Weekend Wainscotting

With the stud locations marked, nail the base support and hanging strips in place.

With the stud locations marked, nail the base support and hanging strips in place.

If you ask a woodworker to picture a room they’d like to spend time in (besides the shop) they frequently form a picture in their minds of a room with lots of wood in it. Perhaps ceiling beams, a wood floor and wainscotting. If you have an older house, you might be lucky enough to have such a room. But if you have a newer home, more likely than not your rooms are painted drywall. You could pay a contractor to install a lot wainscotting, but because you already have woodworking tools, why not do it yourself? Here’s a quick, easy and amazingly cost-effective way to turn a “so-so” room into a “something else” room.

Don’t Waste Plywood

The basic ingredient to making this project affordable is carefully cut 1/2″ plywood. By making the wainscotting a respectable 32″ high, a sheet of plywood will give you 12 lineal feet of paneling. Start by determining the lineal footage of the area you want to cover. Sketch out the wall sections on a piece of paper, including doorways. Using a two-panel, 46″ wide section may not always work best for your room needs, and you’ll have to decide if changing the panel size will give a better overall look. Regardless, the techniques used in the article will work on any size panel. Remember, if you run into a corner, allow an extra 3/4″ in length on one panel so it can tuck behind the opposite panel, without changing the panel spacing.

Next, attach the assembled panels to the hanging strips with the panels resting on the base support strip.

Next, attach the assembled panels to the hanging strips with the panels resting on the base support strip.

To provide a less “flat” appearance to the wainscotting, you cut inset panels from the main panel, sort of like removing the doughnut holes from doughnuts. Then you trim the hole with moulding that has a rabbet cut on the back. After that, you fasten the inset panel back into the surrounding face panel. Because of the way the moulding is made, the panel will be recessed. Finally you shim the backside of your wainscotting and attach it to your wall with 2″ finishing nails.

The other tricky element to this project is joining adjacent panels of wainscotting in a way so there is a minimal amount of seam visible. Here’s how I tackled that: Each face panel has two inset panels in it that you remove from the surrounding panel by plunge-cutting on your table saw (which is covered in the story at left). One of the inset panels is surrounded on all four sides by the surrounding panel. The other inset panel is surrounded on only three sides by the surrounding panel. After you remove the inset panel, the end of the surrounding panel looks like a large “C.” When you attach two adjacent panels, you’ll have only two small 3″-long seams.

Start Cutting

Next, miter the baseboard and cap mouldings in the corner and nail them to the panels (top). Note the 3" filler strip necessary to complete the corner.

Next, miter the baseboard and cap mouldings in the corner and nail them to the panels (top). Note the 3" filler strip necessary to complete the corner.

The first step is to cut the plywood sheets to size, and then remove the inset panels. To be able to reuse the inset panels, you’ll need to use a table saw for this. The accompanying story at left explains how to cut out the inset panels. Remember to mark the panels if you wish to maintain a grain and color match on each section.

The rest of the machine work is milling. The moulding used to trim out the inset panels is an oak 3/4″ x 9/16″ stock shelf edge moulding. Cut a 1/4″ x 1/4″ rabbet on one edge to allow the moulding to drop into the recess and flush against the inset panel. Then cut this moulding into 20″ lengths, with 45-degree miters on both ends.

The base moulding is simply a long 3/4″ x 4″ board. Cut a fillet ogee profile on the top edge using a router mounted in a router table. The top cap moulding is a 3/4″ x 2″ board with a bullnose detail routed on the front edge. Add a stock 3/4″ x 3/4″ cove moulding to the underside of the cap and voila (see the diagrams for full-size cross sections of these mouldings).

With the mouldings run, mill out some 1/4″ x 2″ plywood hanging strips and the 3/4″ x 2-1/2″ plywood base support strips.

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