DIY Custom Wainscoting

Hello, and happy Saturday!

This is going to be a long post. 
This is not a tutorial  on how to apply trim to the wall to give the appearance of wainscoting. Not that there is anything wrong with that. :-) This is our tutorial on how we made and applied wainscoting in our home.

For starters, we have textured walls and I didn't like the idea of applying molding and then painting it white and calling it good. I wanted a smooth surface like wainscoting. Don't get me wrong, I have seen many tutorials of people doing just that, and it looks wonderful, but it wasn't the look we wanted. I wanted it to look like real wainscoting.

Below is a picture of my textured wall.

We wanted to use our existing chair rail, and smooth the wall below it. 

Step 1: Attempting To Smooth The Walls.
 I had come across a tutorial online on applying thin-set to the walls to hide texture. Rather than sanding down the texture, they suggested applying thinset over the texture to get a smooth surface.

Sounds easy enough doesn't it? We applied thin-set all over the lower have of our walls. Then applied another coat to get the smoothness we wanted. After the second coat, we realized it still wasn't as smooth as we really would like, so we applied a third coat.

I did a light sanding to get rid of any roughness. It was a major disaster

After doing a test patch with paint I realized that it still didn't look the way that I wanted. Not at all actually. There were some areas of smoothness and some areas that looked like orange peel where the texture was still showing through. There were also raised areas and dips in the wall. It wasn't consistent. It was a disaster. I was ready to cry. 

This is the wall with three coats of thinset. 
See the lines in the wall on the above picture? This was either from the trowel or sanding. They were all over the wall and they looked horrible. 

Step 2: Have A Meltdown - Then Fix The Walls
So now what? I have screwed up walls,  a dust storm in my house, and no wainscoting.  This is when we decided to cover the walls with MDF panels, which is what most wainscoting is made of.  

 The chair rail is 1/8 at the bottom off the wall, so if we put a panel up it needs to be 1/8 thick max.  If you go to home depot, or any other major home improvement store this could be a problem. None of them had MDF that thin. In fact the thinnest was 3/4''.

After about 6 or 7 phone calls and just when fear set in that I wasn't going to find my panels, I found a small lumber place that mainly deals with contractors that had sheets of MDF in almost any thickness you could imagine.  The price for a 4 x 8 sheet was only $10.  Yahoo!  They even had the baseboard and trim we needed at a fraction of the cost the big home improvement stores charge. 

The sheets only needed to be trimmed on the height a little so they could fit under my chair-rail. This was pretty simple.

Step 3: Apply The Sheets of MDF To The Wall.

The MDF panels covered the walls nicely, and fit perfectly under the chair rail. We used liquid nails to put the panels up, then fully secured with a few nails into the studs. Best part of all, they are smooooooooth! No bumbs, dips, nothing. 

Step 4: Apply Baseboard Trim

Step 5: Molding Squares - The Details

First we needed to figure out how many squares the wall could hold. We did some mathematical problem where we took the length of the wall, the length of the squares we wanted, and it somehow told us how many we could put on the wall, and what the spacing needed to be so that they were all evening spaced. 

Step 6: Primer and Paint!

A Few Other Details.. 

On the edge where the wainscoting met with the wall that was not going to have wainscoting, we had to do a little blending. So, we took the MDF panel and cut the vertical edge at a 45 degree angle. 

A few before and afters...



(my house was a mess)




We used caulking at the seem of the chair-rail and the MDF panels to make it look seamless. Its not perfect, but unless your looking for it you would never notice. 

You can see in the picture below the difference in texture from my wall above the chair-rail and below on the wainscoting. 

So there ya have it. The project that took a few months to finish, and nearly killed my blog. I love how it turned out regardless of how long it took. It was well worth it! 


marty (A Stroll Thru Life) said...

Oh it looks totally amazing. I have those really heavy textured walls also. Great job. Hugs, Marty


Great job! I too have textured walls and painted them before realizing, I didn't like the way they looked either so I had to cut sheets of luan to get the smooth texture. I'm glad you stuck with it and got what you wanted in the end. Looks wonderful.

Jena @ Involving Color and Home said...

Shannon, your wainscoting turned out beautifully! I love that you did the MDF and it totally makes a huge difference!