How do I measure for getting chair rail molding level and straight on the wall ?

I am going to put up chair rail molding in my living room and I can't figure out how to make sure the molding around the room will look straight and level all the way around the room. Do I measure down from the ceiling every few feet around the room or do I measure up from the floor every few feet to get it even around the room. Its an old house so I'm sure the floors are not level or square. Help! Thanks, Donna :-)

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Lurch8 years ago
Spirit level would always be a good tool to have. I've drawn datum lines around large rooms, across doors and windows, and had both ends meet back at the start point so as long as you have a decent length (1200mm+) decent quality level you'll not go far wrong. I've been in houses and fitted things level near things people have levelled from ceilings and floors and, well, not a good method IME! Handy Tip: When using a level don;t just slide it along the wall between marking lines, flip the level over so left and right ends are alternated on each line, if your level is just a fraction of a mm out of square, which even some decent ones are, it will run out by that much every time and over a long length can add up to quite a difference. By flipping the level the run out is run up then down on each line so by the time you get back to where you start you should end up within a couple of mm of plumb all the way around. Water level is also a simple but 100% effective way of levelling 2 distant points. I've found it a pain for drawing straight lines though as you still need a straight edge, and most of my straight edges are spirit levels so might as well use that in the first place! Chalk lines can sag slightly over long distances so be careful about how far you do each section, keep it to a few metres absolute max.
ewilhelm8 years ago
Get a length of aquarium tubing, the longer the better. Fill it with water leaving both ends open, and use it as a giant water level. Decide where you want the chair rail to start (level with a window, door frame, or other feature in your house) and hold one end of the tubing at that feature. Hold the other end up until the water level is at your starting feature. Now mark on the wall at the level of the water in the other end of the tubing. We've installed hundreds of feet of chair rail in two different homes using this method. If you use this method, take some pictures, and post an Instructable!
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canida ewilhelm8 years ago
The upper two pictures are of our 100+ year old house in Boston - the floors were definitely not level, so the water level was absolutely necessary. Anything else would have introduced a repeatable error.

The standard height for ~1/3 height chair rail is in the range of 32-36" off the floor. If your ceilings are extra-high you may choose to modify appropriately. You can also check your chairs against the wall to see where a chair rail would need to be to prevent smacks into the paint.

Other chair rail tips: if it's an old house, the walls may curve. In this case, you won't be able to get your rail flush. Do the best you can, then fill any remaining gap (upper and lower) with paintable caulk. In fact, caulking the top of the chair rail is a good idea in any case; you can do it while going back and puttying your nail holes.

When you start painting, be sure to paint the chair rail first. Then paint above and below, edging carefully against the chair rail. Don't use tape - you'll be there forever, and it won't look good. I started using one of those edging pads with rollers, but after a few rooms and some shadow-box moulding (upper-right picture) I shifted to hand-edging using a high-quality brush. (This requires a steady hand.) Go back and hit the inside corners with a small art brush - it can be a cheap-o disposable like you see with kids' watercolor kits.

Good luck!
Keeter8 years ago
Most people say a chair molding should be 1/3 of the way up the wall. so start with that measurement, unless you are actually using it to protect you walls, and not just decoration, then you can just slide a chair up to the wall and mark it. Then follow any of the methods that have already been described. As mentioned already, floors and ceilings are usually not level by the time construction is done, so use a level, not the wall or ceiling.
Burf8 years ago
The best way is to measure down from the ceiling line at the two most distant points your molding will run. Stretch a string line taut between the points and eyeball it and see if it looks ok. You can adjust the line a little at either end if you need to. Then snap a chalk line between the two final points and nail top of the molding to the chalk line.
Burf Burf8 years ago
I forgot to mention that you should never measure more than two places on a wall. Even on a brand new house you'll get a wavy line if you do so, and wavy chair molding is most definitely unattractive.
caitlinsdad8 years ago
If you don't want to do the chalk line thing, you can get a laser level that shines a bright red line on the wall to keep things level all around. Measure up how high you want the chair rail and align the leveled laser light to pass through that point. The laser levels are down to $20-$30 US at most home centers or hardware stores.
Bigbloosky8 years ago
Yep! It's really by the eye... sometimes it will be perfectly measured, and level, but it just doesn't look right. Trust what looks right. Also if you plan on putting tile or something on the bottom half of the wall, you need to do that first.
NachoMahma8 years ago
. A lot of times, especially in older houses, you just have to eye-ball it. If things are out-of-square far enough, it will never look just right. Jeff-o's chalk-line suggestion may make a good starting point - just make sure the line is very taut or it will sag too much.
jeff-o8 years ago
You could use a chalk line. Measure from the floor at either end of where the molding will be. Stretch the chalk line between the two points, and snap it against the wall. Then, just install the molding along the line.