The technique demonstrated here on a chair rail may be used to apply other decorative features such as picture rails. You may find it useful if someone else holds the rail steady while you draw guide lines. Use a nail set to drive nails in below the rail's surface, giving the best possible finish. Make sure you do not pierce hidden cables or pipes below surface level. Use a detector to help check for their positions.

Step 1

Install the Rail on Straight Runs

Draw a level guide line around the room at the height where you want the lower edge of the rail, 3' from floor level is a commonly used height (Image 1).

Position the rail along the line and nail through its center (into uprights of a stud wall; plugging as required in masonry). Drive nails in fully (Image 2).

Step 2

Miter Cut for Corners

Use a miter box and tenon saw to cut miters for a corner (Image 1).

Check that the mitered cuts fit neatly together in the corner before putting the rails in place. The corner shown here is an internal one (Image 2).

Step 3

Mark Guide Lines for Angles

To determine where the rail must change direction, hold a level upright where the baseboard meets the stairwell (Image 1). Mark where level bisects horizontal guide line.

Hold a length of rail along the original guide line. Draw a line along the rail's top edge, reaching at least as far as the vertical mark (Image 2). Original line is at base of chair rail.

Higher up the staircase, make a mark the same height above the stair string as the original guide line is above the baseboard (Image 3). Mark distance between rail and baseboard.

Step 4

Measure and Cut for a Stairwell

Join this mark to the one at the foot of the stairway to provide a guide line in the stairwell for the lower edge of the rail (Image 1).

Position a length of rail on this guide line. Draw along its top edge, joining and intersecting with the horizontal line drawn earlier (Image 2).

Now that clear guide lines are on the wall, position a length of rail and mark off on either edge to provide the correct angle for mitering the joint (Image 3).

Cut the stairwell rail at the marked angle. Then repeat the process with a horizontal piece of rail to miter that length. Position the lengths, checking that they fit tightly together. Nail them to the wall (Image 4). Use this technique each time a rail needs to change direction.

Step 5

Using Adhesive

One way to make rails more secure is to use some construction adhesive in addition to the nails.

The drawback of using a quick-bonding adhesive is that your positioning must be fast and exact; repositioning the rail, even after a relatively short time, will not be possible.

On straightforward runs, between two casings, for example, use butt joints between the end of the rail and the upright casing, installing the rail with adhesive. Mitered joints are best installed with screws or nails, because they sometimes need slight adjustment to get a precise fit.