How to Install DIY Vertical Shiplap Wainscoting

Ever since I added board and batten to my condo’s entryway a couple years back, I’ve been a little obsessed with wainscoting. That project made a huge difference to my entryway; ever since, I’ve been convinced that wainscoting can transform a room.

Enter the living room in my new house. It needed some transformation.

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In the living room's defense, I hadn't tried to decorate it at all. Instead, I had been using it as a mini-workshop for smaller projects. But at some point, it needs function like a living room, so here we are. The living room remodel project officially begins!

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Since, as mentioned above, I'm currently a little obsessed with wainscoting, it seemed like the obvious first step. As for the type of wainscoting, plywood strips were both cheaper and easier than traditional wainscoting panels, so I went with that. I love how it turned out!

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How to Install Vertical Shiplap Wainscoting
Materials
  • 1/4" Plywood, Ripped Into Strips- See details below
  • Construction Adhesive- I used the Titebond brand, since I found it on sale at Menards, but Liquid Nails or any other brand will do just fine.
  • Brad Nail Gun and Nails- This is not optional for this project.  If you try to hammer the nails in by hand, you'll be putting up wainscoting all year. Get a nail gun. I have this awesome electric one, which is perfect for a project like this, since it doesn't require an air compressor.
  • Wood Filler
  • Paintable Caulk
  • Electrical Spacers
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Some Notes About Plywood

I purchased basic "underlayment" from Home Depot, and had it cut in-store into 6" strips. The panel saw they use chews up the "bad" side of the plywood quite a bit when it cuts (see photo below,) but I've found that the other side is just fine, and is all that shows anyway. I do a light sanding before I attach any of the boards to the wall just to be extra careful.

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As for getting it cut- I call my Home Depot Pro Desk in advance and tell them what I want done. I've done this twice now (see plywood floor project here,) and both times they told me to order the plywood online, and they'll grab the order when it comes through and have it cut as I've specified. Then I can come pick up the order when I have a chance. I find this is an excellent system. The plywood is ready when I arrive, and I don't have to feel guilty for monopolizing the employee's or panel saw's time, since they did it at a more convenient/less busy time. 

Get Started!

Have a clear plan for your project with our FREE Project Planning Worksheet. Simply click the button below to get your Project Planning Worksheet delivered straight to your inbox!

The Process
Step 1: Determine Measurements

So here’s the thing: I don’t like skimpy wainscoting. If you google “wainscoting height,” the internet will tell you to aim for 1/3 the total height of the room.

I think that looks dinky. Obviously, this is not a commonly held opinion, since designers everywhere have agreed that 1/3 the height of the room is the way to go. But regardless of expert opinions, this is my house, and I’m the one who has to live in it.

So I made taller wainscoting. I aimed for noticeably less than half the height of the room, since the internet told me that “cuts the room in half.” My pieces were ultimately each 39” long, which combined with the baseboards put me at about 47” high. My walls are 9 feet tall, so this is noticeably less than half, but significantly more than 1/3 of the wall.

You’ll want to do what looks best to you. Don't forget to consider light switches and other features that you might want the wainscoting to avoid. I actually completely forgot about this, and ended up trimming an inch and a half off of each board with a Dremel (yes, after I had attached them to the wall,) to clear the molding. Don't my make mistakes.

Step 2: Cut Boards to Size

I worked on one section at a time, cutting the boards I needed for that section, then coming upstairs and applying them to the wall. As mentioned above, my designated board length was 39”, but there were various places where I needed to cut the boards shorter (under the windows and bookshelves.)

Since I had Home Depot cut make the strips, I just had to cut them to length using my miter saw. As mentioned above, the panel saw at Home Depot did quite a number on the edges of the boards, so I also smoothed them out using my orbital sander.

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Step 3: Attach Boards to Wall

Once I had an entire section of boards cut, I started attaching them to the wall. I put a liberal amount of construction adhesive on the back a panel:

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Then I placed it on the wall. For the first panel, I used a level to make sure it was perfectly vertical. After that, I just used 1/8” tile spacers to space the boards.

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Others on the internet mentioned using nickels as spacers. While I think this would be fine for horizontal shiplap, the nickels were slippery, and just fell out of the vertical spacers. Since I had tile spacers left over from my kitchen backsplash, they were an easier solution.

Once the board was spaced properly, I nailed it in place with my brad nail gun. I did about 4-5 nails per board to ensure the entire board was flush with the wall. Then I'd move onto the next board.

Electrical Outlets

There are some snazzy ideas out there for making sure you cut the hole for any electrical outlets in the correct spot. But for these little boards, I just used guess and check. I put the board next to the outlet and estimate the correct heights:

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Then guess how centered the outlet will be on my board.

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To cut out the hole, I drilled holes in two corners of my rectangle:

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Then cut out the rectangle with my jigsaw.

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I usually had to do a bit of adjustment, but it was typically small.

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Step 4: Complete All Wall Sections

Section by section, I attached boards to the wall. For any strange corners or molding, I cut the boards as best I could to match using my jigsaw.

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Step 5: Add Molding

Using construction adhesive and brad nails, I attached molding to the top of the boards. I am not a molding pro by any means; I always end up covering gaps with caulk when I'm done.

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Step 6: Paint

I include painting prep in this step too! Since I sanded all the boards before putting them on the wall, my only prep was to fill the brad nail holes with wood filler, and any gaps in the molding or between the wood and trim with caulk. Then I got to paint!

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Step 7: Add Electrical Spacers and Replace Electrical Covers

If you add the electrical covers back onto your outlets without adding spacers, your outlets will be recessed into wall, looking something like this:

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To eliminate the gap, I added electrical spacers to push the outlet forward. Note that before I did any work, I went to my circuit breaker panel and cut electricity to the outlets. If you are unsure how to do this, check out my Breaker Box Basics post!

The electrical spacers look like this:

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To use them, you fold up the appropriate number of spacers. I just guessed what the right number of spacers was, then added more as needed.

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The spacers are placed on the screw between the metal plate and the box that's inside your wall:

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Once spacers have been added to both the top and bottom screws, the cover plate can reinstalled.

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Don't forget to turn the power back on once you've finished all of the outlets! 

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I love the way it turned out!

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I think the wainscoting looks so classy! And I had enough plywood left over to put some over the fireplace, too, which was an unexpected win!

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Have you ever added wainscoting to your home? How did it turn out? I think it's such an achievable DIY project that can completely transform a room!

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If you love the way my living room is looking so far, go ahead and check out how I accomplished those burlap walls, as well as my DIY curtain rods! And if you loved the wainscoting specifically, save it to Pinterest so you can find it again later!

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Love shiplap? Check out this DIY Vertical Shiplap Wainscoting, a timeless way to add shiplap to a room! #HomeImprovement #DIYShiplap

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