This is the last of three posts about installing baseboard molding. We’re finally ready to install the new baseboard molding. We’ve just removed the old baseboard molding and trim and we’ve installed the new trim around the doorways. Just like when we installed the trim, you’ll want a nail gun or a hammer with a countersink to put the nails in neatly without banging up the wood too much.
A quick word about paint. I paint all my baseboards white and I paint them all before I even begin any of this measuring or cutting stuff. I just lay them out across some saw horses and give them two good coats of paint with a roller. I use a roller instead of a brush because I like the texture of paint that’s been put on with a roller instead of a brush. That’s just me, I guess. Yes, we’re going to cut these pieces and probably nick them up a little bit here and there installing them, but it’s a lot easier to touch up some paint spots once they’re on rather than try to paint them perfectly once they’re installed.
The most difficult part of installing baseboard moldings is often the process of cutting the angles just right. I’m going to tell you something that I’m really not supposed to say: you can fake it. Seriously. If your room is even remotely rectangular then you can simply cut all your baseboards on a 45 degree angle and then “patch up” or fill in the corners with caulk if they don’t look perfect. If you aren’t sure how to use a caulk gun then just use a little caulk from a squeeze tube and smooth it out with your finger. This doesn’t mean you can be sloppy with the baseboard cutting, but it means that the project is something a beginner can definitely accomplish with a little bit of practice and still end up with great looking baseboards.
You’ll want to measure the distance along the wall for one of your baseboards. It really doesn’t matter where you begin, though you might want to try starting in a “less visible” part of the room that might be hidden behind furniture so that you can practice a little bit. Let’s say you’re starting with a section of wall that has piece of trim on one side and a corner on the other. Measure from the edge of the trim to the corner. Now measure it again. Really. Get down to the 16th of an inch if you can. Now make a note of it and measure it again. Still the same? Good.
Cutting the Baseboard Molding
Now the cutting. This is a little daunting at first, especially if you’re not very good at figuring out puzzles. Here’s what I recommend: practice. Really. Buy an 8 foot piece of cheap trim and cut it into 1 foot increments if you have to. Then take two 1 foot pieces and cut one for each “side” of a corner. I’ve even made up some cheat trim pieces that I’ve used to explain these things to other people. Here are some of the things you’ll have to consider:
There are only really two types of corners: Inner Corners and Outer Corners. Inner corners are the places where dust bunnies collect. A square room would have four inner corners. Outer corners are those corners that you can skin your little toe on when you’re walking past them at three o’clock in the morning. You may have them around doorways that don’t have any trim or if your room is not a pure rectangle. Okay, now look at either type of corner and use the point where the two walls meet as a center point. The piece of baseboard to the left of the center point is called the “Left” side and the piece of baseboard to the right of the center is called the “Right” side. Pretty easy, huh?
As for a choice of cutting: if you’re going to do more than one room…ever… then spend the money on a compound miter saw. I did my first room using a handsaw and a miter box and it took me about four times longer than it should have because for every single cut I had to spend 10 minutes line up the baseboard molding in a flimsy little saw box and then manually sawing through the wood. It’s no fun. Really.
Now all you have to do is take a few practice pieces and cut out a left and right piece for an inner corner and a left and right piece for an outer corner. If you’re using a miter box then you’re going to have some pretty good arm muscles after this. A compound miter saw will make short work of this. In either case you’re going to lay the piece of baseboard with the back down (so the good face of the baseboard is facing up) and you’re going to cut it at a 45 degree angle, either coming in from the left or coming in from the right. Some compound miter saws only tilt one way, so you’ll have to move the baseboard upside down in and cut it.
My baseboards with a gap in the corner and nail hole still visible. This is an “inner” corner with a left and right piece.
Okay, now that you’ve practiced your cutting it’s time for the real thing. Let’s go back to that example where we have a piece of door trim on one side and a corner in the other. Let’s look at an imaginary wall and pretend the baseboard is on the right side and six feet away is an inner corner. That means the piece of baseboard molding we’re working with is a “left” inner corner because it is left of the center point where the two walls meet. First, cut the trim side of the baseboard molding straight down. Lay the baseboard on your compound miter saw and cut straight down into it. Done.
Now take your tape measure and measure down to the six foot point. Mark it. Don’t cut yet. You have to plan to have the saw blade come out the BACK of the baseboard at the six foot mark, but it will go into the front of the baseboard a little bit short of the six foot mark because you’re going in at a 45 degree angle from the left. Yes, this is tricky at first and it is why those practice pieces are so important. Depending on the thickness of your baseboard it might be a quarter to a half inch before the six foot mark in our case.
After cutting you get to take your baseboard to the spot where it goes and try to fit it in. If it fits perfectly then congratulations! If it is still too long then you’ll have to take it back and shorten it. Here’s a tip: shorten it on the trim side because that’s a straight-down cut and you don’t have to worry about any angle cutting. Always cut a little less off than you think you need. You can always cut off a little more but it’s pretty darn difficult to make a board longer once it’s been cut.
Installing The Baseboards Against The Wall
The same gap filled with caulk. I haven’t even painted at this point, but it looks much, much better. Yes, I also have shoe molding installed in this photo.
Once the cutting is done it’s time to install! You can use a nail gun and basically just fire a nail or two into the baseboards or you can do the same method I used when installing the trim: drill a small hole and then tap in some tack nails and counter-sink them. The trick here: drive the nails into the studs along the wall. Driving nails into your baseboards and into Sheetrock ultimately won’t do you much good.
Some people also recommend using glue or liquid nails behind the baseboards. I’m not a fan of this stuff because I’ve had to remove things that had glue and it often destroys your walls. As long as your baseboard and walls are fairly straight a few good nails should keep them in place and tight. There are almost always studs around doorways and in corners, so you should be able to at least nail in the ends of most pieces of baseboard pretty well.
Just keep going around the room. It will probably take longer than you plan, but that’s a good sign that you’re measuring it well. Don’t fret if your corners aren’t 100% perfect? Why? Because we have white caulk to save us.
See, if you have a gap or your corners don’t quite line up you can take a little bit of interior white caulk and fill in the spaces. Take your finger and run it over the gap, making sure the caulk is in and flush with the area around it. Have some wet paper towels or a rag ready to get the caulk off your fingers or floor or wall or hair or where ever else it happens to end up. When the caulk is dry a day or two later inspect your handiwork and then paint over it to make sure it matches. I like to “dab” on the touch up paint all over my baseboards and trip with a cheap sponge brush because it kind of copies the texture of rolled on paint.
I’m going to be honest: no amount of reading alone will make you a pro at this. Buy a baseboard or two and practice the painting and the cutting and even the installing if you’re unsure. You’ll get the hang of it. I’ve done a couple rooms now and I’m still finding new tricks and facing new challenges each time. Once you get going with a project like this you quickly lose your fear and just keep barreling ahead. That’s part of the fun of home improvement projects like this: the end results can look really nice but if you screw it up it’s not like your house is going to catch fire. You can always try again later.
And remember this: right after the job you’ll see every single flaw and dent and gap in the baseboard molding. Give it a week and you’ll be surprised at how you simply forget or don’t see all those flaws. Another saving grace for baseboard molding: it’s down low, in the dim light, at least five feet away from where most adults keep their eyeballs when they walk in a room.
After a while you’ll be walking into you room and glancing around and saying, “Those are some darn nice baseboards if I do say so myself…”
Read all of my Baseboard Molding Posts