Today I’m going to offend woodworkers and preservationists around the world and tell you how I made this 12-foot-long piece of 109-year-old wainscoting…
…fit on these much smaller walls…
…without any major woodworking skills whatsoever. The answer, my fellow DIY rookies, is sacrilege.
I cut it. I cut it many, many times, and then I put the pieces back together with pocket screws and wood glue.
“If you needed 58 inches of wainscoting,” you might be asking, “couldn’t you just cut 58 inches from your 12-foot piece and call it good?”
No. Because 58 inches would leave me with 1/2 a panel hanging out at the end of a row of full panels, and no room for a stile to end the pattern. Translation: It would look like an obvious patch-job. And more importantly, it would allow anyone who walked into the room to look at that corner and say, “What the hell were they thinking?” One of our goals, while we were demolishing the kitchen almost a year ago, was to leave any future owners fewer “What-the-hell-were-they-thinking” moments than we found.
And now, I’ll show you exactly what sort of horrible things I did to the wainscoting, all in the name of making it look like it hadn’t had horrible things done to it.
First, I did some calculations to figure out how many panels I needed, and exactly how wide each panel needed to be. My calculations looked like this:
I would tell you what all this means, but the truth is, I don’t know. Remember that scene in “Old School,” when Will Ferrell’s character had to debate?
And you expect him to blow it, but then he blacks out and spews out brilliance instead? My calculations were like that. Science can’t explain it. All I know is that I needed 6 panels, and each panel had to be 5/8-inch narrower than its current width.
So I started by cutting 6 panels off of my 12-foot section. Then I marked 5/8 of an inch in the middle of each panel.
Then I started cutting. I ended up with this:
Then I flipped all the pieces over and drilled a bunch of holes for pocket screws.
And finally, I spread on some wood glue, and clamped and screwed the pieces together, just adding one at a time. Oh, but we don’t have any 5-foot-long clamps, so I used the ratchet straps that we use to tie stuff to the roof rack of our car.
When it was done (real-time confession: the previous 500 measly words and handful of pictures actually represent a full 3-day project, plus a fourth day in the middle where I just had to walk away), I hung it on the wall (crookedly the first time, then I had to take it off and ask Chris to help re-do it — with a level). Then I re-installed the chair rail and baseboards, and voila! Now it looks like this:
Skillz, yo. Mad skillz.
I was going to put little arrows all over that picture to show you where the seams are, but then I thought, meh. If you can’t see ’em, they probably aren’t there. Besides, the next step (just to rub salt in the wound) is to paint it. “Putty and paint make a carpenter what he ain’t,” amiright? Besides, here’s what the unmutilated wainscoting looks like in the rest of the room:
So you can see, it’s not like I mangled perfectly-preserved woodwork. It’s seen a lot of abuse over the last 100 years, and I think it would appreciate a face-lift.
For those out there who are cursing my name right now, I want you to know that I hear you. I did not want to cut the wainscoting just as much as you did not want me to cut the wainscoting. But I am planning to redeem myself (slightly). My next big project around here involves re-creating the original casing for the doors and windows. Right now, things are still looking a bit unfinished:
And I’m going to fix that by making more of this stuff:
That’s right, no generic, off-the-shelf Home Depot millwork for us. (And no custom millwork made by professionals, either — not for the $2,200 I was quoted.) I’m gonna make it myself. And, I think I’m about to get my ass handed to me in a real wood shop. I went to American Workshop and asked for help on this one, so stay tuned. We might actually learn something.
By the way, remember those pictures of my dining room I showed you last week, after my living room cleaning spree? Well, after the wainscoting was installed, I went on another cleaning spree. Two days of purging and scrubbing and vacuuming and removing every individual slat from three 6-foot-tall blinds…
…I’m proud to say that we have a dining room we can actually eat in.
It’s like having a real house again, guys. A real house with a dining room that’s actually connected to the kitchen. Here’s a good before-and-after for ya:
Mangled wainscoting or not, you gotta admit that things are looking quite a bit better in the “after.” Especially minus the doorway to our Big Pink Bathroom. Which is now our Small Green Bathroom, and NOT located in our dining room.
And especially with that big opening into the kitchen.