Tips for Installing Chair Rail & Wainscoting

Last week I mentioned that I would give a tutorial of how we installed our chunky chair rail & wainscoting.  However, since my husband did all the work, I don't quite feel competent to give a full tutorial, but I will give you lots of "tips" on what we did!  You will definitely want to use other sources (google & you tube searches) & look at lots of pictures to figure out exactly the look you are going for & how to achieve it.

To beef up the chair rail, we first added a four inch "base" piece.  (I don't know the technical term for this, but here's a picture so you know what to look for!)

{Base for Chair Rail}

To install this, we basically just marked out a straight line 39 inches above the floor.  We chose this height to match the height of the railings for our stairway.  We then, measured & cut each piece & nailed it in place with the top at the height of 39 inches.  (I recommend using a chalk line or pencil for drawing the straight line.  Don't use an ink pen like my husband did, because you'll have to prime over the ink in order to get your paint to cover it!)

Next, we measured & cut the chair rail.  Obviously, if you are installing it in a corner or on a crazy angle, you will have to measure & cut the angles accordingly.  For the exposed ends, we cut them at a 45 degree angle instead of just making a straight/flat cut.  Mark went ahead & nailed the chair rail into place, centered on the base rail that we had previously installed.  

To cap it off, you will take an extra piece of chair rail & cut it at a 45 degree angle.  Without moving the chair rail, you will bring your saw blade up to a 90 degree angle & cut again.  This should create a filler piece that you can glue onto the end of your chair rail giving it a nice, finished look.  I'm sure most of the above sounds pretty confusing.  You'll most likely want to google a better tutorial on how to do this!

Here's a picture of a capped off end:

{Capped Chair Rail}

One of the most challenging parts of this project was figuring out how to layout our wainscoting.  How much room should we have between the boxes?  How big should the boxes be?  How many boxes should we put on a certain wall?  How small is too small for a box?  It took a lot of head scratching & google searches & in the end, we just had to decide what we thought would be best.  We were really hoping there was something out there that just told us exactly how we should make our boxes!  (Those issues are really the whole reason for this post!  I'm hoping that explaining how we made our decisions will help those of you that are having similar issues!)

First, we needed to decide how much space should be below the chair rail, above the baseboard, & between the boxes.  According to our internet search, the spacing between boxes could be between 2 3/4 inches to 3 1/2 inches, but the spacing above & below the boxes could be up to 4 inches wide.  We decided to go with a 3 inch spacing all around.  (The boxes would start 3 inches below the chair rail, 3 inches above the baseboards, & have 3 inches between them.) 

Since we had determined our spacing, my husband took a scrap piece of our 3 inch chair rail & used it as a template to draw lines 3 inches below the chair rail, above the baseboards, & to create the spacing where the walls ended (corners, door frames, etc.).  This helped us visualize what some of our boxes would look like.

We were still scratching our heads trying to figure out the sizing of our boxes, but seeing the markings on the wall helped us make some decisions about this.  Let me preface this by saying that the boxes on each section of walls should be equal in size, but smaller walls will have smaller boxes, so not all the boxes in the entire space will be the same size.  We decided 32 inches was the widest box we would have.  Any boxes that would have to be over 32 inches in width would be made into two equal sized boxes spaced 3 inches apart.

Take this wall for example:

The wall is only 48 inches wide, & when we factored in our 3 inch spaces on each end of the box, we could have installed one 42 inch box.  Instead, since it was over our rule of 32 inches, we made two boxes that were 19 1/2 inches wide & put a three inch space between them.

To make a basic box, you will cut each piece of molding to the correct size at a 45 degree angle.  Then, glue them into place before nailing them into the walls.  The final steps are caulking around the boxes, filling nail holes, & painting! 

For longer walls, you will have to determine about how many boxes you want along the walls.  This wall was about 131 inches long.  We decided we wanted five boxes on the wall, which would mean we would have 6 three-inch spaces between the boxes.  We multiplied 6 times 3, which is 18 & subtracted it from the length of the wall.  (131- 18= 113)  Then we divided 113 inches by five boxes which meant each box would be 22.6 inches wide.

Some walls were just too small for boxes.  We didn't make any boxes that were smaller than 6 1/2 inches wide. 

{Too Small for Wainscoting}

{At 6 1/2 inches wide, the box on the right is our smallest}

Here are some additional pictures of our wainscoting in tricky areas of our entryway:

{Wainscoting on an Angled Wall}

{Wainscoting on a Triangular Wall}

For this triangular shaped wall, we measured the length & determined how many boxes we thought would look good, making sure they were under our maximum width of 32 inches, & equal in size.  Because of this criteria, the middle box has an extra slanted piece to it.

{Up the Stairs to the Landing}

{Landing to the Top of the Stairs}

Because this wall is broken up by the door, it was okay for the boxes on each side of the door to be slightly different in size.

Well, I hope this post gives you some answers & doesn't leave you scratching your head!  If nothing else, maybe the pictures will give you some ideas on how to add wainscoting on the tricky areas of your walls!

You can see more of the entryway here.

I'll be sharing here:




  1. It looks beautiful! Great job with all those tricky angles.

  2. Oh my goodness - you're another one of those people with crazy carpentry skills. I love what you've done here and would like to do something similar with my staircase, but those angles and cuts just elude me completely! It looks fantastic - so professional!

    Thanks for linking up to my Room Evolution party! :-)

  3. Wow, I wish I had this skill. It looks amazing! Very nicely done.

  4. I want to do this....but I am measuring tape challenged! Great job, awesome tips. I am going to show this to hubby and hope to inspire him :) Thanks for sharing.

  5. Wow Wendy, you are good!!! I'll be featuring this tomorrow and pinning !

  6. This is great! My husband has started talking about doing something similar to go up our stairs. I will be sending him this look so he can visualize the finished product. Looks great!

  7. Hi there, LOVE your wainscoting work! I am actually planning to do the same on my staircase, the only thing that throws me off is at what angles to you cut the slanted frames. Do you happen to remember how you did it? I already paneled my hallway, but the stairs seem a bit trickier. Thanks!

  8. Absolutely gorgeous. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Thanks! We are very happy with how it turned out!

  10. What type of chair rail is that? I cant seem to find that specific chair rail at any store.

  11. Thank you for this post. I've been doing lots of research getting ready to do my own wainscoting and yours has been the most detailed and complete. Wish me luck!

  12. You're welcome! I'm glad you found it helpful! We had a lot of trouble finding answers to some of our questions when we were installing our wainscoting, so I put this post together in hopes it would help others with similar questions & problems. Good luck!

  13. This is I decided to to it to my home but Im having a huge problem trying to get the angle to the boxes for the stairs!! Can you please tell me how can I get the right angle?

  14. I have the exact chair rail but I did not put the base for chair rail on. All the square boxes I did just like yours but the angle boxes for stair is a huge problem...please help :)

  15. Thanks Jessica! I think I remember it taking about three hours for my husband to figure out the triangle molding by the stairs. Someone else had a similar question & my husband drew a diagram to help explain it. If you e-mail me at or give me your e-mail, I can e-mail it to you. Hopefully, it will help!

  16. Very professional. The attention to detail always shows in a job beautifully done.

  17. Thank you for posting this! I was going to hire someone to do this in my dining room, but after reading your instructions, I believe that I could handle the job myself. You did a beautiful job of explaining the process and as long as you do the math, measure accuractely and can miter the corners to a 45' angle, the task doesn't seem so overwhelming. Thanks again!!!

  18. Wow, you and your hubby have some MAD angle-cutting skillz! Very impressive! Thank you for the tutorial; my hubby and I are getting ready to do this project in our dining room. Wish us luck!

  19. What beautiful work. It certainly adds to the value of your home!
    My question is a little different. When you position your chair rail, do you use a level?? or measure up from the top of the baseboard and then level??? Taking into account that the floor itself may not be perfectly level so you can't measure up from the floor.

    1. Thank you so much! For our home, my husband used a level because our floors are pretty level. My husband says if you have noticeably un-level floors, you should measure from the floor up to keep consistent. You want your chair rail to always be parallel with the floor so your eyes don't pick up any inconsistencies. Hope that helps!

  20. question...Should you paint all the trim, molding and wall the same white finish? Or did you paint the trim and molding a different color finish ( for example semi-gloss) than the wall (for example matte)?

    1. For the chair rail & below, we painted everything (chair rail, wall, trim, molding) a white semi gloss. The regular wall above the chair rail was painted a different color & finish. Hope that helps!

    2. Hello wendy do you rememner the base and chair rail name you used? And from which store? Thanyou


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