How to Install Chair Rail Molding

Using a nail gun to install chair rail molding on a wall.
Installing chair rail molding on a wall.

Adding chair rail molding is easy to do and is a great way to dress up a room in your house.

Chair rail is available in various patterns and sizes. It can be made of either solid wood or synthetic materials, such as polyurethane. Synthetic chair rail is more flexible than solid wood, making it a good choice for uneven walls.

Steps to Installing Chair Rail:

    • Measure each space on the wall where the chair rail will be installed.
    • Mark the desired distance from the floor to the top of the chair rail (usually 36” to 38”). Make the chair rail taller in rooms with higher ceilings. Use a level to check that the marks for each section of chair rail are level.
    • Chair rail that meets at inside wall corners can be joined using inside miter cuts or by butting one piece of chair rail against the wall and coping the other piece to it.
    • Outside miter cuts are used to join two pieces of chair rail that meet at an outside wall corner.
    • Use miter cuts to join two pieces of chair rail together on a long wall. Make the joint occur over a wall stud so it can be nailed securely.
    • Butt the end of chair rail against door and window casing, unless the chair rail protrudes out more than the casing.
    • If the chair rail profile protrudes out further than the door or window casing, miter the protruding molding back at a 45° angle or form a return by mitering the end of the chair rail and attaching a small sliver of molding to it.
    • Use finishing nails and construction adhesive to attach chair rail molding to the walls.
  • Fill any nail holes and caulk gaps at joints. Paint the chair rail to match the color of the trim in the room.

Watch this video to find out more.

Further Information

Danny Lipford: Begin by measuring the spaces where the chair rail is to be installed. Chair rail is usually installed at a height of 36 to 38 inches from the floor, but it’s best to check these marks with a level, in case there are fluctuations in the floor.

At the inside corners of the room, you will make an inward facing 45-degree cut to the chair rail so it miters into the rail on the adjoining wall.

If the molding profile is thicker than surrounding trim, like door and window molding, you’ll want to create a return in these locations. This means rather than cutting the trim square in this spot, you will make an outside 45-degree mitered cut.

Next, make an opposing outside miter cut from a scrap piece of chair rail, and then square cut this piece to the thickness of the chair rail. The resulting sliver of trim will be glued to the end of the rail to cover the end grain and “return” the profile to the wall.

The only thing different about polyurethane chair rail is that it requires adhesive in addition to finish nails to secure it. Most manufacturers recommend a polyurethane based construction adhesive.

Once the rail is all installed, fill the nail holes with painter’s putty and caulk the seams to prepare it for paint.


  1. tips:

    * buy pre-primed rail molding, or prime before installing.
    * paint first coat of paint before installing, finish coat after puttying nail holes once installed.
    * pre-drill nail holes aligned with studs before mounting.
    * if room is longer than your stock, start at corners and join at a stud.
    – I found that ’tilted’ crosscuts (+/- 30* miter) give better joint than 90*. Note that the cut is still 90* relative to the moulding edges.
    * Wood putty and finish coat will hide the joint well.
    * Caulk (at least) the top/visible joint. The is really not optional when placing over textured walls to get a nice finished look.


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