This article is a helpful guide to wainscoting. It explains how wainscoting is built, with useful diagrams and how it can be applied to your home.

The two most common interior wall surfaces are gypsum wallboard, usually referred to as drywall or gyp board, and plaster. Wood is also employed, both as paneling and as wainscoting.

Drywall panels cover most of the walls built during the last 50 years. These panels have a layer of gypsum sandwiched between heavy paper facings. For a complete discussion of interior wall construction, please see How Walls Are Built.

But, for the most part, conventional walls are boring, blank surfaces. That’s where wainscoting and decorative moldings come in. These can give walls a sense of style.

Wainscoting features raised double panels.
Wainscoting features raised double panels. Stockernumber2 /
Wainscoting and decorative moldings add traditional style and elegance to these walls.
Wainscoting and decorative moldings add traditional style and elegance to these walls. JZhuk /

Classic wainscoting actually does more than give walls elegance —it also protects the lower portion from wear and tear because it is made from wood, which is much more durable than drywall or plaster.

Wall paneling construction diagram

As shown in the diagram, wainscoting is assembled from a variety of pieces, including wall paneling, wood panels, moldings, and more. To build it, the skills of an accomplished finish carpenter or cabinetmaker are almost imperative. Wainscoting requires intricate measurements, precise cutting, and careful assembly.

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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort