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Chair rails are popular additions to dining rooms because they offer several benefits to the decor.

Their most practical purpose is to keep the wall from getting marred from dining chairs being backed into it, but this isn’t the most popular reason for having these rails. Instead, they are used to ease transitions between paint colors or finishes, to top off wainscoting, or just to complete the overall effect of a room’s decor.

Installing one of these rails in a room is a fairly easy DIY home improvement project, but there are a couple of things to watch out for to ensure that it comes out perfectly. Here are the key steps along with some tips and tricks:

Use a Router for the Millwork

If you’re starting with a set of plain wooden strips, use a router to add millwork. Choose a bit that’ll produce the pattern you want. Alternatively, just buy the molding (spelled “moulding” in UK English) already milled.


Cut the Edges

You will need to cut the edges on an angle to make them meet up at the wall corners. This can be done with a powered miter saw or a handsaw and miter box. The angle should be 45 degrees, but in some houses, the walls are a bit off, and you’ll have to compensate by adjusting your cuts. To avoid problems, test your angles with a bit of scrap wood before cutting the actual chair rails.


Make Returns if Needed

Returns are the flat ends on rails that have the same pattern as the rails themselves. They’re used to end boards where they must stop abruptly, such as at door openings. Make the returns by cutting the end of a rail at a 45-degree angle and then gluing the end back on in the way that brings the milled pattern across the end. The result is a straight end that has the same design as the rest of the rail.


Add the Finish to the Rails

If your molding doesn’t have any finish on it, apply it before putting it up on the wall. This way, you won’t have to worry about getting paint or stain on your wall around the strips. If your wall will be two-toned or have wainscoting in a different color from the top part, be sure to choose a chair rail color that nicely contrasts with or complements both of them.


Decide on the Chair Rail’s Exact Position

In order to serve as a chair rail, even decoratively, it needs to be at a height where that purpose would make sense. That’s about a third of the way up a wall of average height, or about 30 inches. Mark a line along its intended path, and use a level to make sure it’s exactly even.


Nail the Rail to the Wall or Wainscoting

Without Wainscoting:

  • Use a stud finder to determine where the studs are behind your drywall or other wall covering. Then, drill pilot holes into the railings at these points to avoid splitting the wood. Hammer in thin nails long enough to hold the railings firmly in place. If you have a nail gun, use it.

With Wainscoting:

  • Use nails to attach the rails to the top of the wainscoting. Be sure to drill pilot holes first to keep the rails from splitting.
  • Once this is done, the project will be complete. Take a moment to admire your handiwork before you move on to the rest of your home improvement plans!
  • As you can see, installing chair rails isn’t a hard job. Even so, it is important to remember to test your angles on scrap wood. This will ensure that everything comes together perfectly.


Marilynn F. has been writing professionally since 2009 and writing for her own sites since 2000. She has written a lot of articles for builders and contractors. Most of these articles provide an overview of the services provided by clients in the industry or promote the idea of hiring them to do a certain project. Several articles offer tips for finding a builder in a certain area. Other than writing, Marilynn enjoys gardening, figuring out how to fix things, upgrading her computer on her own, green products, and many other things.

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