Here are tricks and tips I have learned for making wainscoting strips. By the time the strips are done there is quite a bit of time invested so it is worthwhile to be careful at each step. Wainscoting is very "shippy" and can really add to the interior of a boat if well executed.

  1. I start with 25/32" (standard 4/4) thick planks planed on three sides by the mill. Cut these into 1 1/4" wide strips with a table saw. I usually cut 10- 20% more strips than I need to account for mistakes in the later steps. Make the strips slightly longer than needed to account for any snipe in the planing phase. For hardwoods, don't pause while cutting the strips to avoid burn marks and make sure your blade is square to the table and your fence is straight.

    Stacking strips

  2. For 25/32" thick planks, I have tried to get 4 strips out of a plank but the strips end up slightly less than 1/8" thick once sanded. This is too thin so I suggest cutting only 3 strips for this thickness. I use my band-saw with a 4 TPI 3/4" wide blade. The blade has a kerf of 1/32". I use carbide blades (bluish discoloration) and have not had good luck with the shiny steel ones. It is important to have a good blade so that you will not have to switch blades mid-batch (switching blades involves disrupting the fence position).

  3. Start by dividing the thickness of the strips into thirds. I cut a strip off of each side of the plank with a band-saw. This way two-thirds of the strips already have a guaranteed planed surface. Because of this, the fence can be set such that the outer two strips can be slightly thinner than the center strip since that one will be planed more. Use a wide feather-board (the same width as the strip) to keep a steady pressure on the fence. A helper is useful here to guide the strips once they pass the blade, they are thin and need to be held steady to ensure straight cuts.

  4. Plane the strips to the same thickness. For hardwoods, make sure your planer blades are sharp otherwise it will rip out chunks from the surface of the wood. The nice thing about strips is that with a helper receiving and stacking the strips as they come out of the planer, you can chain them all together to avoid snipe. I use a couple shorter strips to end the batch with. There is no need to plane both sides however I often do to guarantee consistent thickness of all strips and more surface area for the glue to hold onto when mounting the strips.

  5. Choose a face-up side for each strip and sand using a random orbital sander. Sand through your grit sequence (80-120-150-220) to the final grit. This is the only sanding the strips will get. Be careful not to press hard in one area, that will create a low spot in the strip.

    Sanding strips

  6. Next put the decorative bead on the strips at the router table. Use a wide feather-board to get consistent pressure. I use an 1/8" beading bit from Eagle America. Make sure the bit is high enough so that when the neighboring strip overlaps it the valleys can be made symmetric. This can be adjusted somewhat in Step 8 (at table saw) but you need enough here to get an overlap. A helper is very useful here to keep the strip moving past the bit to avoid burning. Be sure to keep a steady downward pressure to keep the bead at the same distance from the edge. I use a board on top to keep a steady downward pressure without getting slivers.

  7. Now lower the router bit and run the other edge through, this rounds off the opposite edge. Since the radius of the bit is so small this is one of those details that no one will notice unless you don't do it. Again, use a wide feather-board to get a consistent down-ward pressure against the bit. The side-ways pressure is provided by hand, often I used a block to press against to avoid slivers.

    Router Setup

  8. At the table saw, cut the final rabbet. Use a narrow feather-board to get consistent pressure and still allow you to push the strip past the blade. The width of the rabbet can be determined by trial and error to get the right overlap with the neighboring strip. The depth of the rabbet should be such that all strips sit flush on the surface when overlapped. There should be a minimal gap between the strips.

    Table Saw Setup

  9. Cut the strips to length, I do this with a small hand powered miter box inside the boat. Each strip is made to order for the particular situation. After cutting the strips to length I use a piece of sandpaper to get rid of any slivers at the end of the strip.

  10. We are now ready to glue the strips in place. Make sure the boat is level first. The boat can be leveled easily if on jack stands using a water level. Draw vertical lines on the bulkhead you want to cover using a level.

    Bulkhead view

    Strips laid out

  11. Glue the strips to the bulkheads using contact cement. I use a water-based contact cement because it is easy to clean up mistakes (dries white) and is thin (not viscous) when brushed on. Be careful when applying the glue to cover the width of the strip but not to be sloppy. Contact cement is gloppy to use when cold, make sure the use at well above the minimum temperature. I use a technique where I overlap the strips and make sure they are pressed firmly together at the joint before the strip touches the contact cement. Use a 3" J-roller to press the strips onto the bulkhead.

    I do four strips at one gluing, this works out well with the 20-30 minute dry time of the contact cement. I paint the cement on the bulkhead first (draw a line four strips wide to know where to stop painting the glue) then on the back of the strips. Since it is a boat, the strips are not the same length and so the order has to be carefully observed.

    Placing Strips

    Edge Detail

    Pile of Strips

  12. Finishing is a challenge due to the detail in the bead area. For the first coat I use paper towel to wipe on an oil-base satin varnish. Oil based varnishes lend a golden color to wood, water based varnishes are just as good but usually dry clear and do not add their own color. Pay attention to to getting varnish in the grooves without glopping. After the first coat is dry, sand with 350-400 sand paper. I use an HVLP sprayer to spray on several more coats of varnish, sanding between each.

  13. A razor blade can be drilled and ground to make a scraper with the profile of the bead detail. This will speed up the preparation between coats of varnish. This is difficult and is for extra credit only. The beads will be darker than surrounding wood due to the grain change of the wood anyway and so this step can often be skipped. A folded piece of sandpaper is often the only inter-coat prep this area needs.

    Final Result

    Bulkhead Sample

peter dahl