Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Go Biscuit or Go Home

After we put the kids to bed we fired up the table saw to begin the wainscoting.  Step one is a big one even though it doesn't look like there is much progress.

Hold please while I back this train up.  Wainscoting is a wooden wall treatment consisting of rails (the horizontal planks that run around the room) and stiles (the vertical slats).  You can get fancy and layer these two components with various trim pieces.  I think our living room had 14 separate pieces of various wood trim pieces per box.  We're going for a much simpler and casual look for Brady's room and just using the rails and stiles (without layering in decorative trim pieces).

One of the hardest parts about wainscoting is ensuring that each stile is exactly the same height.  1/8 of an inch variance will make a huge difference.  We bought 8' boards and wanted to get 2 stiles out of every board.  Pop quiz how big would 2 stiles out of an 8' board be?  If you guessed 4' you'd be wrong.  1/8" will be sitting in sawdust on your floor from the blade.  Our stiles will be 3.75' each.  

The way we approached this was to set up a jig by clamping the table saw to a firm workbench and clamping a pile of wood to the work bench.  The pile of wood created a fixed stop point to hold the wood against.  This ensured each stile was exactly the same length.  I think it took us longer to set up the jig than to actually cut the wood but this is a crucial step.  

Next we had to figure out the box spacing.  We laid out the pieces so that no stiles covered outlets.  It is nearly impossible to get all the boxes exactly the same on each of the walls.  One wall will have 15" boxes  and one wall will have 19" boxes.  Once it is all painted white it will be close enough.  We worked one wall at a time, dry fitting the rails and stiles.  Once we were happy with the placement we drew a line from the center of the stile straight up onto the rail.  This gave us our center point from which to route the biscuit hole. 

The next step, had I been doing this project alone probably would have skipped and it would have been a huge mistake.  Because my turd polishing, engineer husband was on the job we had to do things the right way.  I tend to do things 90% and 90% in wainscoting is not good enough.  This meant we had biscuit every spot where the rails and stiles met.  What is a biscuit?  I'm glad you asked.  A biscuit is a wooden disk glued into the grooves of two pieces of wood for a tight joint.

This also ensures the separate pieces will stay in the same plane.  It not only makes the install easier but also secures the wood for a tight connection long term even as the wood expands and contracts.  Unless your walls are absolutely perfect, getting all the wood to sit in the same plane is really difficult.  The shadows below shows you all the high and low points in the wall and yet that bottom connection is perfectly in line, held in place by the biscuit.

This shot doesn't look like we accomplished much but this was 2 hours worth of work.

Then we dry fit it again, this time with biscuits in place (not yet glued) so we could take measurements from the adjoining wall.  We'll attach it all with finish nails and liquid nails once everything has been cut.  For now here's how we're looking:

One wall down, 3 to go!
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