DIY Molding Tips and Tricks

Who Is The DIY Homeowner

I have often wondered what the typical Do-It-Yourself homeowner is like. If it is you, what do you know how to do or expect from your self-directed efforts? What percentage of you know how to make nice fitting trim joints?? How many homeowners can’t afford to hire someone else to do a job and windup taking on the task themselves?

I started life as a homeowner who had no experience as a contractor or as a fix-it-myself aficionado. But I was a tinkerer. I was always messing with my dad’s tools, or fiddling with the family car, or just finding my own way to make something.

I didn’t have books to read that told me how to get ‘er done. No internet or specialized resources. No dedicated means to teach me how to tackle a particular project I might be working on. Just lots or trial and error to help me plow towards the knowledge I have today.

You have the internet and all the myriad sorts of informational solutions to any topic you can think of. Some of it is very good and well presented. A lot of it is mundane and boring and repetitive! Too bad.

What Can Someone Like Me Tell You

I have dedicated my website to either entertain readers with interesting stories, or share personal experiences that help educate those who seek information that may or may not be illusive. Some times I am successful and sometimes not. But I keep trying.

One thing I know a lot about is the residential side of the building business. I know how to start and run a construction company. I know how to renovate or reconstruct existing homes. Building new homes is also part of my resume. But my real interest is woodworking.

I had to learn how to install doors and windows myself. Building, finishing, and installing kitchen cabinets made me a nice living once I perfected the art. I had to observe other tradesmen install crown molding, baseboard, paneling, and specialized trim to become proficient in that endeavor.

I can tell you about basic tips and tricks that I have learned to help you get your projects done. But I want to go the extra mile and show you how to make your handiwork look professional. This article will hopefully do that. So let’s get started.

Solving The Crown Molding Nightmare

I had the privilege of working in the old Kennedy Family compound in Palm Beach when it was being renovated for new owners. On that job I worked with another trim carpenter to install 12″ crown molding on uneven plaster walls that butted to similar type ceilings.

The only way we could cut that molding was to lay it flat on the electric miter saw and use the special markings on the saw to set the right angle for cutting. We also had to use his paper chart that told us what angle to cut each piece of crown in relation to the exact disposition of the walls that were rarely at the precise angle of 90 degrees to each other. Since that is a specialized topic all in itself, I will defer said dissertation to another blog.

For the DIY’r, most crown is in the 3 1/2″ to 5 1/2″ range. So here are the tips for cutting it and installing the same:

  • Cut two pieces of crown to use as templates, about 2 foot each.
  • Place 1 piece against your saw fence upside down square with the saw opposite the way it would appear on the ceiling. Set your preliminary angle of cut at 45 degrees (Upside down and backwards).
  • For inside corners, start your cut at the long point which will translate to the bottom of your crown when installed against the wall.
  • Make your cut towards the short point which will translate to the top of your crown when installed against the ceiling.
  • Cut one template piece left and one piece right
  • Butt each piece together and check the fit
  • Make slight adjustments on the saw with equal cuts on each piece until the fit is tight
  • Cut your actual full pieces with the saw set at that angle
  • Repeat the process for the other end of the crown molding
  • Reverse the process for outside corners
  • Nail the crown to the ceilings in a hook pattern, i.e., two nails together one shot in one way, the other in the opposite direction
  • Caulk and paint. Use blue or green tape to separate colors if your crown color is different from that on the wall.

Avoiding Bad, Bad Base Joints

Most base molding is joined by butting 45 degree angle cuts together in a corner that is usually not square or tapers out at the bottom. The result is an open joint that needs a lot of caulk and still looks bad when finished.

I don’t do that because it is a fight you can’t win without using shims and such. Then you wind up with a large caulk joint at the top of your base where you used the shim. So here is what I do:

  • Cut one piece of base square on the end and butt it tight to the wall.
  • Cut the opposing piece at a 45 degree angle with the long point that touches the wall the starting point for your cut
  • The cut will expose the exact amount of raw unfinished material that needs to be removed
  • Cut out that material with a fine bladed coping saw being careful not to dig into the exposed finished area. Use a pencil to mark the edge of the cut if your base is not already coated with a primer.
  • Butt the newly cut piece into your square-cut piece.
  • If there is a gap at top or bottom, make a slight adjustment on your saw, cut, then fine tune your final trimming with the coping saw. When you slide the mitered piece towards the wall, it will remain tight to the square cut piece with no gap.
  • Butt mitered piece to square-cut piece and use hook nail pattern to install

NOTE: Using two template pieces in similar fashion that was described for crown molding will usually eliminate cutting your mitered piece more than once.

Door Casing Quickie

Door trim gaps are readily noticeable when you look at casing before caulking. And caulking large gaps does little to hide goofs from the viewer. I know the steps below look cumbersome, but can be a 1-2-3 operation once you get into a rhythm. Here is what I do:

  • Butt a piece of casing against your hinges to determine your reveal
  • The reveal can be more, but not less than, the hinge allowance
  • Place the first piece against the jamb and against the finished floor. If the floor is not finished, don’t try to guess. Go to unfinished floor
  • Mark the short point which is touching the jamb with a pencil allowing for the same reveal dictated by the hinges.
  • Cut your 45 degree angle and install by nailing into jamb only.
  • Cut the adjoining header piece of casing at 45 degrees and test the fit. Do not cut the opposite end yet.
  • Make an adjustment for any gap on your saw and pretest.
  • If fit is tight, mark for your reveal on other side and cut 45 degree angle
  • Butt tight to first vertical piece and nail to jamb only
  • Then nail corners together on finished side first by bringing them flush together.
  • Use a scrap piece for last vertical casing cut and make a 45 degree cut
  • Test fit, make adjustment on saw, and use same angle for final vertical piece. Mark your final vertical piece and cut
  • Nail to jamb only and then bring mitered joints flush and nail together
  • Complete installation by using two-inch finish nails into wall on outside edge of casing. Don’t open mitered joints by trying to push casing tight to wall. Let caulk make up for gaps from casing to wall.

NOTE: If finished floor is to come later, use sample piece of flooring along with any type of underlayment underneath and butt to casing. Using a Japanese style finish saw, lay on top of flooring and cut casing.

Butt base to casing after door is set and secured. If Base is thicker than casing, make up difference with slight angle cut on outer edge of base.

If your door is close to a corner wall, start your first piece of casing on the inside corner wall side and work away from it with your header casing.

Conclusion

If all of this seems like too much effort, than do it your way. Just expect people who see your finished project to notice all the imperfections.

I would much rather see you fool them into thinking you really know what you are doing. With these tips and tricks, you will. It’s your house. Be proud of the way it looks!

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