Installing Plate Rails

Learn how to build a plate rail, a traditional option for topping an Arts and Crafts wall treatment.

Intro

A plate rail is a traditional way to top an Arts and Crafts wall treatment. But instead of ending that wall with a cap, extend it with the ledger and plate rail.

Construction of the plate rail is quite straightforward; feel free to substitute construction methods that suit the tools you have. For example, if you don't have a biscuit joiner, simply make the L-shape assembly with glue alone or with glue reinforced with nails. There's plenty of long-grain to long-grain gluing surface, and the finished joint can actually be stronger than the wood itself.

Cut the components for the length of plate rail that you're building. There's a bracket centered over every stile in the wall system, so simply count the stiles and make an equal number of brackets. The molding is easy to make with angled rip cuts on your table saw.

Checklist

Time
About 1/2 hour per linear foot of rail

Tools
Tape measure, combination square, biscuit joiner, miter saw, table saw, hammer, drill with bits, nail set, clamps

Skills
Driving nails; clamping; using a biscuit joiner, table saw, miter saw

Prep
Wall surface should be painted; apply finish to all plate rail components

Materials
Quartersawn white oak for plate rail components, 4d and 10d finishing nails, 1-inch brads, #20 biscuits for joiner, masking tape, stain and finish, panel adhesive and caulking gun, white glue and applicator brush, colored putty for filling holes

Step 1

Cut biscuit slots into the ledger and plate rail. Glue and clamp the assembly, and carefully check it for square. Avoid excessive clamping pressure -- advance the clamps until you bring the parts firmly together, then stop.

Step 2

After the plate rail/ledger assembly dries, attach it to the top of the upper rail of the wall. Biscuits align the ledger and rail, and construction adhesive on the back of the ledger holds the unit to the wall. For good measure, drive 10d (3-inch) finishing nails through the ledger and into a few of the wall studs.

Step 3

Attach the first bracket, carefully centering it above one of the stiles. To avoid splitting the wood, drill diagonal pilot holes through the wood for the 4d (1-1/2-inch) finishing nails. Make certain you install the bracket squarely.

Step 4

Mark the location of the next bracket onto a strip of masking tape. Square-cut one end of the molding with your miter saw and butt it against the first bracket. Mark the cut line on the molding and install it with 4d finishing nails driven through pilot holes. Keep adding brackets and molding strips until you complete the installation. Make certain that the bottom edge of the molding follows a straight line.

Step 5

Center the trim strip over the joint between the upper rail and the ledger. Nail on the trim strip with 1-inch brads to complete the installation. Fill all nail holes with colored putty. If there's a gap between the plate rail and wall, fill it with painter's caulk.


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