How To: Install Beadboard Wainscoting Like A Pro

How-To-WainscotingWainscoting is one of the best ways to dress up a boring room. And for a historic home’s bathroom nothing fits better than breadboard wainscoting. We’ll walk you through the best way to install a true beaded-plank wainscoting by highlighting one of our latest projects.

Materials Needed:

  • Beaded-plank boards in 3/4″ or 1/4″ thickness.
  • 1×4 select Pine board for the top rail.
  • 1×3 inexpensive backer boards.
  • Cove molding.
  • 1×2 select Pine for cap. (you can use any creative piece of trim to top your wainscoting. This is just what we used for this project.

Wainscoting BeforeStep 1 Prep

Take a look at the space you are planing to do the install. Remove everything from the walls that may be in the way including the baseboards and base cap if there is one. Save and label or number these so you can remember where they go later because they will be reinstalled at the end.  The sink and toilet tank will also have to be removed if you are indeed working in a bathroom. Next, scribe a level line at the height you intend to run the wainscoting to.

Helpful Tips:

  1. When determining your height remember that your top rail will go above this and the cap will have to fit on top of that.
  2. Plan to use your materials wisely. The planks come in 8′ or 12′ lengths so using a 48″ or less height for your wainscoting will allow you to get twice as much footage from your materials opposed to more than 48″.

Wainscoting Backer BoardsStep 2 Backer Boards

Use a Rotozip or keyhole saw and razor knife to remove 2 horizontal strips of the drywall the size of the backer boards. Rip the backer boards down to 1/2″ (or whatever the thickness of the drywall/plaster is) and after cutting them to length screw them into the studs and screw the drywall into the studs as well to make sure it is secured properly and flush. Each beaded-plank will get one nail into each of these back boards and the bottom plate of the framing.

Some people recommend just using construction adhesive to hold your wainscoting in place. I have done it in the past and found that installing backer boards provides a much more secure installation.

Wainscoting InstallStep 3 Install Beadboard

Start your installation at the outside corner. Cut the groove side of the two corner boards at a 45° angle. Use a little glue and get this joint tight and straight before nailing it. These first boards are the most important to set straight. Once you are happy with this joint move along the wall installing the breadboard. Continue installing keeping in mind that you’ll need to notch out for electrical boxes and any pipes.

If you’re using 3/4″ beadboard you can blind nail the boards into the backer boards through the tongue. If you’re using 1/4″ you’ll need to face nail the boards because the tongue is to thin to secure the boards properly.


Top RailStep 4 Install Top Rail/Cap

Rabbet out the back of the top rail to accept the beadboard. If you’re using 3/4″ breadboard you’ll need another piece of backboard installed behind the top rail. This rabbet allows the top rail to hold the top of the breadboard securely to the wall and hide the cut ends. Nail the top rail into the studs

For this project we cut our cap stock to 1 1/2″ and rounded the edges just a bit so that we could also install a 3/4″ cove molding underneath the cap. Lay the cap flat above the top rail and nail it down into the top rail using 15 ga 2″ nails. Don’t forget the notch the cap to accept the door casings.

Install the cove molding underneath the cap for a bit more dimension and visual interest.


Beadboard ReturnStep 5 Re-install Baseboards and Paint

Bring your baseboards back and reinstall them. Caulk all the joints especially where the baseboards meet each of the little gaps the breadboard creates behind them. Fill all the nail holes with painters putty. Then prime one coat and paint two coats with a high quality semi-gloss or satin enamel trim paint. On this project we used Sherwin-Williams Pro-Classic Semi-Gloss Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd for a nice hard finish without the messy oil-based clean up.


All Finished!

After you’re done painting you can put back the sink, toilet tank and switch plates. Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy your new beadboard wainscoting!


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by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and licensed contractor. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and sons Charley and Jude.


  1. Tim Ding on said:

    I have MDF beadboards with 0.25 inch (6.35 mm) in thickness, but the width of groove on the top rail/cap is 0.315 inch (8 mm). The gap is about 0.065 inch (1.65 mm), which is not good to hold the beadboards to the wall. Any good idea? Thank you so much.

    • I would probably plane or sand down the back of the rail/cap. With such a small difference it shouldn’t take much. Or you can insert shims before filling the gap with caulk.

      • Tim on said:

        Thank you, Scott. … Now, in Step 3, what size of brad nail (1-1/4? or 1-1/2?? ..) is used to fasten the beadboards (1/4″ thickness) to the wall (not the stud)? Thanks again.

        • For 1/4″ either length will be fine. Anything thicker will need the 1 1/2″ nails.

  2. Jeff R on said:

    Scott, I’ve been using the purpose made top and bottom rails and it’s worked out fine. But, I’m now doing a kitchen with a ceramic tile ‘baseboard’ and on the bottom am just butting the planks against the top of the tile. Ideally I could buy just the top rail, but every box store and lumber yard around only sells the top and bottom rails in sets. So, I have a lot of bottom rails paid for and unused. Any idea where one might find top rails already notched. I also looked around for decorative trim that I could notch myself, but none of it is thick enough.

    • Not sure Jeff. Hopefully you can find a use for them somewhere.

  3. Phillip Smith on said:

    Scott, I have a 1902 farmhouse and would like to install bead board in various rooms one being the bathroom above an existing cast iron tube. Is it pose to do this without water destroying the wood?

    • Phillip, as long as the pipe isn’t leaking I don’t see why it would be a problem.

  4. Joyce Simmons on said:

    Oh my! I just stumbled onto this blog! We are in our 70’s, have raised our family in a 1927 American Foursquare home in Los Angeles.Children are gone and house is in such deep need of restoring. BUT, and here’s the catch, now we are on limited income and still at our age are faced with doing it ourselves. We want to Wainscot our main bath to save on work and money. We will be installing a new ” add on” shower over the original cast iron tub.( not clawfoot). Tub has been surrounded with what my husband says is Terrazo.
    Looking forward to exploring your site and no doubt will return for ” help”!

    • Joyce, welcome! I know you’ll find lots of helpful stuff here. If you can’t find something, leave a comment/question and I’ll point you in the right direction.

  5. peg jones on said:

    I was looking for help in attaching bead boards to anew plaster division and worse to solid flint walls do you attach anything to them? Stone houses look lovely but be warned they are cold and hard to do anything to.

    • Peg, we don’t have many flint walls down here but to attach wainscoting to masonry walls its typical to install furring strips horizontally first using masonry nails or tapcon screws. Then you have a nailing surface for your wainscoting.

  6. Max Hallmark on said:

    So even with traditional lath and plaster you recommend ripping an area for a beefier backer board to attach your panels to? will this not cause the tiny cracks around your cut? I’ve made some cuts in my plaster for new outlets with my Fein multimaster but I don’t think that would be the best tool for the job in this case. Is there a reason you couldn’t use a circular saw if set to the correct depth, or is it just that the rotozip is easier to maneuver.

    • Max, on plaster and wood lath walls you really have 2 options that work well.
      1) you can install the beadboard directly on top of the existing plaster by nailing into the wood lath as support. I like to use some construction adhesive on the backs of the boards when using this method for added security.
      2) The other option is remove the plaster from the lath and install the beadboard into the lath. This method has pluses and minuses. It is more destructive and hard to reverse, but it gives a more historically accurate look since the wainscoting will be almost flush with the existing plaster.

      As for cutting plaster and lath a circ saw set to depth is my favorite method. Just be aware you may be releasing lead dust if you do this and that is a big no, no without a HEPA vac and following the EPA’s rules for lead paint safety.

  7. We want to install a similar wainscoting in our front room, which is lath and plaster on brick. Using a backer board seems like too much destruction–would you still recommend it over using adhesive and some screws into the laths?

  8. We want to install a similar wainscoting in our front room, where the walls are lath and plaster on brick. A backer board seems like too much destruction, would you still recommend that over adhesive with some small screws into the laths?

    • Bryce, it depends on how the house is structured. If the house is wood frame with a brick veneer then you should be fine using finish nails directly into the wood lath (just make sure the nails are long enough to get thru the plaster). Then the chair rail and baseboard should be placed on top of the beadboard and nailed into the studs. That will give you extra support that should be sufficient.
      If it is solid masonry walls I would probably use adhesive. Though someone might have a better solution. I’ve never run into that situation and now you’ve got me trying to find the historical solution. I’ll let you know what I find. Good question!

    • Found out that in the old days with masonry walls the builder would embed wood blocks into the masonry. From there you could attach nailers and then wainscoting.

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