The biggest time-saver deal, in my opinion, is pre-finishing your material before it’s put up.
When finishing wooden wainscoting, this means whether you plan to paint or stain it, this step should be completed beforehand to make things easier.
It’s also critical to ensure that the entire tongue part of the wood is covered. Since wood can shrink after it has been installed, any gaps will be more noticeable once the paint or stain has dried.
If you’re not finishing your wood and are instead going for a natural look, it’s still important to at least seal the wainscoting before installation. After all, sealing is a pretty quick process and will protect the wood from moisture or rot over time.
Installing and Painting the Basic Wainscoting
Unlike beadboard, wainscoting refers to the entire lower half or one-third of a room covered in wood paneling.
Beadboard is just a type of wainscoting that features vertical grooves. Shiplap is another type of wainscoting that consists of horizontal siding boards. Tongue and groove, on the other hand, is a way of attaching two boards with a tongue inserted into a groove.
This guide will show you how to do basic wainscoting yourself and explain how to paint it before getting them installed on your walls.
So, let’s get started with the instructions…
Step 1: Measure and prepare the room
With a measuring tape, measure the length and width of the room to find out how many panels you’ll need.
Also, cover any furniture or floors that may get dirty during installation with old sheets, newspaper, or drop cloth.
Step 2: Remove the old molding carefully
Using a pry bar or a putty knife, remove the old molding carefully so that you don’t damage the walls in your room.
Be careful not to damage the molding if you intend to reuse it. Gather a screwdriver, remove all outlet covers in the room, and place them securely in the other room.
Step 3: Cut the boards to size or get pre-cut panels
Next, you will need to cut the boards to size using a miter or a hand saw. If you’re using a power saw, wear safety goggles.
After you’ve cut the boards, sand them to create a smooth surface.
Alternatively, you can buy precut paintable wainscoting panels that are usually 32, 36, or 42 inches tall. But 32″ tall panels are most common and can be used for most projects.
If you want to do that, take a measuring tape and measure up from the floor 32 ½”, then use a pencil to mark it. Use a carpenter’s level to have a straightedge; lightly draw a line around the room.
Step 4: Painting the wainscoting panels
After you’ve cut the boards or panels to size, it’s time to paint them.
Water-based acrylic/latex paints are a good choice for most wainscoting applications.
I recommend using a KILZ All-Purpose primer and Benjamin Moore Ultra Spec 500 Interior Paint (semi-gloss) for this project since it’s easy to clean and will hold up well in high-traffic areas.
Use a roller or a brush to apply a single coat of primer and paint evenly, making sure to get the paint into all the tiny grooves and crevices. Let the paint dry completely before moving on to the next step.
Tip: If you want to remove the old painted wainscoting for repainting and to install, clean them thoroughly using a mild soap and water solution. Give it a good scrub with a brush, then rinse it with clean water and let it dry.
Step 5: Attach the painted board panels
Now it’s time to install the painted panels on the wall, starting in a corner and working your way around the room.
Apply adhesive to the back of each board and press it against the wall. For extra stability, use finishing nails, and drive them (using a hammer) in at an angle so they won’t come out quickly. For a better finish, you could use a hammer along with a nail setter or a countersink bit to sink the nails below the surface.
When installing the wainscoting, ensure the top is level with the level line. Use a stud finder to find the wall studs and mark them lightly just above the level line. This will aid you when it comes time to nail down the wainscot panels.
Step 6: Fit corner panels and finish up by installing the molding
Once you’ve installed all the panels, move on to the corners.
You can use a mitered joint or a cope-and-stick joint for inside and outside corners. A mitered joint is when the two boards are cut at an angle so they fit perfectly in the corner. On the other hand, cope and stick joints are when one board is cut to fit snugly against the other.
The method for installing panels in corners is as follows:
- First, measure from the top of the last full panel to the wall and subtract 1/8″ from that figure.
- Measure again from the bottom of the last full panel to get another measurement, this time also subtracting 1/8″.
- The reason for taking measurements at the top and bottom is to account for imperfections in wall intersections that might not be perfectly square.
- Cut your panels accordingly, then installing them begins by placing the corner panel first, followed by continuing with installation along the rest of the remaining perimeter.
- Add a finishing trim called shoe molding (also known as quarter round) to finish up. This should go at the bottom of the baseboard as they will help conceal any gaps.
Step 7: Touching up and finishing the installed wainscoting
Once you’re done installing the wainscoting, apply a final topcoat of paint using a brush.
- First, paint the wainscoting’s top and bottom edges where they meet the wall and floor.
- Then to paint the indented panels and the molding around them, use up-and-down strokes on vertical and back-and-forth strokes on horizontal areas.
- Ensure to focus on any spots you may have missed with the paint and let the paint dry completely before moving on and enjoying the final look.
After you are satisfied with the look, gently clean your brush and roller cover in water, pouring out the water until it is clear. To dry the brush, suspend it from the nail or hook and store it in a plastic bag. At last, remove the drop cloth from the floor.
But Can I Paint the Wainscoting after Installation?
Since there is no specific rule, it’s okay to paint wainscoting after installation. It’s just that the entire process would be a bit more time-consuming because you’ll have to take extra care not to get paint on the wall or floor, and you’ll also need to use a brush rather than a roller.
If you want to finish your wainscoting after mounting, I suggest cutting and priming down the material before installation, then applying a single paint coat of your choice and allowing it to dry. You may then finish by putting a coat of paint over the surface after the installation.
It’s basically as simple as purchasing pre-primed wainscoting and applying the final paint/ stain coat on it after you have successfully installed it. This way, you get chances to fix any gaps or holes that might have occurred during installation, giving a much neater look.
What Color to Paint Wainscoting?
Many people consider painting wainscoting the same color as the wall. And others paint it the same color as the trim.
If you want to add some extra pop to your room, painting the wainscoting a different color is a great way to do it – get creative and use two colors or even a pattern. You could even go for a two-tone look and paint the top half of the wainscoting one color and the bottom half another.
IMO, the location and the room where you are putting up the wainscoting matter the most when deciding what color to paint it. For example, if you were putting up wainscoting in a bathroom that had white walls, you might want to continue with the white theme and paint the wainscoting white as well.
But if you were putting up wainscoting in a living room with tan walls, you can paint it a rich brown color to match the furniture. For kitchen or dining room wainscoting, you may use darker colors like chocolate brown or coffee to make it feel more like a formal dining room.
Some other popular wainscoting colors are grey, blue, and green. Overall, it depends on the look you are going for in the room.
Do I Need to Caulk the Seams Between Wainscoting and Wall – before Painting?
If your wall isn’t perfectly flat, caulking will help make a seamless transition between the wall and the wainscoting.
Plus, it makes it easier to paint the wainscoting and helps prevent any moisture or water damage that could occur down the line. This can especially be helpful when you are installing the wainscoting yourself.
Some people also think removing all the wall plates is necessary before painting the wainscoting. But others have an opinion that it’s not necessary and that you can just paint around them.
In my opinion, removing the wall plates might make it easier to apply the final paint on the wainscoting evenly. But it’s not necessary. You can just paint around the wall plates if you want to leave them on. In that case, make sure you use painter’s tape to protect the wall plates from paint.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.