Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wooden Wainscoting Adds Warmth to Rooms

There's nothing quite as lovely as rich, wood paneling in a room - especially if it's a Victorian drawing room.

I wish I had taken pictures of this project in the stages of its development so you could have seen how it went together. I've admired several other blogs where the reader can see the project evolve with details step-by-step photos, but unfortunately, I did this work before I began the blog. Next time, I'll do a better job of documenting!

There are many ways a crafts person can make a paneled room, and it doesn't have to be as fancy as this one. I chose to use picture frame wood (PFE-5) from Northeastern Scale Lumber to create more personality to the panels.

Northeastern also makes raised panels that you can purchase. The raised panels, of course, could also be used with the picture frame wood that I used, and it would have been an even more involved "look" to the wall. I have some of their panels in one of my stashes of "someday" stuff that I've purchased, but I decided I was happy with this slightly simpler look.

The first step is to measure the wall to determine how wide the overall wainscoting will be on the wall. Next, determine how wide the wood dividers will be between each panel. I chose to make my vertical dividers a half-inch wide. Ultimately, in the finished form, the columns appear to be 3/8" wide. That's because the PFE-5 molding is 5/32" wide, and part of the molding is cut away so that it can overlap the wood it attaches to. As a result, part of it projected over the half-inch dividers. Knowing this, I could then calculate how wide each of my panels needed to be to fill the space. (This is also why I didn't use the Northeastern raised panels - the spaces I was working with were too variable, and I didn't want to fuss with ripping the raised panels to make them fit.)

I used basswood sheets that I bought at a hobby shop to make the wood panels. I purchased some 1/32" thick basswood in 4" sheets. This became my vertical wood that you see in each panel. Next, I cut 1/16" basswood for the various pieces of wood that were the vertical and horizontal dividers.

The most critical part of building the paneling is to make sure the pieces you cut for the dividers are exactly the same length. It's very difficult to hide any gaps in this kind of woodwork, and they show up dramatically if one piece is shorter than the rest. (Voice of experience here...)

The picture at right illustrates how I used my vernier caliper to measure the inside dimensions of each panel. Using the caliper, I was able to make minor adjustments to my upright pieces so that they were evenly spaced. The caliper is not a terribly expensive tool, and it has come in handy any number of times. An alternative tool to use would be a compass. The point of using either is that you can lock them into a set width, and then you can use the tools to compare the different panels to make sure all of the spaces are the same.

Cutting the PFE-5 molding was challenging, because you can't just measure the inside space of each panel and then cut the molding to that width. It has to be wider than that, since the edges project out a little more.

I started out cutting my pieces just a little too wide, and then slowly sanded and trimmed until the piece fit into the space without having to be forced in. I used the hand shear that I featured a couple months ago (purchased from MicroMark) to cut the mitered angles on the molding.

Before I glued the pieces into place, I stained them. That way, there was no concern that if I accidentally had any glue work out onto the finished wood I didn't have to worry that it wouldn't take the stain. I dipped a corner of a tissue into the stain and then each time I cut a mitered corner, I'd touch the stain-dampened tissue to the raw end of the miter. (It just takes a gentle dab to get the stain to absorb into the ends of the raw wood.)

Notice how the horizontal pieces of wood stretch across the entire wall? This adds stability to the panel. Unlike a full-scale wall made of wood, the miniature wall doesn't have to have floating panels, such as what you'd find in a real wainscoting piece. I cut the vertical back pieces in widths so that the places where the wood is pieced together, it's covered by a vertical divider.

Once the wall section was complete, I wiped it down with a tack rag and then sprayed it with Deft. I let that dry, then rubbed it out with 0000 steel wool, used the tack rag again and sprayed it again with Deft. I put three coats of Deft on it, rubbing it out each time with the steel wool. Then I let that sit for a couple of days to harden. Finally, I applied a thin amount of furniture wax and then used a soft brush to remove any excess wax and to shine up the wax. Finally, I glued the wall into place.
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