I grew up in a 250-year-old home in eastern Pennsylvania
that was full of interior architectural details — huge
strap hinges, exposed log ceiling joists, a raised-panel
wainscot in the dining room. Even as a young boy, I admired
those panels and moldings.
Unfortunately, building a room full of true raised-panel
wainscot is a lot of work and a heavy drain on most budgets, so
we've come up with a simple, straightforward way to create the
look of panel wainscot without the extraordinary expense.
We start by striking a level reference line around the
perimeter of the room with a rotary laser, marking the desired
top of the chair rail. In the room shown here, the chair rail
was a continuation of the 5/4 window stool. Whenever we can, we
use full 1-inch stool, which fits with the period detailing we
If we're working in a room that already has drywall, we
carefully remove the 1/2-inch board below the reference line
and clean up the studs. One thing I hate to see is a receptacle
in the middle of a wainscot panel or — even worse —
cut into a stile. So we also take this opportunity to relocate
the wiring in such a way that receptacles can be mounted
horizontally on the baseboard, centered between the floor and
the base cap.
Next, we attach the 1/2-inch MDO plywood that serves as the
field for our panels and as a nailer for the stiles and panel
molding. We spend some time laying out the plywood seams so
that they fall behind the stiles, and we mark them on the walls
so we have no excuse for missing.
I prefer an odd number of panels, and I like them to be taller
than they are wide, though that doesn't always work out. In
this project, we wanted to keep the panels on all four walls as
close as possible to the same width, so they ended up being
We made the top rail and stiles from 1x4 poplar, and the bottom
rail from wider stock, which allowed us to keep the 3 1/2-inch
reveal; the larger stock also served as a nailer for the base
cap. We used a 1x10 base with a custom 5/4 by 17/8-inch base
Frame assembly is usually quick and easy. We cut all the parts
to length on the miter saw, then assemble the frame with
biscuits and glue. No clamping is necessary, as we immediately
attach the frame to the wall with 2 1/2-inch finish nails,
making sure to hit the studs. When you do this, remember to
make one corner stile 3/4 inch wider than the overlapping one
so the reveals remain the same.
Here, we ran the base cap around the perimeter of each panel
instead of using a different panel mold. We had this profile
custom milled; it laps the 3/4 material nicely, and you have to
look closely to determine whether it's one or two pieces.
We finished up with the installation of the 1x10 baseboard and
Kurzdesigns and builds custom
homes on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. His partner Bob Cifelli
also worked on this project.