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Details

Install chair rails and picture rails

A chair rail is placed at chair height to prevent damage to the wall surface from the backs of chairs. This moulding can also be installed for purely aesthetic purposes, such as to finish the top edge of wainscoting or wall panelling. Picture rails are perfect for hanging artwork or can simply be used as a decorative feature. They must be mounted securely to support the weight they carry.

Both types of trim are easy to install with the proper tools and a little patience.

Notes on installation

  • The walls must be painted before installing the chair rails.
  • Chair rails are installed on the wall at a height of between 32" and 36" from the floor.
  • Picture rails are usually installed 10" to 16" below the ceiling, depending on the ceiling height.
  • Allow the mouldings to acclimatize for 24 to 48 hours in the room where they will be installed.
  • Paint the mouldings before installation, and simply touch them up afterwards.
  • Mouldings can be fastened with finishing nails or a power nailer. Do not nail too near the edge or the wood may split.
    • Use 1 ½" nails.
    • Nail every 16" ideally into wall studs.
  • Drive in nails with a nail set.
  • Conceal driven-in nails with wood filler.
  • Hardwood mouldings should be pre-drilled before being nailed to prevent them from splitting.
Measure the room and mark the cutting angles
1

Measure and plan the installation

  • 1.1 - Measure each wall and note down the measurements.
  • 1.2 - Add 12" to 24" per wall to account for losses resulting from angle cuts.
  • 1.3 - Subtract from the measurement any elements where there will be no moulding, such as windows, doors or closets.
  • 1.4 - Opt for pieces longer than the wall to avoid joints. For example, in the case of a 14' wall, use a piece of 16' moulding rather than two 8' lengths.
  • 1.5 - Determine the height of the chair rail and mark the wall at 2' intervals around the room at that height.
  • 1.6 - Use a level to verify that the marks are level, and adjust accordingly.
  • 1.7 - Snap a chalk line on each wall to mark the proper height.
  • 1.8 - Identify the location of the studs. Either do this with a measuring tape, starting in one corner and putting a mark every 16", or use a stud finder for greater accuracy
  • 1.9 - Measure each wall and note the cutting angle.

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2

Cut and install the chair rails

  • 2.1 - Start at the left of the entrance and measure from the door frame to the corner of the wall.
  • 2.2 - Make a square cut at the end of the chair rail touching the door frame.
  • 2.3 - Mitre the other end at 45º toward the finished side of the chair rail.
  • 2.4 - Tack into the wall studs with either 6d finishing nails or a brad power nailer.
  • 2.5 - For the second length of chair rail, measure from this first corner to the next one.
  • 2.6 - Cut both ends at a 45º angle.
  • 2.7 - Tack into the studs with either 6d finishing nails or a brad power nailer.

Pro tips

When using pine mouldings, it is best to drill the nail holes in advance, to prevent the wood from splitting. Use a drill bit slightly finer than the nail diameter. This step is not required if you are using a brad power nailer.
3

Cope inside corners

If an inside corner is not square or the trim profile is too detailed, use a coped joint.
  • 3.1 - Cut the moulding 2" longer than needed with a square cut at both ends.
  • 3.2 - Mark the inside corner where the first and second mouldings will join.
  • 3.3 - Cut at a 45o angle with the short side of the mitre towards the face of the moulding.
  • 3.4 - Trace the edge of the mitre with a pen to make it more visible.
  • 3.5 - Cut the excess at a slight angle along the line with a coping saw. This is called a coped joint.
  • 3.6 - Adjust and fit the coped joint to the first moulding by shaping the surface with a round file if needed.
  • 3.7 - Square-cut the other end so it butts into the corner.
  • 3.8 - Nail in place into the studs.

Pro tip

If you need to join two mouldings along the same wall to complete the length, you can use either a square cut or a scarf joint. We recommend a scarf joint as it is less visible and provides a tighter seam. Splices should always be located over a wall stud.
Join two pieces of chair rail with a scarf joint
4

Join two chair rails

  • 4.1 - Position both chair rails against the wall.
  • 4.2 - Locate the centre of the wall stud closest to the end of the rail.
  • 4.3 - Cut both rails with a 45º degree angle so they overlap.
  • 4.4 - Set both chair rails in place. Measure the length needed for the second piece of moulding to reach the wall and cut at a 90o angle.
  • 4.5 - Nail the two pieces into the stud to form a fit. Completely nail in the chair rails along the entire length.
5

Cut the outside corners

  • 5.1 - Use a square to determine if the corner is a perfect 90o angle. If it is not, make a template with two 1' lengths of chair rail. Take note of both angles.
  • 5.2 - Position the chair rail and adjust the end to fit with the rail already installed on the wall.
  • 5.3 - Run a pencil line up the back of the piece where it overhangs the corner.
  • 5.4 - Set the mitre saw for a 45o cut or to the angle determined during the test fit.
  • 5.5 - Cut the piece on the mitre saw along the pencil line with the finished side facing the fence of the saw.
  • 5.6 - Cut the second piece to the required length.
  • 5.7 - Glue the outside corners before nailing them so that they stay in place and well closed.
  • 5.8 - Nail in place.
Make a return cut at the junction of the chair rail and door frame
6

Cut a return

When the chair rail is thicker than the trim it meets, such as a door frame, professionals like to make a return cut.
  • 6.1 - Mark the point where the chair rail should end.
  • 6.2 - Mitre the end of the chair rail that will meet the door frame at an inside angle of 45o, and approximately ½" shorter.
  • 6.3 - Cut a small piece of scrap moulding at the opposite angle, i.e. at an outside angle of 45o.
  • 6.4 - In the same small piece, make a square cut from where the mitered cut stops. This little piece of wood will fill the gap between the chair rail and the wall to form a 90o corner.
  • 6.5 - Glue in place and lightly sand the edges.
7

Finish installing the chair rails

  • 7.1 - Sand the joints with sandpaper.
  • 7.2 - If the chair rails were previously painted, simply touch up where needed.
  • 7.3 - Fill small cracks in the corners and between the chair rail and wall with a paintable caulking.
  • 7.4 - Wipe off the excess with a damp cloth.
  • 7.5 - Lightly sand the surface with fine sandpaper.
  • 7.6 - Apply a primer and then paint.

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