Chair rail molding has an elegant look to it. It’s not something you see in every house, but when done right, can really set apart a room from the others. If you are installing chair rail in, for example, a bedroom, you can nail it to the walls and stop at the door casing. In that way you have a clear beginning and end point. But what if you don’t have a clear beginning and end point? The answer is that you can make a return for that point.
A return is an attractive way to begin or end molding. The final appearance is that the molding’s profile carries all the way to the wall. Imagine cutting the molding and what you are left with is an ugly straight cut. With a return you don’t see the flat cut.
A return is done by making miter cuts. On the long piece of molding is a 45-degree miter cut from the wall to the outside of the molding. This will leave you with a pie shaped piece that needs to be installed.
This gets tricky and it is dangerous. Don’t be foolish and risk injury by placing your fingers next to a spinning blade. Use hold downs to keep your fingers out of the way. I generally take a long piece of molding and first cut the mating 45-degree miter in it, then cut that piece off.
Once you have the mating piece, I usually glue it in place and hold it there until the glue dries with some painters tape. If you try to nail it, it may split.
Chair Rail is certainly conspicuous because it sits at about waist high and usually separates two different wall treatments. What I mean is that you may have two different colors of paint, or even something like wall paper or wainscoting below the rail, and paint above the rail. So, the corners should look clean as they will attract attention.
The decision to either cope the inside corners or miter them, probably lies in what material you are using and how the chair rail will be finished.
If you are planning on painting the chair rail, you can get away with mitering the corners and then using a small amount of caulking to fill in any imperfections.
If you are planning on staining and varnishing the rail, any small imperfection will stand out and be very noticeable. Your other option is to use wood putty to fill in the imperfections, but it typically absorbs more stain than the surrounding wood and will look like a dark blotch. In short, it will look like someone stuffed some wood putty in there to try to make it blend in.
Coping the corners takes much more time, as you cut the exact profile into the edge of the chair rail so that it mates perfectly with the opposing piece.