INSTALL CHAIR OR PICTURE RAILS

Level of Difficulty: Intermediate Do-It-Yourselfer - Moderate
Completion Time: Week-end Project

Chair and picture rails are interior mouldings that have both functional and decorative appeal. The chair rail creates a buffer between the wall’s finish and the chair’s posts, so the backs of chairs, or other furniture, don’t damage the wall surface. For aesthetic purposes, a chair rail can cover the top edge of wainscoting or wall panelling. It can also be installed as a border to other wall decorations. Picture rails are useful for supporting pictures or simply as a decorative addition to the wall. They have to be mounted securely to carry the weight.

Both mouldings are easy to install with proper tools and a little patience.

TOOLS

  • Mitre saw or Mitre box with saw
  • Mitre saw cutting supports, or Saw horses
  • Caulking gun
  • Tape Measure
  • Hammer or Power nailing gun

  • Stud finder
  • Level
  • Coping saw
  • Round file
  • Square

MATERIALS

  • Chair rail
  • Wall panel adhesive
  • Paintable caulking
  • Finishing nails or Power brad Nailer
BEFORE ASSEMBLY

MEASURING AND QUANTITIES

Taking measurements is an essential step in order to determine the quantity of mouldings required and the exact length of each piece.
Calculate the length of each wall using a tape measure. Add 12" to 24" for each wall to account for losses resulting from angle cuts. If there are obstructions that prevent you from installing mouldings (i.e. windows, doors), don’t forget to subtract them from the total length.
For aesthetic reasons, opt for long mouldings. For example, in the case of a 14' wall, use a 16' moulding rather than two 8' mouldings. You will reduce the number of joints and enhance the look of your mouldings.

CUTTING

Chair and picture rails can be made from vinyl, painted wood or a medium density fibre (MDF). They can be 16’ long so it is important to set up supports at the height of the mitre saw to hold the mouldings in place. These could be sawhorses built up to height or adjustable supports with rollers.

A simple profile moulding can be cut with a mitre saw for the inside corners. More complex profiles will require a coped joint. Set up the mitre saw in a well-ventilated area outside the room to avoid dust.
Use a good-quality finishing blade with a minimum of 40 teeth, though 80 teeth is preferable since the more teeth a blade has, the cleaner the cut.

INSTALLATION

Before you start, allow the mouldings to acclimatize for 3 to 48 hours in the room where they will be installed.

Walls should be painted and wallpaper glued. You can paint or stain your mouldings in advance. You will simply need to touch them up a bit after, and cover the nail heads you’ve concealed with wood filler. This actually simplifies the job, because you won’t need to do any masking.

Mouldings can be fastened with finishing nails or a power nailer. Never use nails longer than 2" as you might hit a wire; 1 ½" nails are perfect for the job. For a cleaner, more professional job, use a brad power nailer. Pre-drill your nail holes so that mouldings do not split. Use a drill bit of a smaller size than the nails.

On a long wall, shorter pieces can maintain the look of continuity by mitering the joints rather than having them butt together.

Chair rails are installed on the wall at a height of between 32" to 36" above the floor, either as a single decorative border or placed with a parallel railing to add an accenting border. Picture rails are usually installed 10" to 16" below the ceiling, depending on the height of the ceiling.

STEPS

1.1. Determine the height of the chair or picture rail. (between 32" to 36" above the floor for the chair rail 10" to 16" below the ceiling for the picture rail)Prepare the installation for a straight chair rail

1.2. Mark the wall at 2' intervals around the room at that height.

1.3. Use a level to verify that the marks are level and adjust accordingly.

1.4. Snap a chalk line on each wall section to mark the proper height.

1.5. Mark the location of the studs at the base of the walls. One way of doing this is to start the tape in the corner and put a mark every 16" on both walls from the corners. Use a stud finder for greater accuracy. In many cases, the studs can be found by looking at the bottom of the walls, as most drywallers leave a narrow space above the floor.

1.6. Measure each wall and write this measurement on a notepad. Start at the left of the entry door working toward the right.

MEASURE AND PREPARE THE INSTALLATION
2.1. Start at the left of the entrance and measure from the doorframe to the corner of the wall.

2.2. Make a square cut for the end of the moulding touching the doorframe.

2.3. Mitre the end at 45º toward the finished side of the chair rail.

2.4. Tack into place with either 6d finishing nails or a brad power nailer into the studs.

 CUT AND INSTALL THE FIRST PIECE FOR WALL #1

3.1. Measure from that first corner to the next one.

3.2. Cut an inside 450 angle at both ends.

3.3. Tack into place with either 6d finishing nails or a brad power nailer into the studs. Cut the other end.

Sometimes, inside corners are not square or the moulding profile is too detailed. Those situations require a coped joint.

4.1. Cut the moulding 2" longer than needed with both ends at a 90o angle.

4.2. Mark the inside corner where the first and second mouldings will join and cut at a 450 angle with the short side of the mitre towards the face of the moulding.

4.3. Trace the edge of the mitre with a pen to make it more visible and cut the excess at a slight angle along the line with a coping saw. This is called a coped joint.

4.4. Adjust and fit the coped joint to the first moulding with a round file if needed. Square-cut the other end so it butts into the corner.

4.5. Nail in place, into the studs.

COPE INSIDE CORNERS

If you need to join two mouldings along the same wall to complete the length, you can use either a 90o angle cut or a scarf joint. We recommend a scarf joint as it is less visible and provides a tighter joint.

5.1. Position both railings, as they will be on the wall.

5.2. Locate the center of a stud that is closer to the end of the mouldings. Splices should always be located over a wall stud.

5.3. Cut both mouldings with a 45o degree angle so they overlap.

5.4. Position both railings in place. Measure the length needed for the second moulding to reach the wall and cut at a 90o angle.

5.5. Set both pieces in place and nail into the stud to form a fit. Completely nail the moulding.

JOIN TWO MOULDINGS

Outside corners are mitered at a 45o angle. Since corners are not always exactly 90o, you must test fit mitres.

6.1. Use a square to determine if the corner is a perfect 90o angle. If not, cut the end of two 1' length baseboards at a 45 o angle to sample the corner angle and test the fit, making small adjustments. Take note of both angles.

6.2. Position the baseboard in place and adjust the end to fit with the baseboard already installed on the wall.

6.3. Run a pencil line up the back of the piece where it overhangs the corner.

6.4. Set the mitre saw for 45º or to the angle determined during the test fit and cut.

CUT THE OUTSIDE CORNER

When the railing is thicker than the trims it meets, such as the doorframe, you can, to avoid exposing end grain, either round the edge off or do a return cut. Professionals prefer a return cut.

7.1. Mark where the moulding should end.

7.2. Mitre the end of the moulding that is close to the trim. Make sure to cut the railing shorter than needed, approximately ½", to cover the length of the wall.

7.3. From a piece of scrap moulding, cut an outside 45o angle.

7.4. Make a square cut just where the mitered section of moulding stops. That little piece of wood will fill the gap between the wall and the chair rail and form a 90o corner.

7.5. Glue in place and lightly sand the edges.

CUT A RETURN
8.1. If the railings were previously painted, simply touch up where needed.

8.2. Fill small cracks in the corners and between the moulding and wall with a paintable caulking. Wipe off excess with a damp cloth.

8.3. Lightly sand the surface with fine sandpaper.

8.4. Apply a primer and then paint.