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Here's How: Wainscoting Made From Drywall Panels Looks Just Like Wood

James Dulley on

Dear James: We think wainscoting would look good in our dining room. We have extra drywall here from a previous project. Can this be used instead of wood for wainscoting? -- Julie R.

Dear Julie: Wainscoting is becoming more popular again, even in newly built houses. The decorative walls are attractive, and doing just one wall can change the decor of the entire dining room. If you are an experienced woodworker, using real wood for the wainscoting is the best option, and it can be finished in its natural color.

For the typical do-it-yourselfer, using drywall to make the wainscoting is easier to do. Using drywall, even if you have to buy it new, is much less expensive than real wood. Wainscoting mostly uses many small pieces to form the wall patterns, so your old extra pieces of scrap drywall are perfect for this project.

Actually, using drywall instead of wood for wainscoting has some advantages. In addition to the lower material and labor costs, drywall does not expand and contract with changes in the humidity level as much as some woods. This means small gaps will not form at the joints, as can sometimes occur with wood wainscoting. Also, nicks in the drywall are very easy to repair.

The basic assembly concept for drywall wainscoting is to attach long upper and lower horizontal rails to the wall. Vertical stiles cut to any width and spacing you desire, and they are placed between the rails to create the wainscoting appearance. The drywall edges are finished with vinyl edge trim or chain rail. If you know how to tape drywall joints, this should be easy.

The first step is to lay out the wainscoting pattern on the wall. When determining the spacing for the vertical stile pieces, pay attention to the location of electrical outlets on the wall. You don't want one to end up underneath a vertical stile. The typical height for the top rail is 32 inches from the floor. There is no typical dimension for the horizontal spacing, so just select a spacing that is pleasing to the eye.

The bottom rail of the wainscoting is usually wider than the top rail by an inch or so. This creates a more traditional wainscoting appearance and provides space for a tall, decorative baseboard. If you plan to locate an electric outlet at the floor level, position it on its side so it is completely surrounded by the bottom rail.


Use a laser level and snap a caulk line at the height of the top of the top rail around the perimeter of the room. Unless the floor is extremely uneven, the height of this line should be about the same height off the floor. The bottom board just rests on the floor. If there are some gaps, large or small, they will be covered by the baseboard.

The drywall pieces are not heavy, so attaching them to the wall with adhesive provides adequate strength. Once all the pieces are bonded to the wall, finish the joints with tape and mud as you would any joint. The inner edges of the pieces should be covered with vinyl chamfer stop. The top of the top rail can be finished with decorative vinyl bead or real wood chair rail.


Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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