Let’s Bring Back Picture Rail

Why the hell did The Man take away our picture rail?

Picture rail is a small piece of molding placed either at the top of a wall or a few feet shy of the top, that holds hooks on which you can hang pictures using a chain, cord or ribbon. Picture rail allows you to hang pictures without putting a damn hole in the wall. This is especially important if you have wallpaper. It’s also great if your walls are made of lath and plaster rather than drywall, since tapping on an old lath and plaster wall can easily cause half the plaster to cleave off. But even if you have drywall, picture rail allows you to easily reposition pictures in seconds and not have to worry about filling holes.

So why did they take it away from us? Picture rail disappeared in the mid-twentieth century when wallpaper and lath and plaster went out of fashion.  It also may have had something to do with the mid-century disdain for molding in general.

My DIY picture rail.

Thankfully we can bring back picture rail. You can buy it online but I figured out a way to make it myself on a table saw equipped with a dado set (you could also do it with a router). I picked up some door and window casing at the Big Orange Store and used the dado set to cut a groove in the back of the molding. Put it up and pick up some picture rail hooks and you’re ready to hang art. Picture rail hooks come in a variety of sizes and we had to test a few to find the right fit. The picture rail hooks fit standard, rounded picture rail better than my DIY effort, but my improvised picture rail works okay.

New picture rail and crown molding in our bedroom.

The living room of our house already had picture rail so I just had to add it to the other rooms of the house when I redid the molding this summer. Hopefully you’re lucky enough to already have picture rail. If not you can even get it in a contemporary style to easily add to any room.

To use picture rail you need to attach either chain, cord or wire to the back of your frame. We went with brass chain since we can pick it up at our local hardware store and we’ve got some heavy pictures to hang. You can either hang from one point on the frame or two. If you’ve got tall ceilings you can attach the chain or cord lower on the frame so that the picture tilts downward to make it easier to view. You can stack pictures on the wall by attaching them to each other or by hanging them from individual hooks.

Say goodbye to holes in the wall!

The print at top is “California 2 Mt. Shasta” by Frank Morley Fletcher that we got though the Legion of Honor online gift store. I made the frame on my table saw and router table.

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7 Comments

  1. Your trim work is lovely and I really like that picture. However, our ceilings are twelve feet high so I prefer holes in the wall to climbing up and down a ten-foot step ladder.

  2. Where I live ceiling molding will bump you up a property tax bracket or two. So will bay windows and other lovely stuff. Taxes are very high here so beauty and tradition are out if favor of the plain box.

    It’s shameful.

    • Oh my, you brought back memories of living in other states where they do that! I always felt invaded when the assessor’s gal wanted to come and look around. At least in CA it’s not done that way. Thank goodness!

  3. How bizarre that your property tax is based on such assessments! Here in Australia we wouldn’t stand for an internal assessment of our house in order to increase our “rates”. Its mainly based on land value with some consideration given to the “capital improved value “, meaning theres a building on the site.
    Claire in Melbourne, Australia

  4. I don’t have picture rails like you made, but what I do have are rails lower on the walls with a groove cut into them to catch the bottoms of picture frames. A friend with woodworking experience made them for me and stained them. I really like them, because it’s easy to rearrange pictures when I want to. I also found a vintage, handmade plate rack with two shelves for plates. I use it for pictures, too. I haven’t yet decided what to do with the cup hooks on it, though. (My inspiration for the rails that I have came from a restored country store that is now a restaurant.)

  5. Brings back memories of being in college.

    I lived in an old Victorian dorm in Ohio. We had picture rails and we were forbidden to put any holes in the walls. Makes sense for a place that will have new residents ever year!

    At the time we could buy the requisite clips. Maybe it was even the school bookstore that sold them. But where on earth would you get them now?

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