Wainscoting can be a do-it-yourself project

Q. I have always liked the appearance of wainscoting, but I am not a good woodworker. I have heard decorative wainscoting can be made with drywall. Is this a project I should be able to do myself?

A. Adding wainscoting to your walls can dramatically improve the appearance of any room by giving it a sense of elegance. Typical wainscoting assembled from many wood pieces is often above of the skill set of many do-it-yourselfers. Also, just the cost of the wood can be significant, not to mention the labor costs of a skilled carpenter.

Making wainscoting from drywall is possible as you have heard and it generally is a project most homeowners can handle themselves. In addition to saving the labor costs, if you have done some other remodeling jobs in your home, you likely have some old scrap pieces of drywall around. Wainscoting uses mostly small pieces, so the scrap should work well.

Actually, using drywall instead of wood for wainscoting has some advantages. In addition to the lower material and labor costs, drywall does not expand and contract as much as some woods with changes in the humidity level. This means small gaps will not form at the joints as can sometimes occur with wood wainscoting. Also, nicks in the drywall are very easy to repair.

The basic assembly concept for drywall wainscoting is to attach long upper and lower horizontal rails to the wall. Vertical stiles cut to any width and spacing you desire, are placed between the rails to create the wainscoting appearance. The drywall edges are finished with vinyl edge trim or chain rail. If you know how to tape drywall joints, this should be easy.

The first step is to layout out the wainscoting pattern on the wall. When determining the spacing for the vertical stile pieces, pay attention to the location of electrical outlets on the wall. You don't want one to end up underneath a vertical stile. The typical height for the top rail is 32 inches from the floor. There is no typical dimension for the horizontal spacing, so just select a spacing which is pleasing to the eye.

The bottom rail of the wainscoting is usually wider than the top rail by an inch or so. This creates a more traditional wainscoting appearance and provides space of a tall, decorative baseboard. If you plan to locate an electric outlet at the floor level, position it on its side so it is completely surrounded by the bottom rail.

Use a laser level and snap a caulk line at the height of the top of the top rail around the perimeter of the room. Unless the floor is extremely uneven, the height of this line should be about the same height off the floor. The bottom board just rests on the floor. If there are some gaps, large or small, they will be covered by the baseboard.

The drywall pieces are not heavy, so attaching them to the wall with adhesive provides adequate strength. Once all the pieces are bonded to the wall, finish the joints with tape and mud as you would any joint. The inner edges of the pieces should be covered with vinyl chamfer stop. The top of the top rail can be finished with decorative vinyl bead or real wood chair rail.

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