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Expert Contributor

Decorative millwork and moulding add customized detail to any room, entry hall, or stairway by creating a visual effect on the wall.

You can find pre-primed examples, ready to paint or stain, and a selection of finished chair rails at your local home-improvement store. Choose from smooth or textured woods to complement a solid wall, or break up the pattern between two different wall treatments. Although choosing a chair rail is a personal choice, the style and pattern should match the room's baseboard and trim. 

Millwork and moulding options can create dramatic changes in your home. So, take the time to shop for materials before starting your DIY project, and make sure you have the tools to finish the work. 

Measuring the Wall and Chair Rail

Measure carefully, because not all walls or floors are level; depending on the age of the home, floors and walls do shift. Before starting, do a test area using a tapeline to get a good visual and to make sure the line is level. Install a chair rail mid-way on the wall or 30 to 32 inches from the floor. 

Home improvement stores sell moulding in 8-foot lengths or longer. The best advice on this DIY project is to buy the length of the wall in a single piece. This eliminates the need to splice and patch, giving the millwork a nice finish. If the rail is short on one wall, use what the industry calls a "scarf joint." Cut the rail ends using opposite 45-degree angles to join both pieces. They actually lay on top of each other for a flawless surface.

  1. Measure the length of the wall from corner to corner.
  2. Use a tape measure and level to set your line across the entire wall.  
  3. Pay attention to the angle cuts of the rail ends for the corners.


Preparing for Installation

You need a miter saw to cut the end angles of the chair rail and a coping saw for curved cuts. Construction glue will hold the rail in place, while you use a nail gun to insert nails. Use finishing nails to attach the rail to the wall. Depending on the depth of the rail, you'll want to use 1-1/4 or 1-1/2 inch nails. Be sure to place them into the thickest part of the rail to avoid splitting the wood.  

  1. Mark the wall studs. Start at an inside corner with your first piece of moulding, butting it up to an existing door or window trim.
  2. Cut the corner pieces at a 45-degree angle. The ends meeting in the corner need opposite 45-degree cuts to create a seamless joint.
  3. Apply a continuous bead of adhesive to the back of the rail and line up the bottom with the chalk line on the wall.
  4. Place a level on top of the rail to level it.


Finishing Touches for Your DIY Project

  1. Uneven walls may cause gaps between the rail and wall; you can use paintable or colored caulking to fill in gaps.
  2. Patch holes with wood filler before applying paint or stain.
  3. After filling holes or gaps, sand rail and joint surfaces for a smooth finish.
  4. Paint or stain the rail and apply a final coat of transparent finish.
  5. Step back and admire your work.



Depending on your level of skill, consider taking this DIY home improvement project up a notch by creating a transitional corner piece or miter an end cap to finish an exposed rail end. Always do test cuts for a perfect fit. It takes practice to maneuver the perfect cut. 


Iris M. writes blog content for real estate; research, region and community information for the purpose of providing information to the reader, helping them with decisions when selecting a home. She writes content on a variety of subjects, pertaining to client specifics, industry related, research and informative studies, including "how to" for mass market and social media.