Learn better ways to cut and install casing, baseboard and crown molding, tricks for hanging doors and avoiding bad transitions, and other secrets of the trim carpentry profession.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine:November 2009
Holding trim in place to mark it for length is faster and more accurate than
measuring. But that's not easy to do with long pieces of trim. When you're
cutting miters and need to hold the end of a long piece of casing in place
while you mark the far end, just pin it with your brad nailer. It doesn't take
much. If you're putting up 3/8-in.-thick trim, just tack it with a 1-in. brad. After
marking, pull the molding loose. You'll have to pull the nail and fill one extra
nail hole in the trim. But that sure beats hiring a gum-chewing helper.
It's always guesswork when it
comes to getting an exact inside
measurement by bending the tape
into the corner. An easier and more
accurate method is to measure
from both ends toward the center
and add the two lengths. To make
the math easy, make the first mark
at 10 in. or a multiple of 10.
Measure from the opposite corner
to your first mark and add them to
get the total length.
If you're coping baseboards or
other moldings that have a relatively
long straight section, cut the
straight section with the miter saw
instead of your coping saw. You'll
get a straighter cut and save time.
After cutting the first 45-degree,
swing the miter saw to 30 degrees
and cut along the straight section
of the cope. Be careful to lift the
blade before releasing the trigger. If
you're careful and have a steady
hand, with a little practice you can
even rough out curvy sections of
copes with the miter saw. Then it
only takes seconds to fine-tune the
cope with a file.
Simplify door installations by
shimming the hinge side of the
rough opening before you set the
prehung door. Mark the hinge locations
first, right behind the hinges
if you’re adding long screws into
the framing for heavy solid-core
doors, or just above or below the
hinges for lightweight hollowcores.
Use a long level or tape a
shorter level to a 6-ft.-long straight
board. Make sure the shims extend
equally from both sides so the
jamb won’t get twisted. Shim the
top and bottom first until the level
reads plumb. Then use the level as
a straightedge to set the center
shims. Tack the shims into place with
your brad gun. Aim for about a
1/4-in. gap between the level and
Now you can simply set
the door in the opening and nail
through the hinge-side jamb into
the shims. No more fumbling
around trying to hold the door in
place while you shim it. You'll still
have to shim and nail the latch
side, but that's easy with the door
Hot-melt glue has always been handy for temporary
holding tasks, but industrial-strength polyurethane
hot-melt adhesive is strong enough to make permanent
connections. It’s especially handy for those
small pieces of molding that are sure to break if you
try to nail them. It’s also good for hard-to-attach
items like handrail returns.
We bought a kit from a woodworking supply store that contained a glue
gun and three sticks of hot-melt glue. Search
online for “polyurethane hot melt glue” to find more
information and a buying source.
Transition blocks can solve all kinds of challenging
molding problems. One of the most common uses for
blocks is in old houses where door casing and base
meet. But here are several other situations where
transition blocks are an elegant solution:
When you're nailing baseboard, you can avoid finding
and marking every stud. The key is to find the exact
center of a stud that's on a 16-in. (or 24-in.) layout. Do
this by looking for drywall screws along the bottom of
the wall or probing the area on either side of and
below an outlet. Make a series of nail holes into the
wall where it will be covered with the baseboard, stopping
when you find both edges of the stud.
Mark the center of the stud on the floor. Extend
and lock your tape measure along the floor, and align
one of the 16-in. layout marks with the center mark for
the stud, as shown on the right. Use the 16-in. marks
of the tape as a guide for driving nails.
Finding and marking wall studs and
ceiling joists for crown molding installation
is tedious. And even after locating
framing members, you’re limited to
fastening only at these spots. It may
take a little more work initially, but
installing a continuous backer will
speed up crown molding installation
and result in a better job. You don’t
even have to locate studs.
Make a template by aligning a small
piece of crown molding with the edges
of a sheet of paper. Let one edge of
the paper represent the wall and one
edge the ceiling. Trace along the back
of the molding to make a pattern.
Adjust the pattern to leave 1/4 in.
between the back of the molding and
the blocking to allow for variations in
the wall and ceiling. Use the template
to set your table saw to the correct
angle and rip 2x4s for backing. Attach
the backing with screws driven into
the top plate.
When you install crown moldings,
don't nail within 2 ft. of the inside corner
on the end of the straight-cut
pieces. Leaving the end loose allows
you to shift the molding slightly to
align perfectly with the intersecting
coped molding. Since the end is
trapped by the coped piece, it doesn't
require nails to stay in place.
Sometimes you'll need to cope both ends of a molding. But getting a good fit is tricky, and if you mess up, you have to start over. Avoid the hassle by cutting the molding about 1/4 to 1/2 in. too long. Then cut it into two pieces. Cut at a 30-degree bevel at a position that will locate the joint over a stud or other nailer. Now fit the copes one at a time. When both are perfect, nail up half of the molding. Then trim the 30-degree bevel on the other until you get a perfect joint.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.
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