We’re just finishing up a project to install picture frame molding below the existing chair rail in our dining room.  Thought I’d post what we did to install it in case it’s useful to someone else.

Step 1

Decide on the spacing to use for the picture frame molding so that it’s fairly consistent & symmetrical around the room.  Don’t worry too much about the placement of outlets, etc. in relation to where the molding will go.

For our dining room, since the chair rail is so low, we decided to use the following spacing for long, skinny rectangles on the wall:

  • 2″ from the bottom of the chair rail to the top of the picture frame molding
  • 2″ from the bottom of the picture frame molding to the top of the base board
  • 4″ between vertical pieces of picture frame molding and corners, door casing, etc.

For help visualizing what would look right, use painters tape where the molding will be.  (Just remember to remove it relatively soon to avoid damage to the wall!)

Painters Tape to Visualize Spacing

Painters Tape to Visualize Spacing

Step 2

Use a compass to draw guide lines on the wall where the molding will go.  These lines should be parallel to any existing trim, etc. in the room.

Draw Guidelines for Moulding

Draw Guidelines for Molding

Step 3

Using the guide lines drawn on the wall, individually measure the exact length needed for each piece of trim.

We found that it’s not uncommon for each side of the frame to be a slightly different length, most probably because the house is old and not everything is exactly square.  We decided it was more important that the frames look level and square on the wall next to the existing trim rather than that they actually are level and square, so we used the exact measurements taken from the wall for each piece rather than assuming anything.

Step 4

For each piece measured, cut the ends of the molding at a 45 degree angle.  For this, we used a compound miter saw.  Even though our frames weren’t completely square in some cases, we only had one where we had to modify the angle from 45 degrees.

In the case where an outlet was positioned in the path of the picture frame molding, we cut it at a 45 degree angle and left a gap of about 3/4″ between the edge of the molding and the outlet covers.

Moulding Around Outlets

Molding Around Outlets

Step 5

Starting with the top side of the frame, attach the molding to the wall with construction adhesive and a nail gun so that it’s aligned with the guide lines.  After the top side is attached, install the two vertical pieces of molding, followed by the bottom piece.  For each piece, we found it really helpful to test fit first to make sure the length and corner miters aligned correctly.

Our walls are plaster and we were concerned at first about using a nail gun for fear that it might cause the plaster to shatter.  We tested in a closet and didn’t have any problems, so we decided to use it for attaching the molding.  It worked great, with no damage to the wall, but we found that the construction adhesive was still needed to help the molding stay attached to the wall in the places where the wall was a little wavy.

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Attaching the Molding

Step 6

With all of the molding attached to the wall, fill the nail holes, sand the edges off of the molding, and apply caulk around the edges of each frame to fill in any gaps between the molding and the wall.  We also used a really small amount of caulk to help fill in and smooth out the corners of the frames.

Step 7

Prime and paint the walls & new molding.

Since our walls were plaster, we needed to prime the walls with a concrete primer and the molding with a wood primer.  If we do this project again, we’d probably choose to prime the walls and molding before installing the molding to avoid all of the cutting in that was needed for the 2 different types of primers.

We chose to paint our picture frame molding and the wall behind it a semi-gloss enamel in the same color as the rest of the trim in our house.  For the outlet covers, we bought some unfinished wood ones that are being primed and painted the same color as the molding so they’ll blend in nicely.

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Painting the Picture Frame Molding

8 thoughts on “How To: Install Picture Frame Molding

  1. Michelle says:

    I plan to do this in my dining room. After reading your instructions, which seem very clear at first, I am still not sure if all the boxes are suppose to be the same size or are they all just the same measure up and down from the chairrail and basebosrd with an equal distance between? My walls are all different lengths and I have long windows that fall into the space. I thought I would treat the spaces on either side of the windows as separate walls and not include the area where the windows are.

  2. Sarah says:

    Hi Michelle, In our dining room, we just made sure that the distance from the base board and the chair rail, and the space between the boxes was consistent and didn’t try to make all of the boxes the same size. Our dining room is pretty symmetrical, so for us, it turned out that the boxes were all pretty similar in size, but they wouldn’t have to be.

    We’re thinking about adding similar moldings to our stairway to the 2nd floor and part of the upstairs hallway also – for that project, we’ll definitely have boxes that are different sizes on different walls, etc.

    Hope this helps! Good luck with your project.
    -Sarah

  3. John says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for posting these instructions. I’m planning on doing the same job in my dining room. Could I ask where you got the molding? The selection was a little limited at my local Lowes.

    Thanks!

  4. Sarah says:

    Hi John, Our Lowe’s didn’t have a great selection either. We got the molding for our dining room at our local Menard’s (a home improvement center/lumber yard). It’s a stock molding.

    Good luck with your dining room!
    -Sarah

  5. Sheri says:

    I love this look, and I would like to try to do this in our living room in May. Here is where I run into problems. I would like the lower walls a white/off white color, and for the top of my walls, I am looking into a rich, darker color (maybe a reddish?). Right now my base board is painted a dark blue, but I want to strip it all off and go back to the orginal wood. The wood is old, and trying to stain and match the wood grain has prooven difficult. So, do I paint the walls and leave the trim wood color and try to match as best as possible (including the chair rail), or should I just leave the base boards wood and then paint the wall, picture frame trim, and chair rails all the same color?
    Thanks for any advice!

  6. Sheri says:

    One more question…Sorry…
    In our living room, non of the walls are uniform in size. In fact, the windows are not square in the center of either wall. I am thinking for it to be uniformed, maybe I should just take each wall, or section of the wall, and measure for one box? Would this be correct. Each frame would be a different size, but there would be one box for each section, or wall. Any suggestions???

  7. Melanee says:

    Hi, ya’ll.

    Thanks for the questions and answers because they’ve really helped me; however, one more question. How do you configure the size of the boxes on each wall in one living space? I have walls that are 160″, 240″ and 123″ in the same room and connecting to it are walls that are 62″, 30″ and 92″??? I’m stumped! I know that I want to run everything 3″ from the bottom of the chair rail, from the floor and also 3″ apart from one another, but that’s ALL I know at this point. I’m crappy at math but REALLY want to do this. ANY advice would be greatly appreciated!!!

  8. Corlyn says:

    For Melanie and others wondering about box size-
    DIY website suggests: Here’s an example for a typical wall frame. The installation site has a 3-inch-high baseboard and a chair rail with its bottom edge 36 inches above the floor. Assume that you want the frame 5 inches above the baseboard and 3 inches below the chair rail. This produces a vertical frame size of 25 inches. Multiply that by 1.618 for a Golden Rectangle, and the length is 40.45 inches, or approximately 40-7/16 inches.
    Here’s another tip from This Old House site on How to Install Wall Frames: Use this formula to calculate frame sizes: wl – (s x (f + 1)) ÷ f = fw
    Where wl is the wall length, s is the spacing between frames, f is the number of frames, and fw is the frame width. So, for example, a 60-inch wall with 3 frames on it set 3 inches apart would mean each frame is 16 inches wide: 60″ – (3″ x (3 + 1)) ÷ 3 = 16″

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