How to Install a Chair Rail

Lead Image
What You'll Need
Measuring tape
Ruler or straight edge
Razor knife or saw
Wall glue or small nails
Putty knife

Adding a chair rail to a room can make a sharp statement. The texture and visual interest can bring a customized feel and instantly upgrade your home. Plus, it's one of the easier do-it-yourself projects you can do.

Preinstall To Do List

Before you purchase the chair rail you need to measure the room to know just how many feet you're going to need. You also want to look at the wall and figure out where the rail is going to go. For some this is easy if it's a separator between two different mediums (say, wallpaper on top and paint on the bottom), but if you're just adding it to a solid tone wall, choose an approximate line where you'd like for it to sit.

If you need help with this, grab a chair, since the original purpose of a chair rail is to stop chairs from marking up the walls. Place a chair against the wall and see where it would rub. This is the natural placement, however, some home designers like to place it as high as shoulder height, and there's nothing wrong with that, either. Chair rail gives the eye a place to break up space, so place it wherever you think it's going to look best.

Once you've pictured it in your head and have the necessary measurements, you're ready to shop. In addition to how many feet you'll need for length, you'll need to have an idea of what width you'd like. When you're separating wallpaper from paint on a wall some like using a very thin trim line or rail, while others prefer a wider chair rail. Widths vary greatly -- it's very much a matter of preference. Looking at the chair rail in your home store will help you decide which is best for your room.

Types of Chair Rail

There are different types of wall trim and chair rail. If you choose one made of wood, you'll need to be ready to make cuts using a saw. You may also get your home store to make the cuts for you for an extra fee. If you use a foam chair rail, you simply use a sharp razor knife. You score it on either side and snap it to break it off where you made the cut.

Benefits to the two types of trim:

  • Foam Chair Rail: Inexpensive, easy to cut, pre-painted, easy to install
  • Wood Chair Rail: Pre-painted, easy to install

The Installation

Grab a pencil and a tape measure and measure how high you want the rail to go on each wall. Grab a ruler to help you make straight lines so that your rail is completely straight. Make a few marks at the height you choose on each wall and then connect them with a straight line. This will be where the chair rail will be installed.

Next, measure your first wall and then measure it out on the chair rail to make your first cut. Make your cut with either your saw or razor knife and hold it up to the wall, ensuring you cut it correctly for a snug fit. The chair rail, whether it's wood or foam, can then be nailed or glued to the wall.

  • Nails: If you're putting the chair rail up with nails you'll need a small, thin variety with small heads. Nail the rail approximately every 12-18 inches to secure it to the wall. Later, you can use putty to cover the nail head if you wish.
  • Glue: With foam rail it's much easier to use a spreadable wall glue rather then nails. Simply spread a layer of glue with a putty knife and then press against the wall. To get it to hold for the hour or so it'll take to dry, you can use painter's tape every 6-12 inches.

Once your chair rail is up you'll likely need to caulk it, especially if it's in a bathroom or kitchen and if you've used glue to install it.

If you did use glue, wait 24 hours before you run the caulking around it as the whole thing needs to settle into place. Once the caulking has dried, you can touch up any paint on the wall or chair rail.

See how easy that was? Installing chair rail is an easy project, and one that helps give any wall or room an elegant and finished look.