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