In this article, we'll show you how to cut out and assemble the square-edged moldings to make the window and door trim, baseboard, cove and plate rail you see in the photos here. The trim may look complex, but because it's built up from multiple pieces, it's actually quite easy to install. The 1/2-in. square moldings that run against the floor and along the edges of the cove bend easily to conform to irregular surfaces and hide gaps. In addition, most of the inside corner pieces simply butt together and don't require miters or bevels. You'll still have to work carefully to get nice-fitting joints, but the small size of the individual pieces makes them easier to cut and fit.
In addition to basic hand tools, you'll need a table saw to rip the thin strips from larger boards and a miter saw to make crisp, clean cuts in the hardwood. We used a bench-top planer to remove saw marks and to reduce the thickness of the 3/4-in. stock to 1/2-in. for some of the trim pieces (Photo 2). If you don't own a planer, hire the lumberyard or a local woodworker to plane these pieces for you. We recommend an air powered trim nailer (Photo 5), which not only speeds up the work but also makes it much easier to get tight-fitting joints. You can rent a nailer and compressor or buy a kit containing both at a fairly low cost.
We're using “plain sawn” red oak for this project rather than the more expensive “quarter sawn” that was common for Craftsman trim. It's readily available at home centers and most lumberyards. To simplify your planning, all the pieces are either 1x4s (3/4-in. x 3-1/2 in. actual size) or can be cut from 1x4s.The key to using plain sawn oak is to select the boards for similar appearance and attractive grain patterns. Straight-grained pieces usually look best and should be reserved for prominent locations. Use the less attractive wood for baseboards in areas that will be hidden by furniture. If you have a better selection of wider boards, 1x6s for example, buy these instead and rip them on the table saw to make your moldings.
Start the project by measuring the doors, windows and walls of your room and calculate the quantities of each piece of trim you'll need. Then rip all the pieces to width on your table saw (Figure A and Photo 1). Add 1/8 in. extra to the width to allow for planing. To rip thin strips safely without removing the blade guard, clamp an extension to your table saw fence and use a custom-made push block like the one shown in Photo 1. When all the pieces are ripped, run them through the planer to remove saw blade marks from the edges. Then separate the pieces that need to be reduced to 1/2 in. thick and plane them down (Photo 2). Run them through the planer about four or five times, removing no more than 1/16 in. with each pass until they measure ½ in. thick.
Trim the doors and windows first. Start by making a series of light marks every 12 in. along the jambs, 3/16 in. in from the inside edge with a sharp pencil, to indicate the edge of the trim (inset, Photo 4). On windows, install the stool first. We added a stool to a casement (crank-out) window by simply gluing and nailing it to the jamb (Photo 3). The stool on double-hung windows (windows where the sashes slide up and down) usually rests on top of the sill. You have to notch the ends to fit against the wall.
Measure between the jambs and add 9-3/8 in. to determine the length of the stool (1 in. beyond the side casings). Then center it on the window and glue and nail it to the jamb (Photo 3). It's difficult to get the stool and frame perfectly flush. Predrill the stool with a 5/64-in. bit and continue the hole 1/4 in. into the frame. Keep the frame and stool aligned while you drill. Cut the 1x4 apron 2 in. shorter than the stool. Center it on the window and snug it up to the bottom of the stool before nailing it to the framing under the window. For a durable, tight-fitting trim job, especially when working with 3/4-in. trim, it's essential to nail into the wall framing. Use a stud finder to locate the edges of studs and other framing around windows, doors and ceiling edges. When nailing through drywall into the framing, use 2-1/2 in. finish nails. If you're hand nailing, predrill the oak with a 5/64-in. bit.
Mark and cut side casings (Photo 4). Be sure to trim the end that rests on the stool for a tight fit before marking the top. Drive 1-1/2 in. nails every 16 in. into the jambs along the inside edge and 2-1/2 in. nails through the outside edge into the wall framing. Complete the window by assembling the head jamb and nailing overtop (Photo 6). Don't use a power nailer to attach the fillet to the jamb. Instead drill 5/64-in. pilot holes through the fillet and drive 2-in. long finish nails by hand (the same technique you used to attach the stool in Photo 3). With the exception of the stool, trim out doors just like windows.
The baseboard consists of a 1x4 with a two-piece cap and a square molding (base shoe) that covers gaps at the floor (Figure A). Before you start installing the base, locate the center of the wall studs with a stud finder or other method and mark their locations on the floor (mark on the paper used to protect the floor, or use strips of masking tape). Run the first piece of base wall to wall. Then cut square ends on the adjoining pieces and butt them into the first piece. If there's a gap at the butted joint, use a scribing tool (Photo 7) to mark the base and then recut it along the scribed line. Miter the base to fit around outside corners. Cut boards a few inches too long and mark in place whenever possible. Then make your cut about 1/16 in. beyond the mark to allow for fine adjustments. Mark, cut and fit both sides of outside corners before nailing either piece to the wall.
Nail the 1/2-in. x 1-1/4 in. lower cap down to the 1x4 base. Use a sharp handsaw to notch the lower cap to overlap door casings (Photo 8). This is a highly visible joint, so work for a tight fit. Once again, butt inside corners and miter outside corners. Cut and fit the top cap using the same technique as the 1x4 base. On floors without carpet, finish the baseboard by installing the square base shoe molding along the floor. Press the molding tight to the floor to cover gaps and nail it to the baseboard with 1-1/4-in. finish nails.
The cove molding consists of five pieces. Start by locating and marking the wall studs and ceiling framing members. If you put the marks about 4 in. from the wall and ceiling corner, they'll be hidden by the trim. You probably won't find any ceiling framing along two of the walls that run parallel to the ceiling joists. Photo 12 shows how to attach the trim to the ceiling along these walls.
Start the installation by installing the 1x4 against the wall. This is exactly like installing the baseboard, except you'll need a ladder. Next install the 1x4 flat to the ceiling. Miter the inside and outside corners. Walls are rarely perfectly square to each other, so for a perfect fit you'll probably have to adjust the angles a fraction of a degree. Use a pair of test boards cut at 45 degrees to test the fit (Photo 11). If there's a gap, adjust the miter box angle slightly until they fit. Complete the cove by nailing the three remaining square profile moldings to the 1x4s (Photo 13).
We installed the plate rail 14 in. down from the top of the door head casing. Begin by marking this distance on the wall. Then measure down from the bottom of the cove molding and use this measurement to mark the height of the molding around the remainder of the room. A pencil mark every 4 ft. and at the corners is sufficient. This method is usually better than leveling because the rail will be parallel to the ceiling. Once again locate and mark the stud locations. Installation is similar to the base and cove. Nail up the rail first. Then notch the shelf to overlap door and window casings by 1-1/2 in. and nail it down into the 1x4. Use 1-1/2 in. brads or finish nails. Next cut the shelf cove and nail it to the rail. Overlap this piece 3/4 in. onto door and window casings. Complete the plate rail by nailing the shelf cove edge to the rail (Photo 14).
Sand the boards and trim pieces with 120-grit sandpaper followed by 180-grit and stain them before installation. We used Zar brand Provincial oil stain for most of the trim. For the darker-stained pieces, we used Zar Dark Mahogany. When all the moldings are installed, brush on a coat of sanding sealer. Then putty the nail holes with soft Color Putty. Mix two colors of putty to get a match if necessary. Lightly sand the surface with 220-grit sandpaper after the sealer dries. Vacuum off the dust and recoat with the polyurethane or varnish of your choice. Use the same brand of finish for the seal coat and the final coat.