How to Install Wainscoting Onto Drywall

Does one of your rooms need updating but you are wary just another boring paint job? Installing wainscoting is an easy way to give a room an entirely different look.

Since wainscoting is made of solid wood, it is durable and can be painted or stained. Wainscoting kits are available for purchase at your local builder's supply store and come in a variety of wood types, colors and sizes. Most kits also come with a rail to install over the wainscoting's top edge, giving it a finished look. .

Measure the room's walls lengths with a tape measure. Square or rectangular rooms have just four walls. However, some rooms are shaped differently and have nooks or alcoves with additional, smaller, walls that must also be measured. Measure the closet walls as well if wainscoting is being installed there.

Add all the length measurements together. Multiply this number by 2.66. The resulting number represents how many linear feet of wainscoting is needed for the room. Purchase a little extra in case of errors during installation.

Stack the wainscoting in the room for about a week prior to installation. This allows the wood to adjust and expand according to the room's heat and humidity levels.

Unscrew the screws securing light switch covers and electrical outlet covers, with a screwdriver. Move as much furniture out of the room as possible. Gather the remaining furniture toward the center of the room.

Measure the wainscoting's height and indicate this measurement on the wall. Place marks in two to three different locations on each wall where the top edge of the boards will lie. Connect the measurement marks with a chalk line. Snap the chalk line on the wall. Work around the entire room, snapping the chalk line where the wainscoting's top will reach.

Run a stud finder along each wall to locate the studs' centers. Place a light mark on the wall, above the chalk line, where each stud lies.

Lay a level on the floor along each wall. Start installing the wainscoting in the highest corner, or the corner with the most slope. Place a tube of construction adhesive into a caulk gun. Cut off the tube's tip with a utility knife. Spread a zig-zag bead of adhesive on the back of the first piece of wainscoting.

Raise the wainscoting to the wall. Hold the wainscoting so the tongue edge is the outer edge. Line up the wainscoting's top edge with the chalk line. Hold a level against the wainscoting's outer edge. Plumb the wainscoting and push it onto the wall, in the starting corner.

Hold a pneumatic nailer against the wainscoting's tongue. Angle the nailer at a 45 degree angle. Secure the wainscoting to the drywall with 1 1/4-inch nails, inserted near the wainscoting's top, center and bottom.

Lift the next section of wainscoting up to the wall and push the grooved edge over the previously installed piece's tongue, until the two pieces join tightly. Check the bottom edge. If there is a gap, fold a thick piece of paper or cardboard and place it behind the wainscoting to act as a shim. This pushes the wainscoting forward and gives the wall a smooth appearance. Secure the second piece in place the same way you secured the first piece.

Use a saber saw to cut electrical box openings and light switch openings into the wainscoting. First, hold the wainscoting next to the electrical box and mark the top and bottom edges. Then, hold the wainscoting above the electrical box and mark the left and right edges. Transfer these measurements to the wainscoting's back, using a carpenter's square to make straight lines. Cut out the resulting rectangle.

Install wainscoting around outside corners by mitering the two meeting edges at a 45 degree angle, using a miter saw. Glue the two corner pieces in place. Drive a nail through the wainscoting's face, in three locations.

Measure from the last installed wainscoting's edge to the room's corner, when a full panel no longer fits. Do not include the wainscoting's tongue in the measurement. Cut the wainscoting to the desired width using a miter saw.

Install wainscoting in inside corners by butting up the edge of one piece of wainscoting against the face of another piece of wainscoting. Secure the two pieces in place with construction adhesive and nails.

Lay the top rail over the wainscoting's top edge. Secure the rail in place with finishing nails. Hammer the nails through the studs you marked in Step 6. Miter the rails' ends to 45 degree angles at inside and outside corners.

Things You Will Need

  • Tape measure
  • Screwdriver
  • Chalk line
  • Stud finder
  • Level
  • Construction adhesive
  • Caulk gun
  • Utility knife
  • Pneumatic nailer
  • 1 1/4-inch nails
  • Thick paper or cardboard
  • Saber saw
  • Carpenter's square
  • Miter saw


  • Paint or stain the wainscoting prior to installation.
  • Turn wainscoting face-down when cutting to prevent splintering on the face.