How To Install A Chair Rail? Crash Course!

It sounds easy enough, right? Buy chair rail molding, some nails, a mitre saw, and voila! In reality, it is never that easy. I am nailing into sheet rock, so what type of nail do I want to grip the sheet rock, or do I have to nail it to the studs? Next, how do I countersink the nails to hide them? (Are they nails, or brads?)

Last, once countersunk, I assume one would apply some puddy to cover the holes and then paint. To save time, I was going to use pre-painted white molding which has a superior finish thereby removing the step of painting. However, won’t the process of countersinking and puddying precipitate a need to paint…which will never match the molding exactly, anyhow. so, should I plan on painting? (Maybe pre-painted molding skips the step of priming. Can I paint over pre-painted molding?)

And, I am still trying hard to picture how two boards cut at 45 will butt perfectly at a corner (where one board is perpendicular to the next) Something about it seems like it shouldn’t work, but I cannot put my finger on it.

Any tips and personal experiences greatly appreciated…

  • Jinx

Mitres first. The cuts for the inside corner will look like this when laid next to each other:

--------------------\     /--------------------
                     \   /
----------------------\ /---------------------

If those slashes were 45 degrees, then when the cuts meet, the left piece would be 90 degrees (perpendicular).

Outside corners are the reverse:

                   /  \
-------------------/   \--------------------

If you are using what I think you are, then the product might be better described as “pre-primed”. You’d still want to put the finish coat over the top. I wouldn’t get fancy about counter-sinking the nail heads. All this takes is use finish nails, then use a nail set to get the head down. Then putty and paint.

Here’s a site with simple instructions:

Your prefinished moulding is possibly only primed. The stuff they sell at the box stores is primed, not finished.

You want to nail into the studs with finish nails. They have very small heads and come in various diameters and lengths. You probably want something that will be about 1 inch longer than the moulding thickness. Use a nailset to drive the nail about 1/16-1/8 inch below the surface. Use spackle or colored filler for the nail holes. Sanding smooth after it dries.

The article I linked to shows how to cope the joints rather than use a 45 degree cut. It’s a little more difficult, but it will look better.

The other issue is how to end the moulding where it stops out away from a corner. You might not have this situation, but if you do, the best thing is to create a “return”. This requires the end of the moulding to be mitered at 45 degrees back into the wall and a small piece with a complementary cut added to the end. This way the moulding profile is continued into the wall rather than just having a squared off end.

If you check the bookrack at one of the box stores, they have books on “trim carpentry” that show how to do this. It’s worth the money for the book. The one I have shows how to do all sorts of fancy stuff.

An air compressor with a finish nailer is a must, tap-tap-tapping those finish nails in is dangerous to both patience and finger nails. It makes for very quick work and leaves just a small mark in the wood, easily covered with wood putty.

Worry about the miter cuts, doing them right will make the job look right. Use glue to attach it with, just a few nails to hold it up till the glue dries. A 16p nail makes a good counter-sink, just get the nail head below the surface. Kids crayons make a good putty, just rub it across the sunken nail and then give a good wiping to get the excess off.

The glue would work, until you decied to take the molding down. Then you’ll have a lot of ripped up drywall to patch!

Also the crayon trick works OK with stained wood, but not if you plan to pait the molding as is mentioned in the OP>

Depending on how old your house is, 45 degrees plus 45 degrees may not add up to a perfect corner joint… better check whether the corners of the walls are square before you cut your moulding.

That’s why a lot of folks cope the joints rater than use a miter cut. If you back cut the coped section only the face of the coped piece touches the adjoining piece.