Fabricating Large-Scale Raised Panel Wainscoting

      A woodworker struggles with the practical difficulties involved in an outsize design concept. February 1, 2015

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
A client of mine has asked me to fabricate and install raised panel wall panels, his decorator came up with the layout. My concern is the size of them, first being the rails and stiles are to be 7" wide. The panels are big some of them 6' by 6'. I was planning on using poplar for the frames and MDF for the panels. Are these doable and while it looks good on paper, how will it look on the wall? I would have to join the panels to make them to size. Has anyone done something like this in a residential home?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor L:
I'm assuming paint grade. The 7" wide rail/stile joint will show movement and crack the paint. That's pretty wide for a cross grain condition. Not a good idea in my book. The panel probably should be attached to the wall and the R&S simply done as trim. Maybe they should also be MDF with a 1/4" maple edged glued on for durability. This must be one big room for this to look in scale.

From Contributor H

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Good suggestions in the previous response. I'd add another option for the rails and styles is 1/4-sawn material - something very stable. Even an open grain wood could be used with grain filler, but definitely not flat sawn poplar - way too much movement.

From Contributor O:
Stiles and rails - a stable product like a 5-ply material, or core with cross bands and face plies, all in paint grade. Edges can be handled with a rabbeted panel mold, or solid edge banded, coped, and stuck. Stub tenons at about 1" to 1-1/4" will keep all the joints tight. The panels could be torsion box with solid raises mitered around. This will be all stable with no movement - a great long lasting application. However, around here some carpenter would low bid and rip and glue MDF to the walls, maybe with a pocket screw in the butt joints, maybe not. And the panels will be commodity MDF butt joined and stuck to the drywall with PL400, routed with a panel bit before going up (lots of caulk). I have done wall paneling with large panels that I had custom laid up - 6' x 7' if I recall - in walnut. I had all the panels blueprinted so the grain matched throughout the room. Not a problem if it paints.

From the original questioner:
For all the excellent advice Iím meeting with the home owner and his decorator today and yes itís to be painted material and one of the reasons the panels are so large is because the designer wants to line the stiles up with the coffered ceiling.

From Contributor O:
That is good design, since part of the look of a stile and rail room is evolved from post and beam construction with the panels infilling the space between major structural members. I wince when I see a carpenter that sized the panels from 1/4" 4x8 commodity ply and the walls have nothing to do with the layout of the beamed ceiling. An alternate is to break up the large field of a single panel with say three narrow vertical panels, with smaller or minor sized rails to separate them, or two wide by two high.

From the original questioner:
Would it be ok to shape the raised portion of the panel out of say poplar like a 3"pc, then glue and dominoe joint that to the MDF, by doing that will it show after being painted? Has anyone done this? The reason being the thought of supporting 6' panels through my shaper of MDF seems daunting.

From contributor L:
Seems like that would be fine. I'd keep the poplar strips as narrow as easily handled. The narrower, the fewer problems youíll have with the miter opening. You will have some clamping issues. You might get around them by making a piece. That pushes against the raised edge at the same time. Sherwin Williams makes a good MDF primer.

From the original questioner:
What if I pocket screw the raised pieces on with the screw going into the poplar? I didnít think about clamping them that would be a pain.

From contributor L:
Pocket screws work fine as a clamping method if you can keep the parts from shifting. I'd put a domino or biscuit in the miter. A T&G joint would solve the shifting problem.

From contributor M:
Raised panels are infrequent in my shop, but when I do them, I miter solid around MDF. These are usually veneered then shaped after gluing the wrap, but your plan should work. The hard part of this job seems to be fairing the panel joint. I'd start with a scarf joint and fairing compound. Perhaps I'd still veneer, and perhaps I'd shape on the bench with a router.

From the original questioner:
In case anyone wanted to know how this turned out I will tell you. I made one of the panels the s/r parts were 7" wide, the panel on top was 5'11" by 5'10" the total length was 10' the bottom being 6" off the floor covered by base the top covered by crown. Under that panel was another one 30"by 5'11" followed by a rail then base. So now $400 in material and about eight hours labor later I bring this monster to his house where he and the designer decide itís too big (Iíve said that from the get-go), but good thing I made one like I suggested and not all of them. It must be nice to have money to burn because that sample cost $1500 which he paid me for and theyíre going to re-design the whole thing using smaller sections.

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