How to Remove a Chair Rail and Repair the Walls for Paint

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Learn how to remove a chair rail. Remove that traditional molding for a cleaner look for your walls. This easy tutorial walks you through removing molding from the walls without damaging the drywall, plus how to get the walls ready for paint.

You might also like this post on how to paint a room.

how to remove trim

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Last weekend I broke out the pry bar and removed my chair rail from the hallway.

I’ve been struggling with my walls for a while and I finally figured out that it’s because I hate the chair rail. They’re far too traditional for my decidedly un-traditional taste.

And in a home with 8′ walls, dividing them up isn’t doing them any favors. I swear, my ceilings already look about a foot higher!

hallway painted aqua with pink rug and gray doors
Hallway BEFORE

Removing Molding FAQ’s

What is a chair rail?

A chair rail is wood trim that is applied about 30″ from the floor.

What are chair rails used for?

Chair rails were used to protect walls from chairs in smaller homes. Now, they’re mostly used as decorative trim.

Why would you want to remove a chair rail?

I removed mine because of style preference. Like I said, they’re very traditional and it’s not my taste.

I also removed them because I have 8′ walls and I wanted them to feel higher.

Most importantly though, is the fact that chair rails make no sense in a hallway. Not a lot of chairs in the hallway, ya know.

hallway with chair rail

Are chair rails out of style?

In the right home, chair rails are absolutely gorgeous. Chair rails are a timeless style of molding.

I even love them mixed with modern elements.

However, in my smaller Cape Cod, they don’t look great or make sense. My style is not traditional and they seem too fancy for my very un-fancy home.

How do I remove trim from wall without damaging it?

The most important tip is to score along the edges with a sharp utility knife. This cuts the caulk and prevents the walls from getting torn up when removing the trim.

Go slow and pry every few inches to prevent breaking the wood. It only breaks if you apply too much force and try to remove too much at once.

The other thing to be aware of the nail type used. If you suspect the house builder installed it, they probably used larger nails and you need to use the pry bar where the nails are.

If you suspect a previous homeowner installed the trim (especially in the recent past), it’s likely that they used a nail gun, which uses much smaller nails.

The larger nails can cause the wood to break, where the smaller gauge nail gun nails can go right through the wood without damage.

How do I repair textured walls?

Remove the chair rail as directed below. Make any repairs necessary. You will need to match the texture with a texture spray like this one.

Be sure to prime it before painting!

Removing a Chair Rail

Supplies Needed:

By the way, you want a pry bar, not a crow bar. Crow bars are much larger and thicker. They’re great for large scale demo, but I find a pry bar to be the most useful demo tool to have around the house.

You should use a fine-grit sandpaper. I used a fine grit sanding block that I only use for drywall and spackle repairs.

Removing the Chair Rails from the Walls

Demo is the fun part.

  1. Use a utility knife to score along the edges of the trim. This cuts the caulk and prevents the walls from getting torn up.
    using utility knife to score caulk
  2. Insert the edge of the pry bar beneath the wood trim and hit it with a rubber mallet a few times until it goes under the wood more. (You may need to try it from the bottom of the wood instead of the top.)
    removing chair rail with pry bar and rubber mallet
  3. Use the pry bar to pull the trim from the wall a bit. Go slowly or the wood will break.
  4. Continue this motion, moving a few inches along the trim until it comes off the wall.
  5. If you still have nails stuck in the walls, you’ll need to use pliers or a hammer to remove the nails.
  6. If they break off and you can’t remove them, just hammer them into the wall.
    chair rail removed from wall

Tricky Areas (Like Corners and Tight Spots)

I didn’t have any tricky areas in this room, but I’ve ran into places where I have had issues removing trim from walls. This is usually in tight corners and baseboards are notorious for being difficult to remove.

If you run into that situation, you can use an oscillating multi-tool to cut through the wood. It’s loud and a bit scary to use, but it cuts right through the trim so that you can remove it easier.

It can also cut through nails if you find yourself in a situation requiring that.

Repairing the Walls for Paint

damage on wall from removing chair rail
This is what happens when you don’t cut the caulk before prying the chair rail. Luckily, it’s easy to fix.
  1. Use a putty knife to scrape away as much of the remaining caulk and bumps as possible.
    use putty knife to remove caulk from chair rail removal
  2. Sand the walls to get them as smooth as possible.
  3. Clean the walls with a damp rag and let them dry.
  4. Use a wide putty knife to apply a thin coat of joint compound, paying special attention to nail holes, rips in the drywall paper and other imperfections.
    repairing wall with joint compound
    My first coat was too thin. I mixed the joint compound better to get a thicker consistency for my second coat.
  5. Let it dry and sand lightly until smooth.
  6. Apply a second coat if necessary.
  7. Let dry.
  8. Sand again until smooth.
    fixing walls with joint compound
  9. Wipe away the dust with a microfiber cloth.
  10. Prime before painting. This is crucial so that the paint goes on properly. If you skip priming, the joint compound will absorb more paint and look blotchy in those spots.

Now your walls are ready for paint!

cutting in on repaired walls
I’m so excited about the new color!

Drywall dust can be swept up or you can use a shop-vac. Drywall dust can ruin a regular vacuum. For the walls and trim, I like to use a microfiber cloth.

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Pin for Later!

how to remove a chair rail

2 thoughts on “How to Remove a Chair Rail and Repair the Walls for Paint”

    • Yes, it can be fixed. Some walls have texture – some a little and some a lot. My walls have the texture made from a paint roller and that’s it. If your walls are like this with a very subtle texture, you’re fine just painting it. If they have more texture, you will need wall texture spray:
      Find the one that is most similar to your wall, spray it on, let it dry, prime it and paint. It should be good as new. 🙂


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