Wainscot for Stairs and Landings

A discussion of how to handle the tricky transitions brought on by stairway elevation changes. February 16, 2006

I’m interested in hearing preferences on wainscoting in winding staircases. Here's what I have:
The staircase transitions into the landing, and turns left. The landing is 8 feet long, with a wind in the middle. The stairs continue left to second floor.

I have to transition the wainscoting over three drops, and can't decide if I want to make the base taller, or the panels smaller, (in the appropriate places), and would appreciate some input. I’ve seen some folks simply die lower/shorter panels into taller ones, or make oddly shaped panels which cross transitions, but I find both options ungainly.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor T:
When I was faced with this height difference I choose to mitre the base to the vertical drop along the drop in the stairs and then mitre again at the horizontal thus keeping a uniform base and panel height. The same technique was applied to the chair-rail above the panels thus the wainscoting followed the natural contour of the walls and the height differences. In my case the continuity of the size of the paneling won out over all other considerations.

From contributor H:
Make sure to keep a uniform height to the panel and keep all panel grain vertical. These transitions are what make the job look good. We have even mirrored the rail on some jobs to take it a step further.

From contributor T:

This is one of those jobs that needs to be laid-out on the walls to get the best look for the particular house. I have seen some clever ideas in some staircase's and what would seem obvious may not really look that good or just be average. It doesn't hurt to be a little different. From the short description it sounds like an interesting layout and may be worth the extra effort.

From Gary Katz, forum technical advisor:
Contributor H has it right. Always install a skirt. Follow the angle of the skirt with your wains and chair. It will look just like every historic home I've ever visited. Those guys knew how to do it right.

The problem we get into is running base on the treads and risers. This is a good reason why we should always install a skirt, even on a single step. Besides, base shouldn't be run vertically up the risers. Base is supposed to mimic the Plinth on a classical column - always horizontal. I hope this drawing helps.

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