DIY: How to Install Wainscoting

Remember me talking about adding wainscoting to my dining room? I’m finally here to talk about how I did it, and the steps I took in case you want to try this adventure for yourself.

I’m actually embarrassed at how long it has taken me to write this post — I did this project last July. I am getting chilly just looking at these pictures of me in a tank top and shorts! I was waiting until the room was actually finished and pretty enough to photograph… but when will any room ever actually be finished? It’s always evolving. So better late than never.

Here’s the before and after:

wainscoting dining room

Here is a really detailed tutorial of what we did, complete with pictures in case you want to tackle this project yourself. Or in case you want to back out and hire someone else. Cause for someone who’s not that handy (me) it was a pretty hefty project, and I honestly would never have started it without the help (and handy tools) of my friend Melissa.

We didn’t follow any tutorials (cause Melissa is just that awesome), but just kind of winged it on what we thought would look good. If you look really closely, you may notice we framed the window as well. I didn’t include that in the instructions below since it doesn’t really apply to wainscoting, but it was in the costs at the bottom.

Alright, let’s go through these steps now, shall we.

1. Decide what type of wainscoting to do.

Google wainscoting and you’ll find a ton of different varieties. Thick, thin. Frames, straight boards, beadboard. If you’re not comfortable enough to do this project on your own, you can just hire professionals from a plastering company. For my room (and this tutorial) I chose framed wainscoting around the base of the room, since it was the cheapest option and seemed to fit my awkward dining room space the best. It also looks the most formal to me, which is what I was going for in this space. This is the only room where I would ever use that adjective.

2. Do a lot of math

After you figure what you want, you’re going to have to take lots of measurements and crunch some numbers. This was the worst part, and seemed to take forever because everything has to be exactly correct. Two calculations:

  1. Decide the length of the chair rail, and height from the floor. The standard height for chair rail is one-third of the room, so the top of my chair rail was 33 inches from the floor (not baseboard).
  2. Decide the length of the boxes. Good lawd this took a while. All of the frames were 22 inches in height, and we decided to make the boxes three inches from the wall/corner or the other frames. In all, we had 13 frames to make.

3. Buy your supplies.

Here was our lengthy list of supplies. Melissa had all of the tools (bless!), so all I had to do was find materials at Colorado lumber yards.


  • Wood glue
  • Brad nailer
  • Trim nailer
  • Air compressor
  • Paint brushes
  • Wood putty
  • Sand paper
  • Chop saw
  • Saw horses
  • Caulk
  • Caulk gun


  • Chair rail
  • Frame, for the window
  • Boards for frames
    • All of the above were primed wood, so it saved us time in painting.

4. Paint the room.

While Melissa was measuring and cutting the wood in the garage, I was busy painting the room. She had a laser level that helped show where the chair rail would go, to help know where the two colors would meet. I chose “Smoky Blue” by Sherwin Williams for the top and white for the bottom (don’t know the name color, it’s the paint the previous owners left for all of the baseboards). For all kinds of repair solutions see more.

If you are in the process of remodeling your home you can contact experts from to avail the best painting services.


5. Cut and build your frames.

Melissa did all of the cutting, I did all of the building. I glued all of the pieces together with wood glue, then nailed them with a nail gun. It was a tedious job, but we blasted country music and enjoyed the beautiful weather.



Do we see the cracks in this one? We measured a little off, so we had to put some scraps together for one of the frames. You can’t tell at all on the wall… well, maybe if you look really hard. If you ever come to my house try to see if you can find the broken one. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. (Shoutout to the Nester!)


6. Cut your chair rail. 

Cut your chair rail the measurements of the wall. Melissa did all of this, because she was much better at the power saw than I was. She also created 45-degree cuts to all corner pieces.

7. Nail chair rail and frames to the wall.

Nail the chair rail to the wall first, using a laser level if you have one, or just a ruler and level to make sure it’s even. Then add the frames to the wall, making sure they are equal distance from the baseboard, the bottom of the chair rail, the wall and the other frames.


As you can see from some of the photos above, I didn’t paint to the right spot where the chair rail was supposed to go (rats!), so if you’re a lazy painter like me, add in another step here to even the paint.

8. Fill in spaces with caulk and wood filler.

By this point your room looks almost done and you’re tempted to put back the furniture and call it quits… but you aren’t done just yet. Fill in the cracks between pieces with wood filler (like the corners where two chair rails meet), and then filled in the cracks between the wall and the frames with caulk.


9. Paint your chair rail and frames.

Get your paint brushes out again and paint your chair rail and frames the same color as the wall. While I was at it, I also painted the baseboard because it looked so much dirtier than the rest of the crisp white wall.

10. Put back your dining room and marvel at your fancy space!

Finally! The end! Wash your paint brushes, put away the supplies, clean the room, and marvel at your beautiful new space. :)

how to add wainscoting to a room
dining room wainscoting
dining room wainscoting


This would have cost much more without borrowing my friend’s tools, so keep that in mind if you need to buy a lot of tools.

  • Window casting: $18.43
  • Chair rail molding: $31.50
  • Base cap wood: $77.00

Total: $135.50 with tax, but I had $88.15 in Home Depot gift cards, so it only cost me $47.29 out of pocket.

Also! Whatever wood you don’t use, if it is longer than a foot, it can be returned. So I returned some pieces and got back $10. ‘Cause this girl is not doing any more projects like that anytime soon.

So thus concludes my super long post on how to add wainscoting to your dining room.

Have you ever done wainscoting? 

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