Help me cope with mitering my baseboards.
January 2, 2010 12:23 PM   Subscribe

I am installing baseboard in the next day or so. For those of you who have installed baseboards, what do you wish you'd known at the beginning of the project that only became apparent when you were done?

Some questions I have:

Coping vs. Miter cuts?

Handsaw vs. Mitre saw?

Nailing vs. Nailgun?

The floor I am working on is about 1300 square feet. I am fairly confident that I will end up using a lot of wood putty by the time this is over. Thanks for any tips or advice.
posted by mecran01 to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Cope inside corners if you can. Miter outside corners.

Power miter saw is far easier and more accurate.

Pneumatic finish nailer is far, far easier.

If staining (as opposed to painting), stain and finish BEFORE filling the nail holes. Match color of filler to the color of the finished wood; stainable putties don't work.
posted by jon1270 at 12:30 PM on January 2, 2010

Some coping is inevitable. You can only get away with miter cuts when two pieces meet on a straight line, as in along a wall. You will HAVE to cope when two pieces meet in a corner if you want them to look right. I would strongly advise getting a contour gauge to make that job easier.

Handsaw vs. miter saw and nailing vs. nailgun are really matters of personal preference, and the size of the job. I did my daughter's bedroom with about 50-ish linear feet of baseboard without either. One thing I will tell you from my experience is that if you're working in a room with a finished hardwood or laminate floor and are using a hammer to nail the baseboards back on, lay down a piece of old carpet or something to protect the area around where you're nailing. I nicked the just-installed Pergo laminate with the claw end of the hammer, and felt like a IDIOT afterwards.
posted by deadmessenger at 12:31 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

For your own sanity, use a finish nail gun. You'll be sorry otherwise. I've always used a powered miter saw, too, but I'm a wuss who prefers power tools. Baseboards aren't really that bad, just measure very carefully.
posted by zvs at 12:32 PM on January 2, 2010

Buy several feet of extra trim and practice your cuts and label the ones that you get right with the saw angle. If you can use the power tools it will be much easier.

Mark the studs with painter's tape on the floor or above the trim so that you'll be able to tell where they are when the trim is in place.
posted by Frank Grimes at 12:33 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

On preview, what deadmessenger said.
posted by zvs at 12:34 PM on January 2, 2010

Response by poster: It looks like I will be buying a coping saw and a contour gauge. Please keep the advice coming, this is excellent. My newly-discovered tip: the Habitat for Humanity remainders shop in my town has free overnight finish gun rentals, with a credit card as a deposit.
posted by mecran01 at 12:47 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do NOT assume that your floors are level, your corners are square, or your walls are plumb. Measure everything carefully.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 1:18 PM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Contour gauge is not necessary. The way I learned to cope inside corners is to:
  1. Cut a 45 degree miter on the end you want to cope (as if you were mitering for an inside corner)
  2. You can lightly shade the "edge" where the face of the trim meets the mitered face with the edge of a pencil.
  3. With a handheld coping/jigsaw, cut to that pencil line. Make sure you remove excess material form the back of the trim, so that the finished coped edge is the first/only part to touch the adjacent trim board. You can also use this technique to allow you to "crush to fit" a bit to make up for any deficiencies in your coping skills.
Hopefully this technique make sense when described -- I learned it by watching, which was a lot clearer I imagine.

Also, do not asume that your outside corners are 90 degrees -- the corner guard plus mudding typically makes them somewhat acute -- get a protractor/dial gauge so that you can measure the corner, divide that by 2, and set your miter saw accordingly.
posted by misterbrandt at 1:35 PM on January 2, 2010

Here's my $.02:

- Buy 2-3 extra boards of trim... there's nothing worse then an unsightly seam on an exposed wall!
- Measuring can be tough if the walls and/or floors aren't straight... cut a little long then nibble away to get a perfect fit.
- Use a pneumatic finish nailer.
- Keep in mind floors of varying heights and plan the joint/transition carefully.

Good luck!
posted by mrrisotto at 1:56 PM on January 2, 2010

Finish (paint or stain) the baseboards before you install them: it's a heck of a lot easier to do a little post-install touch up here and there than to spend the better part of a day on your hands and knees with a paintbrush.
posted by jamaro at 2:14 PM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Make sure your corners really are right angles before you cut. I stuck a sliding t-bevel in each corner to copy the angle, then adjusted the saw to match.
posted by PatoPata at 2:50 PM on January 2, 2010

Do not use a hand saw. Nailgun is faster and easier but countersinking works just as well.
posted by itsamonkeytree at 3:44 PM on January 2, 2010

If you do use a hand saw, you want a japanese pull saw. In fact, you want one anyway.
posted by cmoj at 4:03 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Get a hand plane to sharpen up your cuts so they fit together nicer. I think another trick is to cut joints and miters a hair negative so the outside edge fits together nice and clean.

To miter an outside corner that isn't true (which they all mostly aren't), get two pieces of identical lumber (like flat trim stock) and lay them flat on the floor against the walls and one on top of the other. Draw lines on the lower piece against the sides of the upper piece. Join the two lines with a diagonal line. That's your angle to cut at.

If your floor is wavy, you can either leave a small gap between the floor and the trim so the waviness is less visible, or you can scribe the floor to the trim and install it tight to the floor. What you do is find the high spot and the low spot of the floor. Say the variance is 1/4 inch. Install the trim temporarily, level to the high spot. Use a scribe set at 1/4 inch and trace a line on the trim following the contour of the floor. Trim the wood to that line, and then set it on the floor. Should fit nice and tight.
posted by gjc at 5:15 PM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Get a few extra boards. much cheaper than living with a crappy seam somewhere just to make it work.

miter knife. miter saw too but the knife lets you take really small shavings so it fits just right. ( or other sources. they are out there if you're a tool geek like me)

don't measure. hold it up. mark it. cut it a little long and sneak up to the right size.

this month's Fine Homebuilding magazine has a good article on finish carpentry. it's worth the $8.99 or so.

nailgun FTW

make the joints you see when first entering the room the absolute best you can. first impressions and all that.

map out from the middle to minimize visible corners.

expect to ruin a few pieces. save them for the shorter sections.

if floors or walls are really wavy, use shoe trim or 1/4 round to hide the gaps. if not too bad just caulk. caulk hides LOTS of sins. get good at squeezing the caulk!

if you have a lot of inside corners make a coping jig. get a jigsaw.
posted by KenManiac at 8:57 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is great help. I have about 100 linear feat (I'm not doing the bedrooms) and about five inside corners. I've just borrowed a consumer grade electric nailgun with 18 gauge 1 1/4" nails. I've also picked up a contour gauge and a coping saw, and one extra 12 ft. section (but will buy more if necessary). It should be interesting, and I will definitely caulk like the wind.

Could you explain "map out from the middle to minimize visible corners" for me? Does that mean I'm trying to minimize the number of seams? Thanks!
posted by mecran01 at 9:28 PM on January 2, 2010

Could you explain "map out from the middle to minimize visible corners" for me? Does that mean I'm trying to minimize the number of seams? Thanks!

yes, it means doing the boards in a sequence that lets the next board overlap the previous board as many times as possible. if you have a choice of putting A before B or B before A and one gives a better result, do that one. don't just start in one corner and work all the way around. again, to make it look good from the door (or where your favorite sitting spot will be).
posted by KenManiac at 9:50 AM on January 3, 2010

Could you explain "map out from the middle to minimize visible corners" for me? Does that mean I'm trying to minimize the number of seams? Thanks!
To expand on KenManiac's comment, even as tightly as you cope your inside corners, it will pretty much always look better to look at a corner when your eye is looking along the length of the board that WAS coped, rather than the board that was NOT coped. (the difference is seeing the uncoped board on the far wall disappear behind the coped end, vs. seeing the uncoped end extend beyond the raggedy coped end) So think about the "long views" within the room, and views that the seating layout will encourage, and make sure that whenever possible you aren't going to be staring at the coped joint, but instead looking 90 degrees to a coped joint.

Do your first inside corners in a closet, or something. Or on some scrap pieces of base.
posted by misterbrandt at 3:28 PM on January 4, 2010

Response by poster: My little wood gauge wasn't very useful. If I had to do this over again, I would have gotten a variable mitre box, because, as noted above, none of the angles are exactly 90 degrees.

Also, cutting long then sanding to fit is a concept that has changed my life.

Thanks all.
posted by mecran01 at 12:54 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

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