Butt Joint Details for Shaker-Style Wainscot

Installers describe several methods for assembling and fastening Shaker-style wainscot panels in the field. April 4, 2011

I'm putting up 4 foot high Shaker style wall paneling. Due to the Shaker style, the rails and stiles will be butted together. What is the best way to reduce shrinkage and gaps where they meet? #20 biscuits?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor D:
Pocket screws, no doubt.

From contributor M:
Cope and pattern... even if it is only a tongue and groove.

From the original questioner:
Pocket holes screws on the front or back? If I put them on them back I would be moving a hell of a frame - if it's on the front, I'm worried about the slight imperfection a plug would leave - even when painted.

From contributor D:
If we're in the shop we use cope and stick, but on the job site we use pocket screws on the back. We've made some really big panel systems in the shop with pocket screws, come to think of it, and we moved them to the jobsite. You'd be surprised how strong they really are.

From contributor J:
I am not exactly sure what your shaker panel looks like, but here's a method for typical recessed flat panels that works equally well for either straight or curved walls and can be done on-site. Lay out the bare walls and begin by installing all the flat plywood panels and covering the whole paneled area. The rough rails and stiles are then built up of layered 1/4" material, glued and stapled to the finished flat panels and each other. All the joints between the rails and stiles are lapped and cross lapped. This creates a monolithic laminated frame structure (that can't ever open up).

The final veneer or 1/4" facings can be glued down with contact cement. Plan your joint assembly so that you will be spring fitting them tightly to each other by cutting them a hair long. Finish with typical panel and chair rail moldings.

From contributor F:
Solid wood with stick and cope. I did a large job last year and pre-finished in shop with stain and topcoat. To deal with the issue of small offsets at the coped butt joints, I ran a small chamfer on the face of the rail ends. It worked slick.

From contributor A:
We usually use the cabinet door set with a full rabbet, as if you were making glass doors. This allows you to place the panels in the frames at anytime (i.e. a 12 foot wall may be too heavy with the MDF panels, so we leave them out until they are installed in the field.

Another trick we started using a couple of years ago is pocket screwing the cope and pattern. It solves the glue joint gap that you often have when making cabinet doors. Ideally you need to leave a door in clamps for at least 10-15 minutes so the glue really grabs. If you clamp, pin, then unclamp, there is always a gap at the glue joint. By pocket screwing you need no clamps and the joint is perfect. We use a Castle pocket screw machine for this application. I do not know if the steeper Kreg drill will work.

Likewise, in the field, the t&g provides the alignment and the pocket screw provides the clamping.

From contributor F:
As a counterpoint to contributor A's method of assembling the entire run with screws from the back before installing... With my system, I install the bottom rail by nailing it to the studs in the area that will be covered by the top edge of a base board molding. Next the vertical stiles are placed (all stiles are between the top and bottom rails) and the panels slide down between them. The stiles and panels need not be nailed because they are in the groove and held fast by the top and bottom rails. Last, the top rail is placed and then nailed to the studs in the spot that will be covered by the molding that trims the bottom of the rail cap.