Wainscoting Is an Easy Way to Add Character

By Tim Carter
Saturday, December 27, 2008

Q: DEAR TIM: I attended a Christmas party at a home that had wainscoting. It was gorgeous. The beadboard was painted a different color than the wall above to accent it. What can you tell me about installing wainscoting? I like a raised panel, but would settle for beadboard. -- Stephanie D., Minneapolis

A: DEAR STEPHANIE: My wife and I have raised-panel wainscoting in our home, and will install it in the new home we're planning. This traditional wall finish can add character to just about any architectural style. The beadboard can produce either a country or a clean, modern look with its vertical lines.

Years ago, when my sister had her home built, she wanted beadboard wainscoting -- the real beadboard, not the impostor material that comes in large sheets. I was just getting into construction, and remember installing horizontal blocking so there was solid wood to secure the thin vertical strips of tongue-and-groove beadboard. It wasn't hard to install the blocking, and it's a good thing to do if you want real beadboard.

If you're installing beadboard wainscoting in an existing house, and it's too late to install blocking, you can easily get the wood to stick to the walls by adding construction adhesive to a couple of spots on each board before nailing them at an angle through the tongue.

Over the years, I have discovered all sorts of tips about installing wainscoting. Perhaps the biggest time saver is pre-finishing the material before it's installed. This should be done whether you decide to paint or stain the wood. It's important to completely coat the tongue portion of the wood. That's because wood can shrink after it's installed. If this happens, it will reveal a thin vertical strip of wood that's unfinished. This can be especially problematic if it happens at each joint where the grooved edge of a board overlaps the tongue of the adjacent piece.

It's also easier to paint or stain the wainscoting while it's flat on a workbench or on top of a piece of plywood suspended between two sawhorses. Set the finished material inside a covered area away from dirt and dust as it dries.

One major challenge when installing wainscoting in existing homes is dealing with electrical outlet boxes. You need to make sure you're code compliant with respect to the distance between the edge of the electrical box and the finished surface of the wainscoting. You may have to install approved extensions to comply with the code. This is not a problem in new construction, as the electrician can mount the boxes so they match up with the surface of the wainscoting.

As you begin installation, you need to be aware of the thickness of the wainscoting and how it plays with the trim it bumps up against around doors and windows. Harmonizing the wainscoting and existing trim requires skill and often master carpentry magic.

You will sometimes discover that it's best to install the wainscoting before any baseboard trim. To make the wainscoting look good where it meets windows and doors, you may have to install extension-jamb filler strips so the window and door trim sits on top of the wainscoting. I didn't have to do this at my home, as my door-casing trim is 3/4 -inch thick. My wainscoting was only 3/8 -inch thick, so the door trim is above the surface.

Tim Carter can be contacted via his Web site, http://www.askthebuilder.com/printer_Submit_Question.shtml.

©2008 Tribune Media Services

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company