How to Put Up Chair Rail Molding

The first stage to installing chair rail molding is to make sure you get the kind of chair rail molding you want and need. If you are installing paneling halfway up the sheet rock, the molding you need will have a slight lip on it so it can sit on top of the paneling. The rest of the chair rail molding is flat on the back for easy installation.

Protecting the Walls

Step 1

Measure carefully

Measure from the floor up the wall to the height you desire.  The most common heights for chair rail molding on an 8-foot wall are between 32 to 36 inches.

Place the carpenter's level on the mark and draw a line indicating the top edge of the molding. 

Step 2

Locate the studs

Place the stud finder on the wall to locate the studs.  Make a mark on your horizontal line where each stud is.

Step 3

A mitered splice

Measure and cut your first piece in a corner with the electric miter saw.  If the wall is longer than your molding, you will need to cut a 45-degree angle on two pieces to splice them together.

This is the best way to hide the seam.  The best place to splice molding is over a stud.

Step 4

Getting it close

Install the first piece with the finish nails, but do not allow your hammer to strike the molding.  Drive a nail as close as possible and use the nail set to drive a nail below the surface of the molding.

Step 5

Mitered return

Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until all the chair rail molding is installed on the wall.  If the chair rail does not stop in a corner or window or door casing, you will need to produce what is called a mitered return (see picture).

Do this by cutting a 45-degree angle on the end of a piece of molding as if it was going around a corner.  Next, measure from the end of the piece you just cut and make a mark that is equal to the thickness of the molding, place the piece of molding on the electric miter saw and cut it on that mark.

This will result in a very small, triangle shaped piece of mold. 

Step 6

Putty (or caulk if painting)

Apply some wood glue to the inside of the miter, and put it in place.  Either you can put a short piece of tape on it to hold it while the glue dries, or you can drill a pilot hole to drive a nail into it.

If you choose to use a nail, be careful not to strike the piece with your hammer, as this would likely break the piece of return molding.  After all the molding is installed, fill all the nail holes with the appropriate product, such as wood putty or painter's caulk, for staining or painting.

Things You Will Need

  • Carpenter's level
  • Stud finder
  • Electric miter saw
  • Hammer
  • 6d finish nails
  • Nail set
  • Wood glue
  • Wood putty
  • Chalk box (optional)


  • Drill precise pilot holes by clipping the end off of the nail you are using to install the chair rail molding to use it as a drill bit.
  • Apply painter's caulk along the top and bottom edge of the chair rail molding to fill in the gaps between the molding and the wall.
  • As an alternative to the carpenter's level, you can measure up the wall at either end of the wall and use a chalk box to pop a line.


  • Wear safety glasses whenever using an electric miter saw.
  • Do not leave power tools unattended in the presence of small children.
  • Do not allow glue to drip down the face of the molding. This can cause problems if you are going to stain the wood.

About the Author

Michael Straessle has written professionally about the construction industry since 1988. He authored “What a Strange Little Man,” among other books, and his work has appeared in various online publications. Straessle earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in professional/technical writing.

Photo Credits

  • http://i.ehow.com/images/GlobalPhoto/Articles/15091/chairrail-main_Full.jpg, http://media.rd.com/rd/images/rdc/family-handyman/2002/11/Do-It-Yourself-Chair-Rail-03-ss.jpg, http://goodfatherblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/stud_finder.jpg, http://www.houseoffara.com/images/guides/install_splice1.jpg, http://www.wikihow.com/Install-a-Chair-Rail, http://www.curbly.com/uploads/photos/0000/0000/9100/final_large.jpg, http://www.mclendons.com/img/products/27/275480.jpg