How to hang a picture rail

Updated February 21, 2017

Hanging pictures on a wall is simple enough but if you want to be able to reposition your pictures without having to patch holes in your wall, using a picture rail is a perfect solution. A picture rail is a piece of specialised functional moulding, securely affixed horizontally to the wall. Wire, cable or a cord attached to the back of the picture is suspended by a movable hook, positioned on the rail. To move a hanging picture, simply reposition the hook.

Decide where you want to position your picture rail. Some prefer to use a rail on a single windowless wall, while others like a picture rail that goes around the circumference of the entire room. You may decide to position the rail near the ceiling or at the level of the room's upper-window moulding. Picture rails are often positioned either flush with crown moulding or up to 18 inches from the ceiling. In a room with vaulted ceilings, the moulding is often mounted at the level of the top of the door frames. In a box-shaped room, the picture rail is mounted on the wall parallel with the ceiling.

Decide which type of moulding to use. Picture rail moulding may be made of wood or composite materials for traditional or Victorian-reproduction applications. Picture rails for use in a modernistic design may be made of aluminium or other polished metal. If using metal picture rail moulding, you will need a bit for drilling metal and a metal-cutting saw blade. The rail will be affixed to the wall with screws, instead of nails.

Determine the desired length of picture rail moulding by measuring the wall(s). Using a chop saw, cut the moulding to the desired length. If you are hanging a picture rail around the circumference of the room, the moulding should be mitred where it meets the corners of the room. Sand rough edges and paint or stain wood or composite moulding before installation. Use a metal-cutting saw if your moulding is metal.

Mark the wall where you want to hang the picture rail moulding. If you have vaulted ceilings, you should hang the picture rail level. If you have a box-shaped room, however, you may wish to hang the picture rail parallel to the ceiling. This will make the picture rail appear level, even if the ceiling is not level. Using a pencil and a level or yardstick, or both, mark the wall where you wish to position the picture rail. Place the marks two feet apart or so. It is not necessary to join the marks with a line.

Find the wall studs and mark their positions with a pencil.

Apply construction adhesive to the back of the picture rail moulding. Position the moulding in place, using reference marks and hold the moulding in place for 30 seconds. This step may be omitted if you have a helper to hold the rail in place while you drill pilot holes and nail the moulding to the wall.

Drill pilot holes through the picture rail moulding into the wallboard and studs, using a bit that is slightly smaller in diameter than the finishing nails (or screws, if using metal moulding).

Hammer the finishing nails through the pilot holes to the wall studs, being careful not to mar the surface of the moulding. Use a nail set to drive the nails slightly below the surface of the moulding. Use your finger to fill the nail holes with putty and touch them up with matching paint. If using metal moulding, use a power screwdriver to set the screws.


Paint or stain colours are usually chosen to match existing room mouldings, door frames or window frames. You can also paint the picture rail the same colour as the wall, if you want it to be less noticeable.


Removing a picture rail that has been affixed with construction adhesive may damage the wall.

Things You'll Need

  • Picture rail moulding
  • Measuring tape
  • Yardstick
  • Level
  • Pencil
  • Chop saw with mitring capabilities, for wood moulding
  • Metal-cutting saw, for metal moulding
  • Sandpaper, fine grit, for wood moulding
  • Paint or stain, for wood moulding
  • 2-inch sash brush, for wood moulding
  • Stud finder
  • Construction adhesive (optional)
  • Drill with drill bit
  • Finishing nails, 1-1/2 inches long, for wood moulding
  • Screws, for metal moulding
  • Nail set, for wood moulding
  • Hammer, for wood moulding
  • Power screwdriver, for metal moulding
  • Spackle or wood filler, for wood moulding
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About the Author

Denise Nyland "Denisen" is a long term resident of Panama City, Fla. She studied radiologic sciences and education and has published articles in multiple professional journals and contributed to various educational texts.