DIY Dictionary: Chair Rail

What’s chair rail? Chair rails are horizontal moldings applied to walls designed to protect them from ‘irrationally exuberant’ chairs on the move. Not…

chair rail

What is Chair Rail?

Chair rails are horizontal moldings applied to walls designed to protect them from “irrationally exuberant” chairs on the move. Not surprisingly, they’re usually installed about 30 inches from the floor—the approximate height of most chair backs. Aesthetics also play a role; proportionally a wall looks best with the chair rail positioned about one-third of the way up from the floor. Chair rails also serve to cleanly define space so you can apply different wall treatments—wallpaper, paint, wainscoting—to the upper and lower sections of a wall.

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There are dozens of profiles and sizes of chair rail. Some can be as simple as a single 1×3, while others contain numerous convex and concave profiles. Others are “built up” consisting of two, three or more moldings stacked to create a period look.

Installing chair rail is a great DIY project, even for beginners. The materials are relatively inexpensive and you can get by with basic hand tools and a miter saw—either manual or powered. The biggest challenge? Figuring out the best and most attractive way to butt chair rail moldings into existing window and door trim—especially if that trim is thin.