DIY plank wainscoting with plywood: part two

DIY plank wainscoting with plywood: part two

We were so excited about our bathroom being (pretty much essentially) done and the fact that the sun was out so we had good lighting to take some pictures that we jumped the gun a little bit yesterday by showing you our new bathroom. I believe the last we had talked about the bathroom, we had just put the planks up but hadn’t really shown you how we finished off the final details. So let’s take a step back from how awesome our bathroom looks now that it’s done, and revisit that wainscoting.

To refresh your memory, we cut sheets of 4’x4′ plywood into 4’x6″ strips to create vertical planks for our wainscoting, and then attached a baseboard and strips of quarter round at the bottom (read all about that process here). This is what it looked like at that point:

We still had a few more steps: 1. figure out what to do on top; 2. figure out what to do with the electrical outlets; 3. caulk all of the corners and edges; 4. fill all the nail holes; and 5. paint it all again.

One of the tricky parts of the planks was cutting around an electrical outlet. It was three or four inches from the top of the planks, so we just cut a square around to give it space. You can’t just leave your light switch recessed liked that — well I guess you could, but it’d look pretty bad. There is a “diy” way to do this (which involves just using some washers to space the electrical stuff out) or you can buy a junction box extender from Home Depot. I HIGHLY recommend doing that, and that’s what we did here. I also HIGHLY recommend turning off the electrical before tackling this job. Otherwise you will get electrocuted. I know. Because I did.

It’s a pretty easy process. Just unscrew the electrical boxes, slide the extender over them, push each box back into the extender to sit flush, and then screw everything back together.

With issue number one resolved, the other switch in the room caused a problem. The other switch is about 1 inch above the top of the wainscoting. The one we just extended past the wainscoting was a few inches below. This put us in a dilemma about what to do at the top. We knew we wanted to add moulding, but we couldn’t put any moulding that was tall, either above or below the top, because it would block one or the other outlet. Our original plan was to use a plank of wood 2 or 3 inches thick and have it just mimic the bottom baseboards, but that wasn’t going to work here. We couldn’t have a piece of moulding going across the upper light switch because the switch would either have to be recessed into it or you’d be able to see the box extender above it.

I went into a deep thinking mode that I’m sure Kerry finds incredibly annoying. When presented with problems like this, I need to just get super quiet and stare at it until the fix comes to me. Sometimes it takes 10 seconds and sometimes it takes an hour. But I just need to stare, silently. So I did that. For a long time. And Kerry tried to help. And I got grumpy. And then she left me alone. And then I asked if she could help because my staring wasn’t working and we came up with a great idea together. Teamwork! Marriage!

We didn’t need to do a tall top moulding to the wainscoting. We actually thought what if we got something a little decorative (you might recognize a trend with decorative moulding), along the lines of a chair rail. At Home Depot we found just the decorative piece we wanted. We leveled that right at the top of the moulding, but we still needed something to top off the panels.

As you can see, we were doing this step after the rest of our bathroom had been installed.

We still needed to cover up the top, since you could see all the layers of plywood behind the decorative moulding. So we got another flat piece of trim to go on top of the fancy piece we already bought, and once we nailed the two together, it looked like one complete piece. Of course there was some detailing work we needed to do. On the corners and edges we cut things off at a 45 degree angle to make sure they fit together correctly.

Here you can see the flat, top piece of trim above the decorative piece, all attached to the plywood planks (we pre-painted all of these pieces before installing them, but then we went back and put a second, and sometimes third coat on everything at the very end):

We still needed to deal with the issue of that second light switch, though. The top piece of trim just barely covered the bottom edge of the light switch cover (light plates come in sizes, we recently learned, and this is the smallest size), so we simply notched out a little of the trim with a jigsaw to fit over it. If we ever have to change the light switch cover for some reason, it still has room to come out.

Kerry also made sure to fill in all the little nail holes we made so they wouldn’t show up on our final project. Then we put white, paintable caulk on all of the corners, edges, between all the pieces of trim, and along the wall — all of which made a HUGE difference in making everything look more finished and polished. Caulk can really be a miracle worker. After a good coat of paint (or three) the wainscoting looked complete.

We really like how the plywood planks have an almost aged look to them already, just because the thin plywood frayed a little during sawing, and we like how the vertical lines are maintained even after 3+ coats of white semi-gloss paint.

Check back tomorrow to see the finished bathroom! … wait, what? We already showed you that? Oh. Well. Still check back tomorrow anyway. We’ll have something for you.

— Andy

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