Flawless Two-Piece Baseboard
If you dial in your measurements and fine-tune your cuts, you won’t need the painter to make your work look good.
Synopsis: Although often passed up in favor of speedbase-style single-piece baseboard, which is faster to install and less expensive, two-piece baseboard has several advantages: It’s better at hiding waves in walls, and it keeps joints tighter in corners. Carpenter Nick Schiffer explains his typical installation process, which includes measuring, cutting, scribing, fastening, making splices, and cutting copes.
In the world of building, finish carpentry is the second-to-last step before the homeowners move in—or in the case of a remodel like this one, before they reoccupy the room. My job is to make sure that the framers, drywall installers, and flooring guys who came before me look good, and that the painter who comes after me isn’t left with the task of hiding sloppy joints, excessive nail holes, and oversize gaps.
Although many houses are trimmed with a one-piece, shaped base-board that mimics the look of a traditional two-piece installation—a product known as speedbase—I still prefer the real deal: flat stock topped with a separate cap molding. This two-piece installation takes a bit longer, but it provides more leeway for finesse when it comes to hiding waves in walls and keeping joints tight at corners, even if they aren’t square.
Clear the room and prep the area
y process for installing baseboard on remodel jobs is essentially the same as it is in new construction. The only notable exceptions are that remodels typically include a bit more job-site protection, may require that I set up my saw outside or in a garage if the house is occupied, and likely involve removing the existing baseboard before installing the new.
Ideally, I remove all furniture and set up my miter saw and other tools right in the room that I’m working in. at the least, I move all the furniture to the center of the room and cover it with a drop cloth, then I find a nearby spot to set up shop for cutting.
I protect the floor of the room with kraft paper—holding it off the wall by a few inches so that it won’t interfere with the baseboard—and seal doorways with plastic sheeting. With the room prepped, I remove any existing baseboard with a thin flat bar and a hammer.
Unless the baseboard is being saved, my priority is to keep the drywall intact. If the baseboard splits or breaks in half, I’m not concerned, but holes made in the wall that won’t be covered by the new trim mean extra work. If the baseboard comes off in long lengths, I cut it into shorter sections on the miter saw so it can be loaded into a barrel alongside broken pieces and shorter remnants for carrying to the Dumpster.
To eliminate the chance of the new baseboard being hung up by old nails and debris, I pull any nails left behind in the wall, scrape away caulk, and vacuum the whole area. If walls are already painted, I mark stud locations with pieces of painter’s tape or with pencil marks on the paper that covers the flooring. If the walls will be painted after my installation, I mark the studs just above where the new baseboard will go.
First comes the flat stock
For paint-grade jobs, I use primed finger-jointed pine for the flat stock. Once I’ve cut pieces and positioned them on the floor where they will be installed, I look for places that will require excessive scribing along the bottom edge of the baseboard where it meets the floor. If the installation will be finished off with shoe molding, then scribing isn’t usually necessary, but shoe molding isn’t used much in my region.
All the flat stock is fastened with a pair of 2-1/2-in.-long 15-ga. finish nails into each stud, and the mating mitered pieces of both inside and outside corners are coated with wood glue before being fitted together. I assemble most corners right in place, and I like to leave the first piece loose at least one stud back from the corner until the second piece has been fitted and clamped and the glue has dried. Small jogs and runs of trim with outside corners are often easier to fasten together on the workbench with glue and miter clamps and then to drop into place as one piece.
For long walls, it’s necessary to splice together two pieces of stock with either a traditional scarf joint or a reinforced butt joint.
For photos and more information on cap molding and flat stock, click the View PDF button below.