Introduction: Wainscot Nursery

For our daughter's nursery. I installed some raised wainscot wall panelling with crown molding. In this project, I will show you step by step how I constructed, mounted, and finished the nursery! I have seen some instructions online which call for wood as the material to build the panels but I decided to go with 3/4" MDF sheets as they were much more cost effective and since this application did not call for the panels to be weight bearing or need to hold up to much stress, MDF was the way to go. The materials that I used for this project were:

3 x 3/4" sheets of MDF

5 1x2 @ 8 feet for chair rails

1/2" quarter round strips

1/2" shoe molding

1 1/4" Pocket hole screws

Step 1: Prep the Walls

First, take care of any painting that you want to do to the room. For our Nursery, we decided to paint the walls pink, and one wall white with grey stripes as an accent wall. Painting the walls once the wainscot paneling is possible, but we decided to paint them first to remove the risk of dripping paint on the panels.

Now you need to design how the paneling will go. A good rule of thumb is that the paneling should be about 1/3 the height of the wall. I used a laser level to mark a line around the entire length of the room on all walls that was the desired hight of the finished wainscot. A laser level can be rented for about 40-50 dollars from your local home center and believe me it will save time and make your finished product much more accurate!

Step 2: Cut the MDF to Size

Since I decided to go with MDF instead of wood, I had to rip the MDF sheets to size. A table saw certainly made this step easier but I recommend the Kregg rip cut attachment for a circular saw if you do not have access to a table saw. Your home center/lumber yard will make a few cuts for you, so I asked them to cut the heavy, and very hard to manage MDF sheets in half to make they easier to rip on my table saw.

I used 5 1/2" strips for the bottom and top rails, and 3 1/2" strips for the stiles. The length of the stiles will depend on how you decide to design the panelling. For my project, I used 16" stiles.

Step 3: Build the Panels

I decided to use pocket holes to attach the stiles to the rails. This was done with my Kregg Pocket Hole Jig and 1 1/4" PH Screws. I must say that I did have some moments of frustration when the PH screws would just rip right out of the MDF. MDF does not have great strength when it comes to pulling resistance on screws because MDF is basically saw dust and glue. If I had to do this project over again, I would use a biscuit jointer, biscuits, and wood glue. If you have access to a jointer and enough clamps to hold your pieces while the glue sets, I would give that a try also, but in the end the PH screws worked out pretty well.

This step also is a lot of design and style. I decided to make the panel widths 27". One other big thing to consider is location of outlets along your wall. I took the time to mark out on the wall with a pencil where every stile would go, just to make sure that I wouldn't have a stile lining up right onto of an outlet.

Also, you will have to decide how to address the corners of the room. It is very unlikely that the length of the walls will divide perfectly with the width of your panels, so to address that, the last panel that touches the corners will have to be narrower. To make this look better, I tried to have the panels on each side of the corner be the same width. Again, this is all style and design but you will have to play around with how far apart you place the stiles to make it work for your room.

Step 4: Mount the Panelling to the Walls

I used a gallon can of liquid nails spread very liberally on the entire wall side surface and 16 gauge brads to attach it to the wall. Use that line you put around the room to line up the upper edge of the panels. If everything went right, both corners should come together perfectly.

Next, use some more of that 5 1/2" MDF strips and put pieces along the floor. This will cover up the gap that exists between the floor and the bottom rail.

Step 5: Shoe Molding and Quarter Round

At this point your paneling should look really impressive, but to give it that real finished professional touch, you will need to cut some shoe molding for the bottom rail along the floor, and quarter round along the top of the floor rail, and inside every panel. I must warn you that this sounds easier than it is. You will need a miter saw for this step to make sure that you get tight miters in each corner. In order to get a real tight miter, cut each piece and "nibble" a 1/16" or so away at a time until the piece fits perfectly. Attach with wood glue and 16 gauge brads.

Step 6: Build and Install Chair Rail

I used some 1x2 poplar to build the chair rail which went around the top of the paneling. I used a round over bit on the top and bottom of the piece and sanded to give it a nice round face. Use a miter saw and cut to length. Mount with wood glue and 16 gauge brads.

Step 7: Sand, Finish, and Caulk

I took a random orbital sander across the entire face of the project with 120 and 220 grit. Make sure you sand the joints down flush to give a seamless finish. Use wood filler putty to fill all the holes from the brad nailer and any small gaps that may exist.

I decided to paint my project white, so I used a semi-gloss finish paint and gave it two coats.

And to finish it off and really give it a professional touch, take your time and caulk every joint with the quarter round. This is a very painstaking process but you can tell from a mile away which joints have been caulked and which haven't so don't get lazy!