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How to Install Tall WAINSCOTING-100 for About $10.33/ft

how to install tall wainscotingCraftsman Style

Or c. $124.00 for this project’s entire 12′ wall

I found this tall wainscoting design in an original 1920’s era pattern book on Craftsman style interiors.  The home I installed this in is an early 1970’s ranch home, generic in every way.

But you don’t have to have generic moldings, and this page shows you how to build this easy to install and affordable wainscoting.

[This is part of my The Joy of Craftsman Moldings series.]

Historic Craftsman Colors

The paint colors for this project came from Benjamin Moore’s Craftsman style historic collection.  There are a few painting notes for this project further down the page, or you can visit our How to Paint Moldings page for a detailed painting tutorial.

The Same Thing Only Completely Different

Think about this: you could install this exact same trim package in a hundred different homes with the exact same floor plan, yet each home would look completely different just because of the different colors, furnishings and other decor.

So don’t worry if your neighbor wants the exact same moldings!

Installation Tip: One Room at a Time

If you’re not planning on upgrading the door trim and baseboards in the room you’re installing your wainscoting in, then please stop and at least consider it.

Because once you see the finished wainscoting you’ll automatically want to do the other moldings, very few people are immune from this.  And it’s just easier to plan and install all the moldings all at once.  I go into a little more detail about this in this post: One Room at a Time.

easy to install mdf diy wainscoting

Related Molding Patterns & Posts

Materials Needed to Install this Wainscoting

The wall I installed this wainscoting on was about 12′ long.  So here’s how all the materials and prices break down.


Important:  The pre-primed flat-stock that you see in this installation sequence is slightly different from the FS-001 pictured below.  Both flat-stocks were purchased from Lowes, but many years apart.  They have changed their suppliers and the profiles are not quite the same.

The edges on FS-001 are slightly rounded, whereas the material I used in the installation sequence have sharper edges, and sharp edges are what you want.

If you use the FS-001, I recommend you trim the edges off a bit on your table saw and then very gently sand the edges by had so they are only slightly rounded.  This crispness of edges is core to the overall strength of this wainscoting.

More about FS-001 >>

Suitable Substitute

You could rip down a 4 X 8 sheet of 1/2″ mdf board to use instead of FS-001.  That would be a bit cheaper but more work.

mdf board for door trim molding

$6.87/8′ stick (13 ea.) = $89.31


This simple cove molding can be purchased just about any place that sells moldings.  An acceptable substitute for this cove is CM-005, or to make it an even stronger Craftsman style, you could stack two levels of flat-stock, say a 1/2″ thick stacked on top of a 1/4″ thick flat-stock.

More about CM-006 here >>

cove molding for craftsman style moldings

$1.50/ft (13 ft) = $19.50


Rip 1/2″ thick mdf board into 1″ wide strips to use as a base cap for BASEBOARD-100, the baseboard I wrapped around the bottom of this wainscoting.

Price:  It’s hardly worth calculating the price of making the base cap from this 1/2″ mdf board, but there it is below.  Don’t worry, you’ll find lots of other uses for the leftovers!

More about MDF-200 here >>

mdf for baseboard moldings

$.07/lf (13′) = $0.91


Rip this 3/4″ thick mdf board into whatever width you need to make the primary piece of BASEBOARD-100.  I made the baseboard foundation 7″ tall.  Remember that you will get to use all the mdf that you don’t use for the wainscoting baseboard for the baseboard in the rest of the room.

More about MDF-300 here >>

diy moldings

About $0.68/lf when ripped from a 4′ X 8′ sheet (12′) = $8.16


This just a simple 1/4-round base shoe.  You could also use a 1/4″ thick piece of mdf board for the base shoe as well.

More about PM-006 here >>

pine baseboard molding

$0.41/lf (13′) = $5.33


Step by Step How to Install This Wainscoting

I can’t think of any other molding treatment that’s as easy and affordable to install that provides more bang for the buck than this wainscoting.  So let’s get started.

how to install easy diy mdf wainscoting

To Wrap or Not to Wrap

Below  It would be an easy thing to wrap this wainscoting around the inside corner and then terminate it on top of the door pilaster.

But if you do that you will lose the vertical strip of color next to the door trim.  That strip of color helps elevate the feel of the room by giving your eye something to follow-up to the crown.  I like to do things like this in rooms with only 8′ ceilings.

Both treatments look wonderful — neither one is right or wrong — you just have to choose which one you want.

how to install easy diy mdf wainscoting

how to install easy diy mdf wainscoting

Planing Your Returns

Below  I like the flat-stock of my wainscoting cap to terminate on the outside corner.  This baseboard is a tad shy of the corner, and that’s fine, because it’s better to have the wainscoting cap perfect since that is viewed first.

You can make sketches on the wall from the profiles of the moldings you’ll use to make sure you get it just right.

diy mdf wainscoting

Wainscoting Stiles on Inside and Outside Corners

Below  When I look around the internet at wainscoting installations similar to this one, I often find that the corner vertical style was left out.  This has the effect of making the wainscoting look unsupported at the end — like it’s just dangling out there in space.

Same thing goes when wrapping the wainscoting around an outside corner — don’t omit the vertical stiles on both sides of the corner.  That corner needs to be supported by vertical stiles.  If it helps, think of your vertical stiles as little columns.

how to plan the spacing of wainscoting panels

Below  If you’re not settled on a wall color while you’re installing the wainscoting, then now is a good time to throw some test swatches on the wall and live with them while your moldings are under construction.

test paint colors on wainscoting wall

Tall Wainscoting Cap Height 52″

That’s the height to the absolute top of the rail cap.

Below  This time I installed the horizontal rail first, but you don’t have to.  In fact, if you plan better than I did on this project, you’d probably start with the bottom rail.

diy mdf wainscoting

Make sure you use plenty of Liquid Nails on the back of all your moldings.

Below Here you can better see some of my scribbles that helped me decide the flat-stock placement.

Biscuit joints are a great way to join the flat-stock.

easy diy wainscoting

Wainscoting Cap

The wainscoting cap is made from the same mdf flat-stock as the rest of the wainscoting.

how to install diy wainscoting

diy wainscoting

Wrap the Crown

The crown portion of this wainscoting simply gets wrapped under the cap.

wainscoting cap

Vertical Stiles

The vertical stiles are fastened to the horizontal rail with biscuit joints and glue.

diy easy wainscoting

Install the Lower Horizontal Rail

Do you see how easy all of this is?  That’s why I just love this treatment — cheap and easy.  Again, join the flat-stock using biscuits and glue.

how to install tall kitchen wainscoting

Installing the Baseboard

  1. Install the nailers
  2. Install the 3/4″ mdf board
  3. Install the 1/2″ mdf board base cap on top

Tip: Sand the top of both the 3/4″ and 1/2″ mdf before installing.

easy diy tall wainscoting

how to make craftsman style baseboard on wainscoting

easy diy mdf wainscoting

Wainscoting Baseboard and Base Cap

I designed the baseboard cap that wraps on the wainscoting to be a tad larger than the flanking baseboard cap because I wanted it to have senior status.

You don’t have to do this.  It’s just a fun little variation I like to throw in to my designs now and then.  In hindsight, there is not enough of a difference between the two base caps to have been worth the trouble.

craftsman diy baseboard molding

Optional Base Shoe

Quarter-round base shoe molding is designed to cover the uneven gap between floor and bottom of the baseboard, but is not architecturally necessary.

large baseboard with base shoe molding

Preparing Your Wainscoting for Paint

[My Consumables page shows some of the materials we use to prepare our moldings for paint.]

  • Use a sandable primer not Killz
  • Prime everything, even the pre-primed moldings
  • Sanding sponges work great
  • Use a slightly wet (not just damp) rag to help with caulking
  • Wet your finger before running it along a bead of caulk

There are even more explicit details how to prep and paint a room full of moldings at my How to Paint Moldings page.

how to paint wainscoting

Below  All of the new moldings in the room have two finish coats of Benjamin Moore, Satin Impervo paint on them.

Important Paint Tip: Always, always use a paint extender/leveler in your paint when painting moldings.  Always.  Here’s a post we wrote about it: Use Paint Levelers/Extenders When Painting Moldings.  You can use either Floetrol or X-I-M, both work just fine.

Now just add two coats of wall paint and you’re finished.

For about a hundred bucks you now have beautiful wainscoting in your favorite room!

how to paint wainscoting

17 Responses to How to Install Tall WAINSCOTING-100 for About $10.33/ft

  1. Rhonda in Ohio July 18, 2012 at 11:42 AM #

    Looks beautiful! One day I may try it! I chuckle when you remark how “easy” it all is; perhaps once I’ve done it it will make sense!

  2. Ken July 18, 2012 at 2:20 PM #

    Yes, yes, Rhonda, that’s exactly it!

    Just jump in there and start nailing, gluing and cutting.

    What’s the worst that can happen? So you cut a piece of $6.00 mdf wrong and have to grab another piece.

    You can do it!

  3. rob August 3, 2012 at 4:37 PM #

    how do you splice joint the top horizontal board? looks like butt joint in the picture

  4. rob August 3, 2012 at 4:38 PM #

    also what is the spacing measurement between vertical styles?

  5. Ken August 3, 2012 at 6:53 PM #

    Hi Rob,

    Yes, good eye, that’s a butt joint with a biscuit to hold it in place, and glue on both faces of the butt joint.

    I don’t have the old spacing measurements from that project

    But I figured them out by first laying our the vertical stiles in approximate locations — leaning them up against the wall. Then I just stood back to see how I liked it.

    Once I settled on the six inner vertical stiles with the flanking two at either end, then I just did some basic math to divide up the space evenly.

    That’s it. No magic, just elementary school math.

  6. Sean October 5, 2012 at 7:14 AM #


    I’ve just discovered your website, and I must compliment you on a job well done. You’ve given me the courage to make this my first trim project, but my dining room leaves me with two questions:

    1 – I plan on installing the wainscotting on two walls. Should there be any special considerations, particularly with the cap, when tackling corners (particularly an inside corner)?

    2 – What if one wall has a window? I don’t know how to incorporate the wainscotting with the window trim (although the window currently doesn’t have any trim).

    Any insight that you could provide would be GREATLY appreciated. Thanks in advance…

  7. Sarah Evans October 22, 2012 at 8:20 AM #

    Beautiful job! I really love the proportions you used. Are your ceilings the standard 8 feet? I’m planning to attempt this in a 1924 Craftsman bathroom with 7 foot ceilings upstairs. Do you have any advice on calculating the height of my top rail cap? I have seen the Golden Mean and rule of thirds used, but that would leave me with very little wall space at the top after crown molding. I like that you went more than halfway up the wall, but it doesn’t appear to be two-thirds.

    I’m also wondering if I should reduce the height of the baseboard from the 7″ you used. Would such a tall baseboard overwhelm my small room? Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks.

  8. Jennifer October 22, 2012 at 8:56 AM #

    Yes, the ceiling height in this kitchen is 8′. I think 52″ tall wainscoting is a good height, even for your 7′ ceiling height.

    Did you see the tall wainscoting in our post: Create This Art Deco Powder Room for $113.49? The wainscoting we installed here is not unique to Art Deco, it is a Craftsman style wainscoting, and it is 52″ tall, but it does not feel too tall, even in this small half bathroom.

    You can reduce the size of the baseboard down to 6″ tall, but I wouldn’t make it any shorter than that because that puts you back in “why bother” molding territory.

    Sarah, the best advice I can give you is to make a model (put a finish coat of paint on it, too) of your rail cap and hold it up at different heights. If you still can’t decide between a few heights, then tack it to the wall and live with it for a few days. Move it again and live with it again until you’re sure of the height.

    Even better, paint above your test rail cap to give you an even better sense of the finished room. I’ve been doing this in our Half Bathroom Molding Makeover nealry every weekend — yesterday included.

    Good luck. Let us know what height you ended up going with!

  9. Mike S. November 13, 2012 at 10:37 AM #

    Hi Ken:

    I have a few questions regarding the wainscoting.

    For wainscoting 009, you used 3/4″ MDF for the body of the wainscoting, whereas for wainscoting 100, it appears you did not use any MDF for the body (the drywall was painted).

    1) Did you use the 3/4″ MDF as the body for 009 only because of the brick wall?

    2) Can any thickness of MDF be used for the body (ie: 1/4″ or 1/2″)?

    3) If a smaller thickness is used for the body, then I would presume the cap and related moldings would simply be smaller?

    4) Would you mind giving your ideas about what to look for in a miter saw? I plan on buying a new one soon(my old one is only 10″).

    Thanks for your help.

  10. Ken November 15, 2012 at 8:54 AM #

    Hi Mike,

    I think you are referring to WAINSCOTING-109 rather than -009, so we’ll go from there.

    The simplest answer to your questions is this: You can use any thickness of mdf you want for your wainscoting. The easy way to create the wainscoting effect is to install a cap and baseboard and use the wall space in between as the body of the wainscoting. Good when you’re on a budget (like the case when I installed WAINSCOTING-100 for friends) or just want to do something quick. But creating a wainscoting with serious depth to it is by far the most worthwhile.

    I used 1/2″ thick mdf for the brick wall and not 3/4″ thick. But 3/4″ would have worked just as well — 1/2″ was cheaper and easier to handle.

    2. Any thickness mdf can be used for the main part of your wainscoting. The thicker the better. The point of wainscoting is to create a visual foundation for your room, like a pedestal or plinth in Classical architecture.

    3. The size of your wainscoting cap, as in all molding buildups, is oftn dependent on the foundation material you are wrapping the molding around. This is why I try not to show too many exact measurements in these instructions, because I’m trying to help you uderstand the realationships between profiles to each other, to the larger pattern and to the room. Another reason I don’t go into too many exact dimensions is that modling sizes vary so much depending on who makes them. I’m trying to keep folks from getting hung up on measurements and instead develop a feel for what is right.

    4. Miter saws I bought a 12″ Rigid from Craigslist that I’m not at all happy with. It’s in fine shape, but it’s better for building decks and framing, certainly not finish carpentry. In fact, I dislike this saw so much that the thought of plugging it and using it sometimes make me not even want to start work for the day.

    These are the 12″ miter saws I like:

    Makita: Expensive but perfect in every way. It will last you a lifetime of professional use. This is what I used for many years. Never should have sold it!

    Bosh: Just great tools.

    Hitachi: A lot of professional finish carpenters like this saw, but I don’t like how small the table is.

    Dewalt: If Dewalt has fixed the out of square table/fence problem, then it’s a really good saw with great features for the price. I used a late 1990’s model for many years and loved it. But when it was time to replace it I found that the new fences on the new saws were so poorely made and out of square — and no amount of adjusting could make the fences square — that I gave up and bought the Makita. Mmmm, Makita…..

    Millwaukee: Never used it but they make great tools.

    Just as important as the saw is a good blade. Buy a good one specifically for finish work because the blade that come with the saw from the factory is has teeth for general use. It will work, but a finish blade is better.

  11. John Russell November 15, 2012 at 12:41 PM #

    At 52″ the top rail hits my light switch. Should I lower it so it is inside one of boxes or raise it so that it is above the wainscoting or just cut out a box in the rail?
    Thanks for all the effort,

  12. Ken November 15, 2012 at 12:54 PM #

    Hi John,

    I have seen Craftsman style wainscoting that is taller than 52″ and I’ve seen it a bit lower.

    I would tack some molding to the wall and stand back and consider which one you like better, taller, shorter or the 52″.

    Or you can throw a coat of paint on the wall at one height or the other to help you get an idea of the height. See, Test Paint to Find Molding Proportions, for a little more on that.

    You can also cut out a box in the rail. Electrical specialty stores sell hollow-backed plug and outlet extenders. I still have to install one on the plug outlet in the middle of our kitchen wainscoting.

    You have more molding proportion flexability when working in the Craftsman/Prairie/Arts & Crafts styles than with other period styles. So feel free to make the adjustments you like if the finished product will make you happy every time you enter that room in the years to come.

    Good luck. Let us know what height you ended up with.

  13. John Russell November 16, 2012 at 7:42 PM #

    Thanks, Ken. I’ll let you know.

  14. Matthew December 17, 2012 at 12:13 PM #


    I’m going to install this tall trim in my entrance way, but in my den I wanted to put in lower trim but the same design. What would the shorter dimension be to the top? Also would I still cap it with crown or something smaller?

  15. Ken December 18, 2012 at 9:02 AM #

    Matthew, I know of no specific rules governing shorter versions of Craftsman or Prairie style wainscoting heights. I do however have strong opinions on the matter.

    I do not like wainscotings of any style 36″ high. There is something off balance looking about them. I like them either a bit lower, say 32″ tall, or higher, around 40-42″ tall.

    If you’re unsure, you can use this Quck Tip to help you find your ideal wainscoting height.

    Let us know what height you eneded up using. Good luck!

  16. Brian January 7, 2013 at 7:53 PM #

    Any tips on scribing the top rail?

  17. Ken January 8, 2013 at 1:44 PM #

    I didn’t scribe the top rail Brian because it was so much easier to fill the gaps that the uneaven bricks caused than to scribe it.

    I don’t have any scribing tutorials, but a search for “how to scribe moldings” turns up some pretty good info.

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