What Is A Wainscoting?

Posted by on Apr 11, 2016 in Grand Finishes Blog


The word wainscot appeared in the English language in 1570 and it’s defined in the dictionary as paneling that covers the lower portion of the wall (this portion is also called the dado). It is usually made of wood and encompasses the base molding. Technically a wainscoting is comprised of the base molding, the dado, and the dado cap (also called the wainscot cap or chair rail). You’ve seen it in the photos of elegant French ch√Ęteaus as well as in the House of Seven Gables (if you’ve gone on that tour) in old Salem, Massachusetts. It originated for the same reason as moldings did: to finish off the room, lend a little charm, and hide irregularities where the floor meets the wall. It’s also believed by some that the additional paneling on the walls helped the home retain much-needed heat during the winter months. (Nikitas 41)

There are several heights for wainscoting. Puritans installed six-foot-high paneling with a top cap called a plate rail. This wide (usually about 6” to 7” deep) flat molding had a groove in it to allow plates for storage and display and to prevent them from falling. You might not see as many high wainscotings installed today, although don’t let that stop you: it can add a richness to your room, filling it with paneled walls. (Nikitas 42)


Nikitas, Matthew (2000). Grand Finishes For Carpentry: Molding Installation Projects (pp. 41-42). New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.