What are Dado Rails?


A dado rail, chair rail, or surbase is a practical and decorative moulding that spans the perimeter of a wall with the beneficial purpose of wall protection and aesthetic objective of creating a pleasing visual break for the eye.

Dado rails were installed for more practical purposes in older homes where mouldings such as wainscoting were fitted to disguise rising damp in the walls, or as a fixture to hang paintings closer to the ceiling. But in newer and more modern homes, dado rails are used for their visual effect in enhancing the existing style of a home and creating a characteristic break between materials, colour, or decorative wall designs.


Chairs against dado rail

What are Dado Rails used for?

There are a variety of uses for dado rails, which can be fixed close to the ceiling or at chair height from the ground.

In older style houses with high roofs from the 19th and 20th centuries, the higher positioned dado rails were mounted below the cornice of the roof to provide a fixture to hang pictures without damaging the wall. By drilling into the dado rail, the plasterboard or wallpaper remained protected, and the rail would ensure consistency in the height of picture mountings. In some houses, the dado rail was fixed lower beneath the cornice to provide a framing space to hang pictures between.

Dado rails fixed beneath the ceiling were popular in houses with high roofs because visually they broke up the wall space and made the ceiling appear lower and the rooms feel more cosy and homely.

More commonly, dado rails or chair rails are mounted at chair height, somewhere between 750mm and 1500mm from the ground. As the alternative name suggests, chair rails were used to protect the wall from bumps or scrapes from the backs of chairs, especially in the 18th century when chairs were stored along the side of the dining room rather than around the table.

Walls with wainscoting also use dado rails to cap the top of the wainscoting panels, creating a visual effect, which could be ornamental or simplistic depending on the period or style of the home.

What are Australian Moulding Company’s Dado Rails made of?

Dado rails are most commonly made from timber or MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard). The choice of material will be dependent on the pre-existing mouldings in your home.

The Australian Moulding Company offers dado rails in over 100 different profiles in MRMDF (Moisture Resistant Medium Density Fibreboard) and almost any timber of your choice, including, Meranti, Oak, Finger Jointed Pine, Western Red Cedar, Clear Pine, and Kiln Dried Hardwood (KD Hardwood).

Our MRMDF is made from the highest quality wood fibres and caters for houses or rooms with a higher moisture content such as bathrooms or kitchens.

At the Australian Moulding Company, we offer our materials in both raw and pre-primed condition. Pre-primed means the timber or MDF has been pre-sanded with the primer applied and oven-dried, so the mouldings are ready to paint. 

What are the origins of Dado Rails?

In the history of architecture, the ‘dado’ is the bottom half of the wall between the skirting board and the chair or dado rail. The word dado is derived from the Italian word for ‘cube’ or ‘dice’ and is an architectural name for the mid-section of a pedestal.

Dado rails became popular in the Georgian period 1714 to c. 1830-37 when dining room chairs were lined up against the wall instead of around the table. Dado rails were decorative, but also served the functional purpose of protecting walls from bumps and scuffs from furniture and movement in high pedestrian areas including hallways, lounge, and dining rooms.

Dado Rail Profiles

The Australian Moulding Company has over 100 dado and chair rail profiles to match any style of existing mouldings in your home.

Our styles for Colonial homes are simple with few decorative features, while our Federation and Art Deco styles are more elegant and eye-catching.

For our full range, check out our Dado and Chair Rail page here.