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DIY Wainscoting for Under $50

A lot of people really love the wainscoting look, myself included! You can create different patterns and add unique character to your wall that is absolutely beautiful! However, I feel that most don’t go that route in decorating their home because they think it is super expensive.

Well, let me share my secrets with you on getting a DIY wainscoting look for under $50. Yes, you read that right!! I spent under $50 creating this look for my bathroom. Wainscoting doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, and you can save a lot of money doing things yourself.

You can create this look easily if you have the right tools and a little patience.  I’ve been working on our main level bathroom, and I wanted to share with you how I created my DIY wainscoting walls, keeping budget in mind.

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Materials Needed for DIY Wainscoting

  • Chair Rail
  • Base Molding
  • 4 ft x 8 ft 1/4″ thick sheet of MDF
  • Table Saw
  • Chop Saw
  • Nail Gun
  • Tape Measure
  • Level
  • Blue Tape
  • Brown Painter’s Paper
  • Lightweight Spackle
  • Acrylic/Silicone caulk
  • Primer
  • Paint

Add Chair Rail and Base Molding

The first step is to add a chair rail and base molding to your space. Nail these in with a nail gun. The holes can be covered up later. You’ll want to place the chair rail about 1/3 of the way up your wall. This is around 32 inches high on my wall.  Also, a tip for when you are cutting.

Always go by the rule, measure twice and cut once. This will ensure that you are taking the right measurements and not wasting wood if you make a wrong cut. This will save you money in the end so it’s worth it to take a little longer and do it right.  When you are putting up your moldings use a level to check frequently to ensure your moldings are level.

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Rip Down the Sheet of MDF

We used our table saw to rip down our sheet of MDF to 3″ thick strips.  Once our MDF was ripped down we placed one stripe just under our chair rail and one on top of our base molding.  We used our nail gun to secure our stripes.

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Continue around the room to install the top and bottom molding.  When we get to the corners we butt the pieces up to each other. Any small gaps can be filled with caulk, but you really want to get the pieces to line up as close together as possible.

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Add the vertical stripes

This part is important!  How close or far apart you place your vertical stripes will determine the look of your wainscoting.  I wanted mine to be large squares. (Remember you can choose any design for a wainscoting look.)  I measured top to bottom which was 20″ so I placed my vertical stripes 20″ apart.


DIY Wainscoting | Start at Home Decor | Woodwork | Wall Decor | DIY | Bathroom Remodel | Tile Flooring

Fill Nail Holes and Caulk Cracks

A basic lightweight spackle filler is all you need to cover up those nail holes.

The nice thing about spackle is it doesn’t shrink.  I use my finger to apply it to all of the nail holes and then after it is dry I sand it down with a 220 grit sand paper.  Once everything is painted you won’t be able to tell there was ever a nail hole!

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I also caulk all visible cracks to make sure everything is sealed in properly with a nice clean edge. Try not to use a ton of caulk because your woodwork can easily lose that clean, crisp appearance if you have too much caulk bubbling up on the sides. I use an acrylic/silicone caulk that is paintable.

To apply my caulk I run the caulk gun along the seam, next I take a damp rag and run it along the creases where the caulk is.  This helps to smooth the caulk and removes any excess.


Prep for Paint

Sand everything down that you have patched up and make sure all caulking is done. Wipe the walls down after you’ve sanded so you don’t have dust flying all over the place. Also make sure your floor is covered before you begin the next process. I use brown painter’s paper and blue painter’s tape to do this. It makes for easy cleanup.


Prime away! Kilz is a great brand to use if want a decent primer that won’t break the bank.  The MDF is a raw product, so it must be primed in order to seal it, otherwise your paint will not go on even.

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Spray moldings

Next comes the paint! I sprayed two coats of paint, letting them dry in between each coat. I used White dove by Benjamin Moore in Semi-gloss.  I sprayed everything because I wanted a smooth finish for my wainscoting, it is also slightly difficult to brush paint with a Semi-gloss paint and get it to look good.  However if you are going to use a brush try adding Floetrol to your paint, it will make it easier to apply your paint and it helps eliminate brush strokes.   Semi-gloss is always a great option to use for making sure woodwork holds up with a nice finish. For more tips on how I get a professional looking paint finish click here.

DIY Wainscoting | Start at Home Decor | Woodwork | Wall Decor | DIY | Bathroom Remodel | Tile Flooring

And voila! There you have beautiful DIY wainscoting brightening up this small space. Keep in mind that a bathroom doesn’t have the same square footage as an entire bedroom, so if you plan to do this in a large room it will cost a bit more. But this amount is perfect for a bathroom or accent walls. Happy DIY wainscoting!

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  • Debbie

    It turned out so beautiful!! ❤️

  • Chris from @our_dirt_road_life

    Brooke, you have made this look so easy. I may tackle this in our small bathroom. I’ve been wanting to do something in that space but didn’t know what, your wainscoting not only looks amazing but is completely affordable! Thank you first sharing.

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