This short guide will give you a method to build a simple chair rail that is inexpensive and easy to build. The end result provides a much more finished look that your typical off the shelf molding can. With the cost of molding today, the price per square foot should be about half (50%, 1/2) of what you would spend for molding and will look like a custom job. Hey, it is a custom job.
Router Bit (chamfer bit, cove bit, or any other profile you would like to see)
Table Saw (optional. Purchase your lumber in the exact width -1″x2″ nominal- if you don’t have one)
150 grit Sand Paper
Pine board: For each 8′ of wall length, you will need 1 8′ 1″x4″ pine board. As knot free as possible without spending too much.
2″ finish nails
Paint (trim color of your choice)
Caulk (I prefer White Alex Plus Acrylic Latex Caulk Plus Silicone)
When you begin, you should already have your wall surface material in place. In this case, you can see that we used a Ply-bead material. Once that is secured to your wall, you will add your face material. This must be nice and level as it supports that cap and provides you with the nice visual level line. Your cap piece will be secured to this. If you desire a profile on this piece, do so before securing. In our case, we routed a 45 degree chamfer on the lower edge. When you ease the edge of a trim piece, it gives a much nicer (and more professional) visual.
You should either have a level line, or level as you go. The length of your run will probably determine which way you go. If you are doing a 20′ long room, snap a level chalk line, or use a laser level to create a line to follow. Secure your 1″x2″ to the wall using your finish nails. The 2″ face should be against the wall and your profile (chamfer or other) should face down.
Once secured, you are ready for your cap. The cap pictured is simply a 1″x2″ piece of poplar. You can use any type of lumber, but I prefer poplar due to the lack of knots and ability to hold paint very well. Set your piece down upon the face molding that you just secured and press so that it is flush with your wall. Just about any wall will have some waves or imperfections. You can take much of that out by pressing your lumber cap in toward the wall. If you are using a white paint (like me) you will be able to cover anything that exists with a nice smooth bead of caulk.
Once your cap is in place, simply secure with finish nails by nailing into the face piece below (the 1″x2″ piece). You should angle back to avoid exiting out the face.
There you have it. A simple chair rail detail that is inexpensive, professional, and custom looking. Good luck with your own chair rail. Get creative and consider incorporating moldings into your face piece. The room that the 1×2 cap piece provides will allow you ample depth to experiment.