Project Guide

How to Install Beadboard Wainscoting

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Prep the Area
A chisel is used to pry off old baseboard.

Beadboard, the most common type of wainscoting, is a row of narrow wood planks made up of tongue and groove panels and installed vertically on a wall. Individual tounge and groove boards are available, but the project comes together much more rapidly when you opt for ready-made panels.

When you're ready to begin wainscoting bathroom walls or to add beadboard backsplash to your kitchen, these are a few things to consider before you begin to install beadboard: 

  • Select your paneling. Decide if you want primed, finished or unfinished lumber. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • When determining how much beadboard wainscoting you need, don't guesstimate, calculate. Know exactly how much you need with our project calculators.
  • Prep your walls by dusting and cleaning the area where you'll be adding paneling.
  • Decide which part of the wall you are going to cover with the beadboard. 
  • Familiarize yourself with the separate parts that make up beadboard wainscoting: Panels or vertical boards, baseboards and top cap moulding which provides an elegant finish to the top of the panel.

Remove Baseboard and Outlet Covers:

  • If you are reusing the baseboard, carefully pry it from the wall. You may prefer to use new baseboards with a groove to hold the lower ends of the wainscoting boards. Install outlet box extension rings that allow you to bring the outlet to the wainscoting surface.

Tip: Installation is typically 32 to 36 inches off the floor or roughly one-third the room height. When adding wainscoting, adjust the top edge to avoid running into windowsills or other trim in the room.

Draw a Line and Locate Studs
A person uses a level to make sure the measurements are level.
  • Extend a line around the room with a level.
  • The top and the bottom of the wainscoting are held in place by a cap rail and a baseboard nailed into the studs. Locate the stud with a nail or stud finder and mark them both at floor level and just above the level line.

Tip: Be sure to take into account light switches and power outlets. You may need to cut your beadboard to fit these areas.  

Glue Wainscoting in Place
A person adds glue to the appearance board.
  • Butt the grooved end of a board into a corner and nail it in place. 
  • Run a wavy line of construction adhesive along the back of several boards. 
  • Spread the wood glue with a notched trowel as you slip the boards into place. 
  • Slide the tongues in the grooves, leaving a 1/16-inch space between the visible edges to allow for expansion in humid weather. 
  • Align the top edges with the level line. 
  • Check the edge for plum with a level. 
  • Press the boards with the heels of your hands to help bond the boards with the wall.

Tip: You can also use liquid nails to attach panels to the wall. We recommend reinforcing with nails (see Step 6). 

Nail the Boards When Over a Stud
Person nails the boards in place.

Whenever a board is over a stud, nail it in place. Hide the nail in the groove along the bead, or drive it through the tongue if possible. Cut or plane as much of the last board as needed to make it fit. Install it by slipping it down from above.

Adjust Out-of-Plumb Corners When Needed
Person measures to adjust an out of plumb corners.
  • For out-of-plumb corners, make adjustments several boards away. 
  • Measure between the last board and the corner at both the top and bottom of the wainscoting. 
  • Then divide the difference by the number of boards remaining to be installed. If the difference is within 1/16-inch, install the remaining boards slightly out of plumb so the last one will be flush with the adjoining wall. If the gap is more than 1/16-inch, scribe the last board to fit.
Install the Cap Rail and Baseboard
Person uses a hammer to install baseboard.

Nail the cap rail in place with #6 or #8 finishing nails. Miter inside and outside corners. If the rail is complex, cope inside corners. If the baseboards go on top of the beaded boards, nail them in place using #8 finishing nails. Countersink and fill all nail holes.  If you paint the wainscoting, seal any gaps with paintable caulk.

Tip: Consider painting your beadboard to add color and character to the room.

How to Maintain Wainscoting
Wainscoting accenting an entryway wall

Keeping wainscoting clean will help prevent dust and buildup.   

  • Wipe wainscoting down with a dust rag to remove loose dust. 
  • Use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe clean any stains or dirt marks. 
  • You can also use vinegar and water to wipe clean. 
  • Beadboard backsplash in a kitchen or bath will be subject to more water stains and residue. Try wiping it down daily or weekly to avoid buildup. 

Beadboard wainscoting is a simple project and once you've learned the installation process,  you can use this popular decor on walls, as a backsplash upgrade or even on a ceiling. With a little investment of time, you can refresh a room and add a brand new skill to your DIY toolbelt.