unnecessary over-usage of expletives, be alert, BEFORE nailing, to the presence of any wiring or plumbing that might be lurking between studs.) No one said that stairway wainscoting installation was without perils.

Next, I measured and cut the curved moulding, mitering the corners, to fit snugly in each box. These were attached to the wall the same way, but using 6p finish nails. If you have a brad or pin nailer, you can increase the odds of the trim pieces having a long, happy life together by brad nailing all four corners together (after first dry-fitting all the pieces) before inserting them. Tap them gently into place as a unit, using a rubber mallet.

Installation of the 1X2 top rail came next. I softened the top outward-facing edge using a finish sander before painting, and nailed down through the back edge into the horizontal 1X4. The dentil moulding went up last, held up tight to the overhanging top rail and face-nailed with 1” brads.

The finished product adds a touch of class…

Final touches included filling the nail holes with wood putty, caulking any unsightly gaps around the trim, and touching up the paint where necessary. The last, and most important, step involved whipping up a batch of double-strength Cosmos (pink, naturally) for my wife, the first step as I embarked on the long journey to forgiveness.

Easier on the eyes (mine, anyway!)
Photo of author

About Phil

Phil’s path to the pinnacle of success as HomeFixated’s Senior Writer was long and twisted. At various stages of his life, he worked as a framing carpenter, attended motorcycle mechanics school, served as an Army MP, did a hot and itchy stint installing insulation in Phoenix, owned and operated a small contracting firm doing residential renovations, and worked as an employee of a major airline (Motto: We’re not happy ‘til YOU’RE not happy). He is currently semi-retired, but continues to take on little projects, such as the total renovation of an old farmhouse. Yes, he is a slow learner. Future projects include a teardown restoration of his 1965 BMW motorcycle, and designing and building a kick-ass playhouse for his grandsons. Phil loves spending time outdoors, hanging out with family and friends, cool tools, and a cold IPA when beer o'clock rolls around.

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3 thoughts on “How To Install Wainscoting – Our Cure for Being In The Pink!”

    • Hi, Greg-

      Yeah, unfortunately, to maintain the spacing, the rail had to go up right in line with the light switch. I bought a wooden switch cover, painted and trimmed it, and I’ve learned to ignore it. (much easier than ignoring an entire wall of PINK!)
      Thanks for your comment…




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