Installing Colonial Baseboard: 8 Helpful Tips You Should Know
Profile of Colonial Baseboard
When you're building or renovating, there is often a lack of attention to the baseboard which will go into your rooms. However, this seemingly inconspicuous detail can provide a great deal of warmth and style, as well as tie together the various design elements in your room. Baseboard provides the transition between your drywall and your floor, and finishes off what would otherwise be a meeting between two rough edges.
There are many different styles to choose from, with varying widths and details. We recently renovated two bedrooms using a 5-1/4" wide colonial baseboard. Colonial baseboard varies from vendor to vendor, but generally has a more traditional look. It usually has a flat surface, with fancy routing along one edge.
If you're a DIYer who's planning to install colonial baseboard, we've got some tips and techniques which can make the process a little easier! (Many of these tips will work with other baseboard styles as well.)
Tip #1 - Use a Coped Joint for Inside Corners
This little trick has to be my favorite - it really improves the look of inside corner joints! Instead of cutting both pieces at 45 degrees, try this technique:
Butt the first piece of baseboard against the corner with just a straight 90 degree cut on the edge. Preparing the second piece is a 2-step process. First, cut a 45 degree angle along the joining edge. The direction of the angle is an inside miter - in other words, the angle flares out from the front to the back of the piece.
Once you've cut the angle, hold a coping saw perpendicular to the baseboard, and cut along the profile on the angled edge.
This will create a piece which will fit nicely in the corner against the other board.
Here's a little different approach to cutting the coped joint. Since it can be difficult to hand cut the straight part of the profile with a coping saw and maintain a straight line, you can "cheat" on this part. Cut the straight part with a table saw, stopping where the curved part of the profile starts (see pictures below). Finish up the curved part with a coping saw as previously described.
Tip #2 - Using Scarf Joints
If you have a wall that is long enough to need more than once piece of baseboard, use a simple scarf joint to join the two pieces. In a scarf joint, the two pieces have opposing 45-degree angles, which will overlap each other and, once puttied, will created a nearly invisible seam.
Tip #3- Cut and Dry Fit All Pieces
We cut and dry fit all the pieces for a room prior to painting and nailing in place. This lets you tweak the fit, and then all the pieces are ready to paint in one step.
Tip #4 - Scribe Baseboard for Uneven Floors
Chances are your floor is not going to be perfectly level. This will cause gaps at the low places between your floor and baseboard. Tacking down a strip of quarter-round is a quick fix to this problem. However, since we like the clean look of the baseboard without the quarter-round, we needed another method to address this problem.
Scribing allows us to adjust the thickness of the baseboard to accommodate the high and low spots in our floor. Here's how we scribe our baseboard:
First we prop our baseboard into place. Then we place a thin scrap of plywood on the floor and lay a pencil on top. The wood scrap is a little thicker than the biggest gap between the baseboard and the floor. We slide the pencil resting on the wood scrap down the entire length of the baseboard. We end up with a pencil mark that mimics the uneveness of our floor.
We check the pencil mark and see where it's closest to the edge of the baseboard. If the lowest pencil mark is right at the edge of the baseboard, we're good to go to the next step. However, If the lowest pencil is a little distance from the edge, we measure that distance and move the entire line down by that amount. For example, if the lowest pencil mark is 1/8" from the edge, we make a second pencil line that in 1/8" lower than the first one.
Once our pencil mark is in place, we use a belt sander to remove the excess baseboard to the pencil line. We now have a piece of baseboard where the bottom edge follows the contour of our floor.
Tip #5 - Finishing Your Baseboard
For ease of finishing, nothing beats buying pre-primed baseboard. Use a roller instead of a brush for applying paint. You'll get better coverage - the first baseboard we installed required two coats of paint applied with a brush, while the next baseboard looked great with one coat of roller-applied paint. Use a small 3" roller for ease of application.
Paint your baseboard BEFORE nailing it to the wall to keep your walls and floors neat!
Tip #6 - Plan the Order of Nailing Pieces
Once your pieces are cut and painted, plan out the order in which you'll nail the pieces in place - it makes a difference because of the joints! For inside corner coped joints, the piece with the 90-degree cut will need to be placed first - the coped piece will be placed on top of that.
For scarf joints, or joints in the middle of a wall, the two pieces will have opposing 45-degree cuts. The first piece placed will be the one with the inside miter cut - in other words, the back flares out wider than the front. This will allow the second piece to be put into place with its 45-degree angle overlapping the first.
Tip #7 - Use a Stud Finder to Assist in Nailing
When nailing your baseboard in place, it has to be nailed to a stud or nailing strip to be secure. Use a magnetic or electronic stud finder to help pinpoint where to nail.
Tip #8 - Applying the Caulking
When applying caulking to the joint between the baseboard and wall, run a length of painter's tape along the wall, just above the trim. This will create a nice clean edge once your caulking is applied.
You could tape the entire wall at once, or just use a foot or two of tape and move it as you go.