How to Install Custom DIY Wainscoting Wall Trim

DIYWainscoting

Y’all, this DIY Wainscoting project has been on my wish list for several years and we absolutely LOVE how it turned out!

Wainscoting can take on so many different looks depending on what style you choose, so whether you like French chic, country farmhouse, modern, or traditional- there’s a trim for that!

Installing a little custom trim work, whether you do it yourself or hire a pro, can truly transform and elevate any space! This can also be a great way to make your home feel less “cookie cutter” or generic. πŸ™‚

The big questions we had to answer before getting started were:

  • How many “boxes” do you want to create on each wall.
    • This is entirely subjective, but you can find lots of inspiration online for your space!
  • What spacing do you want between your “boxes” (you will be doing some math for this part!)
    • You will want to equally divide the walls, you also must account for the space above, below, and between the boxes in order to have consistent spacing gaps.
    • Measure and make marks with a pencil, and double check the measurement again before you cut your trim pieces.
  • What style wainscoting do you want.
    • Whether to do the whole wall or a half wall with chair rail (like we did), as well as the type of trim you select.
    • I looked at SO many different designs and eventually decided on this classic look… after a couple masking tape trial runs! πŸ™‚

You’ll Need:

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Tips:

DIY Wainscoting Tip #1:

I used masking tape (or any easily removable paint tape) to create faux Wainscoting in our dining room before we decided on the pattern and spacing.

This really helps- especially if you’re visual and need to see it sketched out to-scale like me!

I just used a measuring tape, pencil, and masking tape to mark out what I was envisioning.

DIYWainscoting
Using painters tape to envision the spacing and style of Wainscoting

DIY Wainscoting Tip #2:

Trash the level! Well, perhaps you don’t need to go that far, but DO go for visual precision for a truly custom look, because walls are often NOT perfectly square!

I soon discovered that (in our 20 year old home) I needed to measure from my point of reference (i.e. baseboards, chair rail, the end of the wall) instead of creating perfect boxes and just hanging them on the wall. (if only it was that easy!)

If you hang a straight line next to an angled line your eye will be drawn to the imperfection and incongruity.

Therefore, if you are doing a 4″ spacing on all sides of your Wainscoting trim, you need to mark 4″ from the top of your baseboards and then hang your bottom piece along that line so that it mirrors the exact level/angle of your baseboard in that area.

Some walls, or even portions of the same wall, will be different from others- so always double check your spacing measurements from whatever point of reference you’re using for that piece!

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DIY Wainscoting Tip #3:

Measure, measure, and then…. measure again!

Your measuring tape is your best friend when doing DIY Wainscoting.

Because of our realization from tip #2, your boxes will not be perfectly square, so you will want to measure all angles and then do a DRY FIT before gluing and nailing!

DIYWainscoting

Overview / Order of Operations:

  1. Measure, mark, and test layout with painters tape.
  2. Cut trim and do a “dry fit” of each piece to check the dimensions and joint fit before securing to the wall. Secure the top and bottom pieces before adding the sides of the boxes. Use sand paper to lightly sand any joints that need only small adjustments to fit together perfectly.
  3. Put a thin bead of construction adhesive on the back of your trim. Try not to go too heavy with this step, or put the adhesive too close to the edge, in order to avoid overflow along the edge when it is pressed against the wall. Wipe any excess/overflow from the walls with a clean cloth after you’ve attached a piece.
  4. Holding the glued piece in place on the wall (this is where a second pair of hands is very helpful!), simply tack the trim into place with small trim nails. These should be so small, and spaced out about every 6-10 inches to hold the piece in place while the adhesive dries.

Step-by-Step Detailed Guide:

To succeed at crafting your wainscoting, you have to start with a little math! (We measured and re-measured multiple times before we began hanging the trim!)

Step1: Draw the Vertical Mid-Lines for Each “Box”

Determine the length of your wall in inches (Let’s say your wall is 8 feet long. Multiply 8 feet by 12 inches to get 96 total inches).

Take that total length (in inches) and divide by 2 to find the center of the wall. Use this number (half of the total length) and measure from one end of the wall and make a mark at this point, the center of the wall.

Using a level, draw a vertical line on the wall with a pencil at the mid-point that you marked on the wall, visually dividing the wall in half.

We wanted 3 boxes on this wall, so we also needed to mark the center of the boxes on either side. To do this you would divide the total length of the wall by 3 to get your 3 mid-points. Since we already marked the center box, we need to mark the mid-points of the side boxes.

Measure from the center vertical line, which you’ve already made, to the right and make a mark at the 1/3 point. Use your level to make a straight vertical line at this point, the center of your right box. Do the same from the center line to the left and mark another vertical line for the left box. This helps you divide up the wall into equal sections and orient your boxes!

Step 2: Calculate Box Sizes & Spacing

The next calculation we need to do will determine the horizontal length of the pieces for each box (the top and bottom sides).

How many inches do you want between your boxes? We wanted equal spacing of 4 inches all the way around; between the boxes as well as between the chair rail above and the floor trim below. 4 inches all around.

How many “gaps” do you have? Determine how many gaps you have and multiply that by the width of your gaps (4″ x 4 gaps = 16″). In our case, 3 boxes on a wall have a total of 4 gaps that are 4 inches each, which is a total of 16 inches (remember to count the gaps at end of the wall as well as in between).

Subtract your “gap total” from the total wall length. On our 96″ of total wall, minus 16 inches of gaps, equals 80 inches of horizonal trim for boxes.

Divide the remaining number by the number of boxes you want. In our case, 80″ divided by 3 boxes means each horizontal piece will be 26.66 or 26 2/3. This is the length of the top and bottom of each box.

DIYWainscoting
This is the thin trim we chose from our local Lowe’s: item 40-8WHW

Step 3: Cut the Horizontal Pieces

Cut your top and bottom pieces to 26 2/3 inches with a 45 degree miter at the ends. This will allow them to fit together like a picture frame and achieve the look we are after.

Then mark the center of each top/bottom piece (which should be at 13 1/3 inches) with a pencil mark. Line this mark up with your mid-line marks for each box! Use your level and the directions above to glue, and then tack these pieces to the wall.

After you have the top and bottom pieces attached to the wall, carefully measure and cut the vertical pieces. You want these to fit perfectly, so you will need to gradually adjust to get a precise fit. Use a little sandpaper if needed! It will be worth it in the end if you take your time here.

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DIY Wainscoting Summary

After securing with glue and pin nails to the wall, gently sand any rough points of connection and fill any gaps with a little wood filler. This will create smooth lines before you finish with fresh paint.

That’s about it, y’all! I love the traditional European look of Wainscoting- but there are SO many different possibilities and styles that you could consider!

Let us know if you’re considering a similar DIY upgrade, or if you’ve completed a project like this as well. Please share your questions, tips and tricks in the comments below!

πŸ™‚ The Dabby team

You may also be interested in our posts about trouble-shooting how to fix a home microwave or how to blow-in insulation in your home!

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DIY Wainscoting Pinterest Pin

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4 Comments

  1. Reply

    Julia Hess

    01/12/2021

    Oh, this looks great! I have been wanting to add some wainscoting either in my living room or maybe laundry room. I love how it changed the whole feel and look of your room.

    • Reply

      Dave

      01/13/2021

      Thank you Julia! It really did!

  2. Reply

    Debbie

    01/12/2021

    Love the DIY tips. I like doing things on my own.

    • Reply

      Dave

      01/13/2021

      So do we Debbie! Thanks for stopping by!

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