How to Install a Finished Wood Chair Rail

Chair rails were originally used in room finishing as a functional way to protect fragile plaster walls from impact damage by chairs or other furniture. In the modern age, chair rails have become largely decorative, and used to add a sophistication and ornamentation to a wall. They are usually placed on a wall between 24 and 48 inches above the floor. Wood chair rail comes in a variety of woods, styles, finishes, and decorative cuts to meet the needs of any decor. They are easy to plan and install.

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Miter saw
  • Baseboard trim
  • 1 1/4-inch finishing nails
  • Hammer
  • Nail set
  • Wood fill
  • Sandpaper
  • Stain
  • Paintbrush
Measure the walls around the total perimeter of the room to know the amount of chair rail needed, but excluding spaces for doors and windows. Add 10 percent to this final figure to allow for any waste or mistaken cuts.

Start at the corner of the longest wall and cut the end of the first board at a 45-degree angle to fit that corner. Some short walls will be covered by a single board, and should have another 45-degree miter joint cut at the second corner. In the case of longer walls, two boards will join together with a miter-cut seam to help make a cleaner, flat-edge transition than just butting the boards up against each other. Test-fit the boards without hanging them.

Cut the next wall's board with a 45-degree angle at the end to fit smoothly with the end of the other board. Care is necessary to get the proper angled 45-degree cut for each board to fit together seamlessly. Go through the same process for all cuts. For boards that join up with door or window molding, use flat joints without mitered angles.

Determine the height for the chair rail on the wall. If necessary, place a chair against the wall to note the approximate location. With an assistant, snap a chalk line on the wall as a guide for the molding. Use a stud sensor to note the location of the studs above the chalk line.

Attach the first piece of trim using 1 1/4-inch finishing nails with a light-duty hammer. The trim should lay flat against the wall. Be sure that the chair rail runs straight along the chalk line and use a level to periodically check each piece as you lay it.

Punch the head of the finishing nails just below the surface of the trim, using a nail set. Fill the small holes and smooth seams with wood fill putty. Sand it smooth after it dries and then paint or stain the wood to finish it off.

Tips and Warnings

  • Real wood chair rail is more expensive than pressed wood or composites, but will accept stain better.
  • This project is best if working with a partner, as handling the wood on the wall is difficult.
  • To avoid miter cuts, use decorative corner blocks to improve the look of the railing and simplify the installation.

Copyright © 2024