Tighten up open miters
Uneven walls or misaligned jambs make it hard to get tight-fitting
miters. If your miter has a consistent gap at the front,
there’s a good chance that putting a slight back bevel on both
moldings will fix the problem. If you own a compound miter
saw, you could tilt the saw about a half-degree, but that
requires fussy adjustments.
The quickest and easiest way to cut a slight back bevel is to
shim the molding so it’s resting at an angle to the saw blade. A
pencil makes a handy shim and is just about the right thickness.
You can adjust the position or thickness of the shim to
compensate for all kinds of wall variations. You can even shim
just the back or the front to mimic how the trim rests on uneven drywall.
Cut steep angles on your miter saw
It’s not common, but occasionally you’ll run into a situation
that requires miters greater than the 45- or 50-degree angle available on miter saws. The second photo shows one solution.
Scribe trim to fit uneven walls
Learning how to scribe moldings to fit tightly to uneven surfaces
is a vital trim carpentry skill. And once you get the hang
of scribing, you’ll find all kinds of situations where it’ll come in
handy. Here we’re showing how to fit a casing against an out-of-
plumb wall. You can also scribe door bottoms, inside corners
of wainscoting, and even shelving or cabinets that abut
There are several types of scribing tools, but the simple compass
with a wing-nut lock shown is a favorite with many trim
carpenters. The second photo shows how to use the compass
to scribe a line. Then finish up by cutting and trimming to the line for a perfectly fitting piece (photo below).
Angle a nail to close baseboard gaps
Sometimes you can’t force baseboard tight against the wall
because there’s no stud behind the gap. This is especially
common at outside corners if there’s a buildup of joint compound.
But there is a bottom plate that you can reach with a
well-placed nail. For the best control and maximum hold, set
aside your nail gun for a minute and reach for a hammer and
an 8d finish nail. The cutaway photo below shows how the angled nail catches the plate.
Make blocks for tough transitions
Used tastefully, transition blocks can be a real problem solver for finish carpenters. Rather than struggling to align moldings or fudging to match
profiles, you can make a nice transition with a decorative
block. You can buy ready-made blocks, but it’s easy to make
your own. Cut the block to the height and width you think look
good. Then cut or rout the top or add a small molding to complement
your trim style. Use transition blocks where stair
skirts intersect baseboards, where floor levels change, or at the
bottom of door casings where the baseboard is thicker than the casing.
Big humps require surgery
Careful framing is the key to easy trim installation. But in the
rush to get the walls put up, framing carpenters sometimes get
a little sloppy. A stud that’s not lined up with the plate causes a
big hump in the wall, making it difficult to get the baseboard
tight. But if you’re courageous enough to cut into your wall, the
fix is simple. Start by cutting out a little chunk of drywall right
at the hump to see what the problem is. There could just be a
chunk of drywall or other debris trapped between the drywall
and the bottom plate. Or the stud could be misaligned. If this is the case, see the second photo for the solution.
Clean out corners before you start
Even careful drywall tapers can end up with an accumulation
of joint compound near the bottom of inside corners. The
problem is that all that extra mud prevents the baseboard
from fitting well. The trick is to scrape off the buildup before
you start installing the base. You can use a small pry bar with
a sharp edge, a dull chisel or a stiff putty knife scraper. Before
you start scraping, mark the top of the baseboard on the wall. Then scrape below the line where it won’t show.
Keep an oscillating multi-tool handy
On every trim job, there’s at least one situation where an oscillating
multi-tool can save the day. Whether it’s trimming the
bottom of an installed casing or notching a transition piece, an
oscillating tool with a woodcutting blade is the perfect choice.
Prices have come way down, so it’s a tool every finish carpenter can afford. For more information, see “Oscillating Tool Uses.”
Keep baseboard from tipping
Most drywall is installed with the tapered edge parallel to the
floor and with at least 1/2 in. between the drywall and the
floor. The combination of the space along the floor and the
drywall taper can allow the baseboard to tip in at the bottom.
This isn’t a big problem along the length of walls, but at inside
corners, the tilt can make fitting coped corners difficult. The second photo shows a simple fix.
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Join moldings with biscuits
Strengthening trim joints with biscuits may seem like overkill,
but it’s a great way to keep miters tight and prevent misalignment
when you nail moldings to the wall. This tip is especially
useful for larger casings, which are harder to hold in alignment.
But you can add biscuits to just about any joint that’s wide
enough to accommodate them. The photos show how.
You’ll need a biscuit joiner and some biscuits. If
you’re not familiar with this tool, see How to Make a Biscuit Joint.
Cut and fit the miters first, then cut the biscuit slots. The second photo shows how to cut biscuits on a profiled molding.
On new doors and windows that are perfectly square, some
carpenters cut and assemble the casings with biscuits and nail
the assembly to the wall after the glue dries. Or you can use the technique we show here and add the biscuits as you go.