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Baseboard Installation Tutorial and Tips


Baseboard installation is not rocket science and it’s something most DIY carpenters can handle, but like most things it is the small details that can make the difference between an OK job and one that you are proud of.

The tips on this site are derived from my years in construction and have been picked up from various sources. Since this site sells baseboard corners the ideas apply specifically to installing baseboards using baseboard corner blocks, but many of the ideas would also work for baseboard installation without corners. Also, just as in so many other areas, there is more than one right way to install baseboards.

ORDERING MATERIALS ORDERING BASEBOARD CORNERS: Before you order baseboard corners you will need to know for sure what size your baseboards will be. Once that is determined you can do a count of the various corners required.

Faver Wood Products has corners for nearly every corner application including round bullnose corners and sharp corners. If you want to eliminate as much mitering as possible, you can use corners for outside 90 degree sharp and bullnose (round), outside and inside 45 degree sharp and rounded, and inside 90 degree sharp corners. We do not sell inside 90 degree round corners nor corners for the baby bullnose corners.

It is much cheaper order a couple extra corners with your initial order than to need to order “just a couple more” later. Not only does it cost more to order a few corners later with shipping costs, but it could also hold up the project.

HANDY BASEBOARD MEASURING SUGGESTION: For larger projects a 100' measuring tape is very handy for calculating the amount of baseboard to order. I like to start at an exterior door and just work my way around the house, no bending down involved. You just run the tape along the walls and when you come to places where there is no baseboard, such as door frames, you just slide the tape over without pulling it out. When you reach the 100' mark, remember where you were and roll up the tape. It will be snaked through a few rooms. Repeat the process till you are all the way around, add up the number of time you measured 100', and add on the number of feet you unrolled the tape after your last 100' mark. It is good to add on a little for waste, but if you measure and cut as I explain below, you should end up with very little waste.

BASEBOARD PREP STAINED OR CLEAR COATED BASEBOARDS: If using solid wood baseboard that is to be stained and/or clear coated I like to completely finish it before cutting and installation. For best results the baseboards should be lightly sanded before finishing. Baseboard corner pieces should also be finished beforehand.

PAINTED BASEBOARDS: Painted baseboards usually come either primed or prefinished. Personally, I prefer to buy them just primed, because that way you can apply a final coat after installation to cover up nail holes, caulking, and any scuff marks (one of those details referred to earlier).

- I recommend applying one coat of finish paint before cutting.

- If using primed baseboard corners I would install them without any finish paint (more on that later).

MEASURING -  ORGANIZING YOUR MEASUREMENTS: Whether you are doing one room or a complete house, it is a good idea to get all your measurements before you start cutting.

- You can get all the measurements for a complete floor of an average-sized house (depending, of course, how big average is for you) on one 8.5x11” paper sheet on a clip board. It works well to start in the room doorway and work your way clockwise around the room.

- If you have a lot of measurements it makes it easier for cutting if you enter them on a spreadsheet and sort them from longest to shortest. You need to then enter beside each measurement which room it is for and make sure that when you sort them the room labels stay beside the correct measurements. This step is optional.

GETTING THE MEASUREMENTS: When measuring I like to take a couple short pieces (approx. 3") of baseboard, an outside corner block, and 2 inside corner blocks along with me.

- For outside corners it works well to hold the corner block in place with the short baseboard pieces against it to determine exactly where the baseboard corner should fit on the corner. Then mark the wall against both sides of the baseboard corner and use that for measuring the baseboard length.

- For inside corners put an inside corner block in the corner and measure against that.

- When measuring against door casing it is easier to get an accurate measurement if you put your short piece of baseboard against the trim and measure to the end of that. The door casing is often slightly rounded, making it difficult to measure accurately.

- While not required, it does make it a little easier later if you also write the baseboard measurement on each wall behind the baseboard.

- As long as you are making a square cut, you only need to write down the measurement, but often there are at least a few pieces that need a mitred cut. For those I draw a short line with angled ends indicating how the piece needs to be cut. I then write the measurement of the back of the baseboard between the angled cuts directly above the little diagram.

CUTTING SAW SETUP: A mitre saw with a sharp blade works the best for cutting baseboards. A compound mitre saw where you can angle the blade both ways is nice, but not a necessity. Ideally you should set up your saw with a solid table going both ways from the blade. The table should be long enough, at least on one side, that a full length baseboard will lay flat on there for measuring and marking your cuts.

Some mitre saws use a red line to show exactly where the blade will cut. If your saw does not have that capability I would suggest a layer or two of masking tape on the turn base over the blade cut thru area. Position the tape so that when the baseboard is lying flat on the turn base you can still see part of the tape. Make a cut thru the tape with the mitre saw. If you are able to cut thru it without tearing the tape too badly you now have the exact edges of the blade marked. If you now mark your baseboard measurements on the edge you know exactly where to place the baseboard so that it cuts exactly where you marked it. Sometimes it works just as well to use this tape trick on the back fence instead of on the flat turn base.

Here is where it pays off to have ALL the measurements before starting to cut. When starting to cut a full length piece of baseboard, cut your longest pieces first. Any single piece that is at least half as long as your full length baseboard will need to be cut out of a full length piece. Once you have cut your first long piece out of a baseboard it is a good idea to plan a little what pieces will make the best use of the remaining length. Generally you want to continue cutting pieces as long as possible because the short pieces can be cut from any length of baseboard. Very often, especially if doing multiple rooms including closets, most of your full length baseboards will end up with only a couple inches of waste.

- Pieces shorter than a few inches are not only difficult to cut, but also dangerous. Do a little planning ahead as you are cutting and instead of cutting the small pieces when you get to the very end of the baseboard length, cut them before you cut the last decent sized piece.

- For the odd wall that needs a baseboard longer than one full length piece you will get a better joint if you don't just butt the two pieces together. Angle the two ends that meet at approx. 30 degrees so that the one piece is over the other one. If you figure out ahead of time where your studs are and make sure this joint is over a stud, you can glue and nail the joint solidly together. In order to get the two pieces cut so that when you put them in place they will be the correct length I like to cut both ends of one piece, then cut the angle in the second piece where it meets the first one and lay the two pieces together on the floor. Then you can measure from the far end of the first piece to get the full length on the other piece.

- As you cut each piece, mark the room and the measurement on the back of the piece. Also cross it out on your cut list. It is a good idea as you are cutting your pieces to organize them on the floor according to rooms. - Unless you are super good at measuring and cutting accurately, your pieces will not all fit perfectly the first time. Even so, I think it is much quicker and efficient to cut all the pieces at the same time instead of cutting and fitting each piece as you go.

INSTALLATION FINAL PAINT PREP BEFORE INSTALLING BASEBOARDS: I recommend giving painted baseboards a final coat of paint after installation. Here a little help from wax paper makes it easy to keep the paint off the flooring. Cut a roll of wax paper, the kind you use in the kitchen, into 3 smaller rolls. This is easily done on your mitre saw. Before installing the baseboards roll out the wax paper and fasten to the wall behind the baseboard. Just run it high enough on the wall to fasten it. I prefer to staple it to the wall, but short pieces of masking tape also work. If you fasten it just enough to hold it in place till the baseboard is nailed in place, you might be able to pull it out later. What you can't pull out will need to be cut with a sharp knife.

BASEBOARD CORNER INSTALLATION: Sometimes there is extra drywall mud at the bottom of the wall in the corners. This needs to be scraped away. Also, sometimes the inside corners do not sit straight. Here is a trick that works well for both inside baseboard corner blocks and mitred baseboards. A drywall screw, or other short screw, works good as an adjustable shim. Just screw it in behind the baseboard near the bottom of the wall leaving it out far enough to hold the corner block or baseboard at the right angle.

Inside corner blocks only need a nail or two to keep them from sliding up. No glue is needed because the baseboards will prevent them from coming out. The outside corner blocks are another story. If you just depend on nails or silicone or ordinary woodworking glue they will likely get knocked loose with time. You need a much stronger glue. I have found that PL 400 or PL Premium works well. With a strong glue like that, or similar, use a couple brad nails to hold the corner block in place till the glue sets. You will find your own system for installing the corners with the baseboards. Inside corners, of course, need to be in place before the baseboard is put in place.

Outside corners, especially round ones, will probably work best if put in place in conjunction with the baseboards. That way you can adjust their exact location slightly for the baseboard lengths.

Unless you have solid backing behind the baseboards, it works best to locate and mark the studs before you nail the baseboard in place. A stud finder can be useful, but I usually don't use it much. Nobody will see marks behind the baseboard. Tapping a hammer on the drywall often gets you a rough idea of where the backing is. Also, there will be a stud beside wall plugs and cold air return grills. Once you find one stud you should be able to find most of the rest by measuring every 16" or 24", depending on the stud spacing. I like to use a small nail to verify the stud centres. Again, nobody will see any holes behind the baseboards later. You do want to be careful on exterior walls that you don't put too many extra holes through the vapour barrier behind the drywall. Once you have located the studs, hold the baseboard flat against the wall and mark the stud locations carefully on it. I haven't tried it myself, but I am thinking it might also work to mark the studs on your wax paper that you put down to protect the flooring when painting later.

NAILING THE BASEBOARDS IN PLACE: A 18 or 22 gauge brad nailer works best for fastening the baseboards to the wall.

Unless you have above average accuracy when measuring and cutting, you will likely find that some pieces are slightly too long and some just a bit too short. Pieces that are too short are not necessarily wasted, because they can be used to replace shorter pieces that don't fit or that were missed altogether.

I like to nail the baseboard near the top and bottom at each stud. There is not much point in nailing between the studs on top of the baseboard if the wall is finished with drywall, but adding another nail into the wall plate at the bottom between each stud will help to hold the baseboard tighter to the wall.

SHIMMING BASEBOARDS TO COVER FLOORING: There is a saying that a good carpenter can cover up his mistakes. At times carpenters also need to cover up other peoples' mistakes. Sometimes the flooring installers leave the odd spot where the flooring is just a little too far from the wall for the baseboard to cover. The easiest way to hide that is to shim out the bottom of the baseboard. This can be done using a screw into the drywall that holds out the baseboard or you can make shims out of pieces of vinyl flooring scraps, etc. The higher the baseboard, the better this will work.

FINAL TOUCHUPS AND FINISHING FOR PAINTED BASEBOARDS CAULKING: If the baseboards are painted it is a good idea to caulk all cracks with a paintable caulking. This would include all joints between baseboards and corner blocks. I know this is time consuming, but it is one of those details that makes the difference between a “so so” job and a “super” job.

Also, it is a good idea to run your caulking gun along the top of all the baseboards. If you don't caulk along the top of the baseboards, any spaces between the baseboard and the wall will show. Your job will be a lot less stressful if you cut a very small hole in your caulk tube. It takes practice to get just the right amount of caulk along the top of the baseboard. Ideally you want enough to fill any spaces, but not so much that it smears up the wall. I like to finish the caulking job off by smoothing it off with my finger. Just use a dry finger and keep paper towel or shop towels handy to wipe excess caulk off your finger.

NAIL HOLES: Caulk can be used for filling nail holes, but I think it gives a neater job if you use a light filler or spackling compound. Try to use just enough to fill the holes without leaving a mess around the nail. If necessary, it doesn't take much to give the nail holes a light sanding before painting.

PAINTING: A final coat of paint after caulking and filling holes cleans it all up. Also, if you caulk, but don't paint over the caulking, the caulk will tend to look dirty over time. I used to mask along the top of the baseboard to keep caulk and paint off the wall. It is a lot of work to mask, especially when your baseboard corners are higher than the baseboards. Also, you run the risk of paint getting behind the tape and if your caulk has gone on to the tape it sometimes leaves a ridge when you pull off the tape. If your wall paint is quite fresh, there can also be trouble with paint coming off with the tape. If you do mask, I would strongly recommend doing it after caulking, and removing the tape while the paint on the baseboards is still wet. If your hand is reasonably steady, it works quite well to paint the top edge free hand. If the baseboard paint comes up the wall 1/16" or so, it is not noticeable.

I think you will have the best success if you wait to remove the wax paper till the paint is dry. If you remove it when the paint is wet, the paper will tend to tear because the paint softens it, and you will have to be very careful not to get wet paint on the flooring. Once the paint is dry, you may be able to remove some of the wax paper by pulling it out, but you will likely need to cut it along the baseboard edge.

While it is a good idea to fit joints so that a minimal amount of caulking is needed for painted baseboards, it is much more important to have a good fit for baseboards that are stained or clear coated. One difference, though, is that stained or clear coated baseboards are usually darker than painted baseboards, therefore slight cracks do not show up as much.

You can thus get away with not filling nail holes in stained or clear coated baseboards and still have a nice looking job. However, for the best looking job it is a good idea to fill all nail holes with a putty stick or wood filler that matches the wood color. In most cases I would not do any filling along the top edge of the baseboard. With the baseboard usually being a darker color, small cracks between the baseboard and the wall are not nearly as visible as with white baseboards.

The wax paper and final painting instructions above would not apply here, because there is no reason why you can't put the final finish coat on before installation.

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