How to Install Beadboard Wainscoting
Wainscoting is a great wall application for dressing up kitchens, bathrooms, dining rooms and more. It’s also a great do-it-yourselfer project because with the right tools and proper planning, anyone can achieve great results.
If you’re not sure how to tackle this project, what better way to learn than straight from a professional contractor? Today’s Pro-Follow showcases carpenter Steve Wartman and his crew as they install beadboard wainscoting in a small kitchen eating area. Stay current with all of our Pro-Follow articles by becoming an email or RSS subscriber.
All these materials can be found at your local home improvement center.
- Beadboard Wainscoting
- Chair Rail
- Baseboard Molding
- Shoe Molding
- Drywall Adhesive
Wainscoting: True wainscoting is a solid wood product. However, less expensive alternatives like medium density fiberboard (MDF) and vinyl wainscoting are available. Vinyl in particular is a great option for areas with moisture (like the bathroom), and it’s easier to work with than MDF. However, it carries a higher price tag. Manufacturers often offer specific chair and baseboard molding options that make installation easier. This walk-through utilizes white, MDF wainscoting with the included chair rail.
Drywall Adhesive: Steve and his crew used OSI Formula #38 framing and drywall adhesive to glue the wainscoting.
Caulk: The guys used a latex, paintable caulk like DAP ALEX painters caulk.
- Table saw
- Miter saw
- Brad nailer
- Pin nailer
- Air compressor
- Caulk gun
- Coping saw
* While these are the preferred tools, many can be substituted. For instance, a hammer and nail set can be used in lieu of the brad nailer, and a circular saw can replace a miter and table saw.
The biggest challenge when installing wainscoting is keeping everything lined up. Ideally, each piece would fit tightly against the adjacent pieces, and all the terminations would perfectly align. Unfortunately, floors are often not level, walls can be uneven and corners are not always square. To address these issues, it’s important to know how to make adjustments and hide imperfections.
Step 1: Mark Lines
The guys began this project by marking a level line around the room at 35-1/2″ which takes into account other features of the room like countertops. This line represents the top of the chair rail which measure 2-1/2″ wide. The beadboard product measures 32″ tall, and if you do the math, means there is a 1″ gap at the bottom. This gap will be concealed by baseboard and provides space for any height changes in the floor.
Pro-Tip: Wainscoting (including the molding) is typically installed in one of three height ranges. Chair height measures 32 – 36″ off the floor, bathrooms range 38 – 42″ off the floor, and shelf height ranges 54 – 64″ off the floor.
Pro-Tip: If you’re working in a bathroom, make sure the wainscoting is taller than the vanity.
Here’s an example of wainscoting in a bathroom.
Step 2: Plan the Layout
Setting up boards to plan the layout is a great way to avoid mistakes, and this is a critical step to achieve aesthetic corners. The goal is to avoid odd-looking corners by intersecting the two walls at a wider bead. Furthermore, you want the reveal to match on both pieces.
Steve and his crew laid out sections starting at the most prominently visible corner, working around the room. They shifted the setup so that each corner finishes on a wider bead and that adjacent pieces showed a similar reveal. Keep in mind that all the corners will have a butt joint and corner pieces will need to be cut so that the exposed reveal matches.
A small portion of the beadboard is concealed on inside corners and this presents an opportunity to hide imperfections. For instance, if the corner is out of square, you can hide a small gap.
Step 3: Rip Beadboard
With the layout set, Steve and his crew could rip the boards to size with a table saw.
Step 4: Nail & Glue
The guys put down a thick bead of drywall adhesive on the backside of each piece of beadboard. Following their lines, they slid the tongues and grooves together.
Steve and his crew placed a brad nail at the top and bottom of each wide bead. This will later be concealed by the chair and baseboard molding.
They followed that up with pin nails, angled and placed along some of the smaller beads.
Step 4a: Outside Corners
This installation didn’t have any outside corners. That’s not always the case and if you reach an outside corner, there are a couple different ways to handle them. The final product for this kitchen will be a white beadboard wainscoting which means that paint and caulk can conceal cut edges. For that reason, cutting the tongue off one piece (and again matching the reveal) and creating a butt joint around the corner will look just fine.
Other options include purchasing a piece of molding that fits the outside corner overtop of the beadboard or running the beadboard flush against some 1x material and mitering that at 45° to turn the corner. Another innovative idea, is to glue a dowel into the corner that duplicates one of the smaller beads. Check out the “Related Content” section for the link.
Step 4b: Inside Corners
For inside corners, Steve’s crew would run the first piece into the corner, and if the corner was out of square, it would have a small gap. However, the next piece of beadboard would conceal that gap.
Step 4c: Cut Around Outlets
Whenever they guys came to an outlet, they removed the faceplate and marked lines just above and below the screws securing the receptacle to the box.
Next, they used a jigsaw to cut out the opening.
They would back out the screws securing the receptacle to the box which would allow them to fit the next piece of beadboard in place.
Once the beadboard was nailed, Steve’s crew would screw the receptacle back into place flush with the beadboard and replace the cover.
Step 4d: Terminating at a Door Casing
Ideally, all the beadboard will terminate at a door casing because it makes for an easy transition. The beadboard, chair rail and baseboard all sit flush against the casing. The only hitch is getting that last piece of beadboard into the groove and tight.
To accomplish this, Steve’s crew would fit the last two pieces together before gluing and nailing them to the wall. The would also use a beater block to gently drive the beadboard into place.
Editors Note: You’ll notice that some of the wainscoting ends in open space. This is a challenge because there’s no easy way to terminate the chair rail, beadboard and baseboard. For this install, Steve used a thin piece of 1x with a beveled edge on top.
Step 5: Install Chair Rail
Steve choose to use the manufacturer’s recommended chair rail, and it makes the install easier because the beadboard tucks up underneath a small lip. That overlap presents another opportunity to hide an uneven edge in case you needed to gradually fan pieces to align with an edge or casing.
For a tighter fit, Steve’s crew cope cut the inside corners.
Pro-Tip: For more information about cutting inside corners, check out the two helpful tutorials in the “Related Content” section.
Pro-Tip: Be careful cutting MDF as it tends to chip.
The guys also double-checked that everything was still level before using the brad nailer to fasten the chair rail to the wall.
Step 6: Install the Baseboard
Since the guys left a 1″ gap underneath the beadboard, they cut strips of leftover beadboard to fill the gap. This prevents the baseboard from angling inward when they nail it.
Pro-Tip: For a full tutorial on installing baseboard and shoe molding, check out the link in our “Related Content” section.
Step 7: Caulk all Joints
Before priming and painting, the guys used a paintable, latex caulk:
- between the chair rail and the beadboard
- between the chair rail and the wall
- at the corners
- between the beadboard and baseboard
- at all the terminations
- any visible brad nail holes
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