Take a look at YouTube for some great advice. The best I've seen is put out by Kreg tool. Search for Gary Striegler and watch his video on wainscoting. He has some fantastic videos on trim and finish carpentry as well.
Thanks for the replies everyone. So I've been doing all the prep work and some of the challenges took MUCH longer than planned. I'm just getting to sheetrock and the Wainscoting backing so I decided I'm going to use a 1/2" plywood. Still trying to decide what type i'll use based on what's available, but the Birch you recommended might do the trick.Review the steps shown on "This Old House ". Here's a link to a complete process. http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/how-to/overview/0,,20537962,00.html
After your drywall is up, layout the panels by drawing them on the wall. I like the exposed portion of the rails and stiles to show equal width unlike some of the pictures you provided. If you use panel molding, I would probably use 3/4" thick rails and stiles as the molding helps make a transition between the panels. Often you can get panel molding for 1/2" thick rail and stiles, which may fit your room size better. Another option is to not use panel molding at all. In that case, I would use 1/2" - 3/8" stiles and rails. I'd probably use 3/8 if I didn't use panel molding. It is really up to you and the design of the house, as well as the height of the wainscoting. You may want to research or match heights/proportions in other rooms.
In terms of materials, for solid stock I'd use poplar or alder. For the panels, 1/4" ply or MDF as long as the MDF is held a good distance away from the floor. (Moisture issues.) If I used ply, I'd probably use maple or birch for ease of painting. Here's a sample of some moldings from a local supplier: http://www.reellumber.com/hardwood-mouldings.htm . Look about 3/4 of the page down and you'll see rabbeted panel moldings. Something like #1370 made for 1/2 rails and stiles would be appropriate in a small room like a bath. If you are looking toward Arts and Crafts design, forgo the mold. Get back with us. Hope this helped.
Thanks for the tip. YES! I am matching the trim in the house. My trim looks almost identical to the red picture I posed which has a flat stock with a backband end. About half of the house had the trim removed and wood paneling and crap clamshell trim was installed. All that came down, and I have been rebuilding the trim to match the original as I renovate. The house was built in 1922 so it definitely fits the style.It looks like you've had a lot of great advice. The examples you've posted are craftsman revival designs. The question I'll ask is "what kind of house do you have"?
All of my own trim and molding designs are dictated by the existing trim and moldings in the house. The important thing (in my book) is that any work you do should be consistent with the rest of the home.
If you do have a craftsman-era home, I'd highly recommend Powell and Svendeson's "Bungalow Bathrooms" for reference
Bungalow Bathrooms - 2001 publication.: Amazon.com: Books
I went and took a look at the Home Depot 1/2" Birch plywood and it looked great. Completely smooth with only a few knot/dark spots showing, but again completely smooth so I think I will be using this. I had a carpenter friend say I should skip the plywood and just mount directly to the drywall to make the job easier and cheaper, but I've already planned for a 1/2" plywood directly to the studs, so I think i'm going to stick to that. Do I need to put drywall and plywood? I was planning to just use the 1/2" plywood directly to the studs, and 1/2" drywall above which will land a flush surface. I can still put drywall on the back but since the bathroom is so small I wanted to minimize how thick the walls get.Based at first glance of looking at the red room my automatic thought is 3/4" thick. This is a bathroom so I personally would finish the bathroom in green board and then apply 1/4" ply either behind it or between as either way your just going to need to find a interior molding that will match your application. I used to be a finish carpenter doing remodeling mostly in home from the 1800's so I understand wainscot very well. These pictures are from a rehab I am doing on a house that I bought back in March which I am just about ready to move into.
Thanks Rob,Honestly I never would go plywood direct to studs. In any wet area such as a bathroom I use only mold resistant drywall then 1/4" plywood and then I make the panels and apply them over the plywood. Why? Because for me going plywood direct to studs is a no no and I only do things that will last. If you have exterior walls and are not insulated properly or dont have a proper vapor barrier the wood will absorb moisture and you can end out with warping. If your trying to save money do the application to drywall, it looks terrible if your drywall isnt great or if you get screw pops or cracking but you will save a buck or 2. I have built wainscot quite often and my suggestions are only on what I have found works best. Drywall cost $8-12 for mold resist drywall and 1/4" plywood is about $14 per sheet so I do not think you are saving much sticking the plywood to studs and I promise you will be sorry that you did it!