Installing Picture Rail Moulding

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Decorating a cookie cutter house is full of creative challenges, mostly where character is concerned. We live in a 1959 ranch that would be pretty run of the mill if it wasn’t for the brick wall in our kitchen and living room. But the bedrooms? Uninspired blank boxes with zero interesting elements.

I was considering how to add some character to my daughter’s new bedroom without just throwing more stuff into the small space. Clutter does not equal character. I felt a little envious of the wide moulding and beamed ceilings of spaces I was pinning to my Pinterest boards, when the thought occurred to me—I could add my own touch of architectural interest to the room with a functional picture rail!

I love the interest that breaking up wall color adds to a space, and finishing off the transition between colors with moulding adds an elevated look to the room. Throw in the picture rail functionality to the deal, and the bland room now has a generous dose of character! Not to mention my drywall has been saved from many future nail holes as artwork gets rearranged on the walls. Check out how I did it below.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Materials:
-moulding with curved top that fits your picture hook
-picture hook (I used these)
strap hangers (for mounting on the back of picture frames to attach the wire)
-wire (I used this wire)

Optional Materials:
-duct tape (helpful during a dry fit when working with less hands)
-wood glue (if you are joining together different pieces of moulding)

Tools:
-level
-nail gun or hammer with a nail set
-miter saw

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.MG_2599Selecting the Moulding

I purchased my picture rail hooks before selecting my moulding because I envisioned myself ordering hook after hook, only to find that they didn’t fit the moulding I had purchased. I brought the hook with me to the lumber yard and asked the millwork men if they had any picture rails. They look confused. Not good. When I explained what a picture rail was, they understood, and said, “No, I’m sorry, we don’t have that.”

So I looked around the lumber yard at the seemingly endless selection of pre-cut moulding and finally found one little strip that perfectly fit my picture rail hook. I brought it to the same guy and said “Found one!” He said, “No, that’s pencil moulding.” I said, “Not anymore! Now it’s a picture rail.”

The problem with the pencil moulding was that it was just really skinny. Not exactly the dramatic detail I had envisioned for the room. So I looked around at the other moulding before I found another profile that looks great when resting below the pencil moulding. I had them cut the pieces to the measurements I had made of our room (with a little extra just in case), and brought them home in my parents’ mini van.

Because I’m not a master craftsman, I didn’t use any fancy installation techniques, such as fashioning coping joints, but I did get the job done with professional looking results. Check out my tips to get the same look in your own home.

Tip #1: Glue together your strips of moulding before trimming and installing. To get started, I glued together the lengths of moulding (before trimming them) so they could be installed in one piece. To do this, I simply ran a bead of wood glue along the pencil moulding and used duct tape as a clamp to attach it to the other strip of moulding. Make sure to wipe down any seeping glue right away or it will harden and become almost impossible to remove.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.After the glued moulding had dried for over an hour, we measured each section of wall and began cutting the pieces of moulding to fit. I used a miter saw to cut 45 degree angles where the moulding would meet in the corner. Against door frames, I just cut the moulding straight across. As you can see above, the angle of miter saw can be adjusted to the specific angle you cant to cut. My saw locks into place at common angles, such as 45 degree angles, taking away any guess work as I cut.

Tip #2: Always cut the moulding a bit longer than you think you need it. It might mean lots of trips back to the miter saw, but it’s better to take your time than to trim a board too short. You may end up needing to recut your angles because…

Tip #3: Your walls may not be square, 90-degree angles, so don’t assume they are! As you can see below, my walls were not square, so my angles were too obtuse to fit together. I had to shift the angle of my miter saw to make the angled ends of my moulding more acute. After recutting each piece of moulding to something closer to a 43 degree angle, the corners fit together perfectly.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Tip #4: When tweaking the angle of your cuts to ensure a good fit in the corners, both pieces of moulding must be cut to the same angle. If you cut one piece to a 50 degree angle, but leave the other angle at a 45, they will not match up when fit together. They must be cut to the same angle, such as 48 and 48 degrees.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Once our corner angles matched up perfectly, I trimmed the end of that piece (shown above) to fit snugly against the door frame. When we were checking the corner miters, we held the boards above the door frame so the untrimmed board could rest flat against the wall to accurately check the corner fit without cutting the board to fit inside of the door frame. I wanted to save some length in case I needed to make more cuts at the corner to get a good fit.

Tip #5: Do a dry fit before painting and installing the trim. We used duct tape to hold the moulding up to check out the joints as we trimmed each length of moulding. We didn’t leave the duct tape up for very long, so it didn’t leave any marks on our walls.

Tip #6: Use a level when installing the moulding— don’t rely on paint lines or chalk lines.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Tip #7: Nail the moulding into studs. These rails should be capable of bearing heavy weight on the hooks, so make sure they are secure by fastening them into the studs on the wall. Use a stud finder to locate the studs and mark them with masking tape to make installation quick and easy.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Tip #8: Hide imperfect joints on painted moulding (not stained wood) by caulking the joints and painting over the caulk. I cut one of my pieces too short and actually had to piece a sliver of moulding into the corner to fix my mistake. The joint still wasn’t perfect, but I was so over it by this point, and the gap ended up not even being visible in the end, thanks to a little caulk and paint!

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Tip #9: Cover nail holes for a nice finish. I painted my boards before installation, so I used a synthetic filler to cover the tiny nail holes, then dabbed primer and paint over each spot so that they’re now unnoticeable.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.For the best paint job:

I chose to paint the moulding before installation because I didn’t want to be 7 months pregnant priming moulding in an enclosed area on a ladder. Very bad ideas, all of them. Also, when priming raw wood, there’s lots of sanding between coats involved to get a professional finish, and it’s just a lot easier and less messy to do that outside on saw horses. Here are the steps you should follow to get silky, smooth painted moulding:

1. Lightly sand down the unfinished wood to remove any splintered cuts or rough surfaces. Then thoroughly wipe away any residual dust.

2. Spray with one moderately heavy coat of primer. Don’t spray it on so thick that it drips, though. My favorite primer to use is 123 primer. It works really well to fill in any wood grain that might be visible, too.

3. Wet sand the first coat of primer with 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper (just keep dunking the sandpaper into a bucket of water as you sand to keep things wet) or buff it with grade 0000 steel wool (which is what I did, since that’s what I had on hand). Wet sanding works to really smooth out any unevenness in the finish caused by pronounced wood grain, but if you’re using a wood like poplar without pronounced grain, buffing with steel wool is probably good enough. Do not skip this step, though, because it will make the finish sleek and smooth, removing the little hairs of the wood that pop up when the primer initially soaks into it.

4. Spray with one more coat of primer.

5. Finish with two or three light coats of your semi-gloss paint. Semi gloss is a great finish for moulding because it is sleek, easily wiped down, and the paint finish isn’t easily damaged by cleaning products like eggshell or even satin finish paint is. Spraying the paint will ensure a smooth finish without brush marks, but brush marks aren’t the end of the world!

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Once your touch-ups are dried and cured, go ahead and hang some pictures! I mounted strap hangers on the back of the side rails of my picture frames so I could easily attach wires on each side. I cut each side’s wires to be the same length, then looped the top and twisted the wire around to secure it in place, as shown above. While holding a level on top of the picture, I pulled on one side or the other of the frame to tighten the wire as needed in order to make the picture level.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.The wires are practically invisible from a distance, but I think visible wires would look really great. I might look around at alternative ideas to use for cords.

Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Decorative picture rail moulding adds a touch of character to any space. Click through for tips & a detailed how-to post.Things look much more polished in Lucy’s big girl room with the addition of the picture rail moulding. When she got home and saw it, she squealed with delight. I said, I know! So fun, right? –Mandi

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Valentine and Stella from the Signature Collection.

  • What about installing the picture rail on a DIYed brick wall? My brick is uneven in some places, but I like picture rail as a solution for no-drilling/no puncturing my beautiful brick.

  • Hi, I see this post was from a few years back, but I wanted to share a tip I learned. I’m a professional artist- landscape painter. Sometimes with a hanging “system” such as this with wires, the paintings or artwork will tilt out from the wall and it can be unsightly. One solution to prevent this is to attach a heavy duty staple to the top back of the frame directly above the D ring or strap hangers as you called them above, then run the wire through the staple before attaching the wire to the D ring. Also the staple has to be eased out enough for the wire to run through….. the staple basically keeps the wire tight to the top of the frame thereby preventing it from tilting out…. tricky to explain, maybe I will post something on my own blog someday. Thanks for the post. I have seen where some people use screws instead of nails, in case you have heavy paintings.
    Thanks,
    Matthew Lee
    http://matthewleestudio.com

  • DO YOU HAVE NAMES OF HANDYMEN/WOMEN WHO CAN DO THIS?
    I CANNOT TRY THIS BUT WOULD LOVE TO HAVE IT INSTALLED BY A PROFESSIONAL.

  • Hi Mandi!
    I’m in the process of buying a house…and I was already thinking of doing this in the basement. The walls are all cement block. Any suggestions for trying to do this one a concrete wall…?

    Cheers!

  • We had this in our old house which was built only a few years before yours, 1951. I found different color cord on Van Dyke’s Restorer’s website. Our new place doesn’t have the moulding in every room and I miss it, but I did pass along our cord and a bunch of hooks to my mother-in-law who just bought a house which the same kind of moulding.

  • After reading your post, I think every house needs to have picture rail moulding! It’s so versatile and flexible without damaging the wall paint like typical nails. If only I have a handyman to help…

    Juju Sprinkles
    http://www.jujusprinkles.com

  • I searched for double bed rail on Google shopping and found them there. I just look again and this looks like the same thing: https://www.4mdmedical.com/index.php/catalog/product/view/id/40263/s/security-bed-rail-30-two-side/?CAWELAID=120141310000056386&CAGPSPN=pla&gclid=CJy2iKHjvMUCFZWCaQod40oAQQ#.VVI-pmRVhBc

    -Mandi

  • Looks great! Wonderful idea.

    Ps wondering where you got your bed rails?

  • This makes such a fun statement for a picture wall!

    Paige
    http://thehappyflammily.com

  • That is really sweet Mandi! Love it!

    Jo
    http://www.womaninreallife.com/

  • Great idea! Can you tell me what the wall color is please? I love it!
    Thanks,
    Carol

  • Such a wonderful project. It looks very professional and I think it was a creative way to add architectural interest and decor into the room.

  • A friend of ours did this in her living room and the art is ever changing. We love it!

    xo Heather and Melissa
    http://golddippedchaos.com

  • Oh wow, I have never seen anything like this before, it is perfect! Love how quirky it is.

    www.thestylecheck.com

  • I love it! I just think there’s something missing – how do the hooks stay in place? Is there a gap between the pencil molding and the wall or do they just sit there? I guess I need another close up cause the one above doesn’t answer my questions..

  • this is something I have been thinking to install, but seemed an enormous fuss! You simplified it A LOT for me, thanks 😉

  • Beautiful job on the railing, it really does add a nice detail. But $30 for six rail hooks is pretty spendy….I’d have to look around for a more economical option. They are nice though.

  • i had that same headboard growing up! except it was for a full bed, and mine was red. aw!

  • Beautiful, Mandi!!, I LoVE the idea for architectural interest. I have been trying to find what to I with my boring rooms here. this is a great idea!! Thanks for sharing!

  • This project seems more on the complex side, but I really love the end result. The picture rail truly enhanced the beauty of the space.

    Happy Saturday 🙂
    www.lovecompassionatelee.com/

  • This is perfect timing! I was at the vet yesterday with my kitty and they had hung photos all around the office this way. I was so curious as to how it was done!

    Christine | DimesandDonuts.com

  • This is such an interesting idea! I never would have thought to hang them from a rail like that. I love the little gold hooks.

    The White Corner Creative

  • oh wow I’ve never seen this, what a sweet little idea!

  • This looks so elegant, and it’s practical too! We live in a very old house with brittle plaster walls, and hammering a nail is actually kind of nerve wracking. Once you hang a picture, you hesitate to move it, ever. But something like this gives so many options. I’d be willing to go through the hassle of mounting a picture rail for the years of low stress art rearranging down the road!

  • Such an interesting post, never even knew you could Do this yourself!

    Prom 2015: Get Ready With Me

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