How to Install Wainscoting

A wall with wainscoting and a dresser decorated with vases
  • 4-6 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 60-350
What You'll Need
Wainscoting panels
Straight edge
Stud finder
Power saw (optional)
Pry bar (optional)
Screwdriver/Power drill
Construction glue
Carpentry nails
Finishing nails

Wainscoting gives any space a high-end look, and that's why many people think it's a difficult DIY project. But installing wainscoting is a straightforward project when you have the right tools and methods.

Step 1 - Measure the Room

Start by measuring the room or hall where you want to install wainscoting. Write down a horizontal length from corner to corner for each wall. When you go to buy your wainscoting paneling, you can use these numbers to determine exactly how many panels you need to purchase.

Step 2 - Mark Your Walls

With a level and a straight edge, mark where the top of your wainscoting will go using a pencil. Draw a line directly on the wall so you know precisely where the wainscoting will go. Having a straight line to guide you will ensure that your wainscoting looks perfect after installation.

Step 3 - Use a Stud Finder

After your line is marked, use a stud finder and mark the location of studs all around the space where you plan to place wainscoting. Make sure to place the stud marks just above the line you drew, so you can see them as you install the wainscoting.

Step 4 - Remove Baseboards

If your wainscoting project involves installing new baseboards, or if the wainscoting is made with baseboards attached, you'll want to remove them. Carefully remove the cap molding from the top of your baseboard with a small pry bar.

Step 5 - Remove Outlet Covers

Use a screwdriver or drill to remove all the outlet covers in the room that will end up under the wainscoting. You will need to cut holes in the corresponding wainscoting panels where they will cover these plants. Once the wainscoting is installed, you can re-install the outlet covers.

Step 6 - Prepare Your Wainscoting


If you're cutting your own wainscoting boards with a power saw, you'll want to cut it to size next. Take measurements along the wall vertically, from the top of the line to your floor or your baseboards. It's important to take measurements for every panel, as your floors may not be precisely level and the lengths may vary slightly from panel to panel. If your boards are already pre-cut, move on to the next step.

Step 7 - Glue the Wainscoting

Spread construction glue on the back of each wainscoting board or panel evenly with a trowel, and press the boards into place directly on the wall. Leave a tiny space, about 1/16 of an inch, to allow for the boards to swell in humidity and heat. Press the boards to the wall firmly each time. Always start in the corner of the room, and work your way across the wall to the next corner.

Step 8 - Nail the Wainscoting into Place

Using small carpentry nails, nail the boards into place along the studs. Place nails in the grooves of the wainscoting.

Step 9 - Add the Cap Rail


Nail the cap rail along the top of the wainscoting into place with finishing nails. Repeat this process at the bottom of the wainscoting, if needed, to install a bottom rail or baseboard to the wall.

Step 10 - Seal Wainscoting

If you see any gaps between wainscoting panels or rails, fill these with caulk. Allow the caulk to dry and then sand it down to get a smooth, even finish. You can also do this to cover nail holes if desired.

Step 11 - Paint

Paint or stain the wainscoting. Because of the decorative finish, wainscoting can be difficult to paint with a roller. Have brushes in several sizes on hand to ensure you get even, perfect coverage with your paint or stain.

Step 12 - Finish


Install outlet covers over your outlets again, and step back to admire your transformed space.