Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial - Pretty Real

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

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This post is sponsored by Handy Products. As usual, all opinions are mine. Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Guys! We marked another "we'll get to it one day" DIY off our list! From the moment we moved into this home, we wanted to add trim to the dining area but we planned to hire it out. Well, guess what? We didn't hire it out. We did it ourselves and I could not love it more! This is one of my favorite DIYs yet (hence the 12 exclamation points)! Here's what you need to make your own easy box trim! Oh but before I get too far into it, let me tell you our dining room needed a fresh coat of paint in the worst way. With 3 little ones, the walls get gross real fast. Handy Products were the real MVP of this project. They have a variety of sizes of pails and trays, paint covers, and accessories that really help any job- big or small- go more smoothly! But more on paint later...

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial


Handy Paint Pail + Liners

Handy Paint Tray + Liners

Handy Paint Covers

Paint Brush/ Roller

PVC- we used this. I'll add a note about PVC vs. wood in a bit.

Chair Rail Molding

Table Saw (ours has a blade that rotates) or Mitre Saw

18 Gauge Nail Gun and air compressor*

    *You can rent an air compressor if you don't have one. Or, combo kit comes with the nail gun!

Level (a small one came in handy too)

Laser Level

Wood Filler 

Caulk / Caulk Gun (get the comfort grip- it's worth it!)

Painters Tape

Step by Step Instructions:

First, decide how many boxes you want. I wanted an odd number and 5 felt too busy so I chose 3 wide boxes. In my opinion, fewer, wide boxes give it a more modern look. 

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Next, determine the width of your boxes. Here's the formula we used:

156 (wall length) - 20 (total of four 5" spaces- the distance from the walls and between each box) = 136 / 3 (number of boxes) = 44.  

Then determine the height of your boxes. Let me be honest here- the width was easy but the height gave me some problems. I tried to use this formula:

36 (total height of trim) - 5 (total of the height of the chair rail plus the height of the baseboard) = 31 

31 (number from above)-  10 ( total distance between the box and chair rail and distance between box and baseboard) = 21. 

Well, I must have been doing it wrong because when I mocked it up with tape, the 21" height did not leave 5 inches between the trim and the chair rail as planned. In the end, since I knew I wanted the width to be 44 inches, I ended up eyeballing the height. We landed on X simply based on having a 4" distance from the chair rail and 4" from the baseboards. 

If you're better than I am at math you probably can already see my error. ha! But if not, try the formula and see if it works for you. If it doesn't, use painter's tape to determine what looks best- I would recommend having the distance from the top trim and bottom trim be the same but really it's up to you!

*Step 1: Install your chair rail. Here's a note from Joe on how to cut the chair rail to make it look more seamless if, like us, you needed to join 2 pieces together. Instead of doing a straight cut and joining the pieces end-to-end, one technique is to cut the pieces at a 45-degree angle so one piece lays on top of the other where they join which makes the seamless obvious.

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Once both pieces are cut, you can use the laser level to make sure it's straight and then nail it to the wall. We used a small level as we went to make sure it stayed straight. Our wall bows out a bit so it wasn't exact but you can't tell with the naked eye.

Step 2: Draw everything on the wall. (Optional). I read tutorials where the person drew everything on the wall. You can do that or use painter's tape. I did a combination of both. Drawing it helps because if it looks different in real life than on paper, you can adjust before you start cutting and nailing things to the wall. As long as your top pieces are aligned correctly, and your cuts are accurate, you'll be ok! *Also technically this could be step 1 if you wanted to draw your chair rail too. I knew a 3 ft chair rail was pretty standard/safe so I only drew the boxes. If you draw the tops, make sure to use your measurements as your guide- for us that meant box 1 started 5 inches from the cabinet and was 4 inches from the chair rail. You can see my 'drawings' faintly in the photo above.

Step 3: Make your cuts We wanted to do one complete box before making all of our cuts just to make sure it turned out ok. But if you're confident in your cutting skills and your math skills, you could do all the cuts at once. We used our first long piece and the first short piece as templates for the others so doing them all at once ensures they are all the same size. After we did one complete box, we made all the other cuts. The first thing we did was adjust the angle of the blade on the table saw to 45 degrees. Another thing to note, make sure the angle of your cuts is going in the right direction. (ie- note if it's an "outside cut" or "inside cut"). We noted which side was touching the table saw to check ourselves (ie "if this side is touching the saw, it's the top of the piece or the outside cut)-- this tip will make more sense as you're cutting.

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Step 4: It's time to nail those suckers to the wall. Make sure the top piece is level (use the laser or a regular level- we used both). We found that it worked best to nail the top piece all the way in using a small level as we went to make sure it stayed straight- and then just use one nail on the side pieces so we could manipulate them to make sure the angles matched up perfectly. We did not use glue but it probably wouldn't have hurt. 

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Note about PVC vs. wood. In my opinion, wood looks nicer. PVC is easier to work with and less expensive and still looks pretty good. It's a little trickier to paint and it has a sheen to it. We used satin sheen but the trim looks like a gloss. I may use wood next time but the ease and price of PVC are pretty hard to resist! Ok back to the tutorial.

Step 5: Fill holes and sand.

Step 6: Caulk all the seams.

Step 7: Paint. It would've made more sense to paint the wall before adhering the trim but we had one specific weekend to get this project done and I couldn't fit painting in prior. It's ok though-  Handy Products make painting jobs go so much smoother (no pun intended) and despite having to paint trim, and the wall(s) in different sheens and with different size rollers and brushes, it really wasn't bad! Here are some tips-

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Tips on Painting Box Trim (Particularly PVC Trim)

*Use the Handy Paint Pail to paint your trim. The nifty magnet on the pail and the ergonomic handle makes it much easier than dipping into a large tray or a can.

*Make sure to remove your painters' tape when the paint is still damp/tacky.

*Use a bit more paint than usual when painting PVC. It's basically plastic and the paint sort of 'catches' on the material if you use too little.

*Use a smaller Handy Roller Cup for your small roller- the small roller is the perfect size for painting in-between boxes.

*If using different sheens, label the sheens when not in use. Wouldn't want to mix 'em up! Oh and use Handy Paint Covers to keep your paint from drying. 

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

Box Trim and Chair Rail DIY Tutorial

That's it! I adore how it turned out. It's more traditional than what we'd initially planned but I think it adds so much character to this little eating nook. Have you added trim anywhere recently? 

Make sure to check out the full line of Handy Products here.

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  1. This looks beautiful! What color paint did you use on the walls?