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Quick Tip: The Two Most Important Molding Installation Tips I Have

[This is part of my How to Install Moldings series.]

My Dubious Qualifications

Prior to teaching myself how to install molding buildups, my woodworking experience included the following two projects:

The Fort  Building a wobbly tree house out of scrap lumber that my childhood partner-in-crime, Curt, and I, scavenged from around the neighborhood.  We built it about 10′ up in the big ash tree down by the lake (Wolverine Lake) in my Michigan, childhood yard.  I think we were about 10 years old at the time.

The Fish  Making a fish-shaped plaque on a band saw in middle school shop class.

And that’s it.

Post tree fort and fish, however, I did spend years working on and building precision machines like jet engines and broach machines, not to mention a short stint in a wildlife genetics lab.

And that background in precision work — where tolerances are measured in thousandths of an inch — prepared me for the #2 most important molding installation tip below, but not the first.

1.  Change Your Expectations

It took me several years of installing moldings in other people’s’ homes (and a lot of inaudible profanity) to finally come to terms with the following list of common problems that complicated every single project that I undertook.

You’re sure to have one, two, or maybe even all of these problems in every room in your home.

  • There are no plumb walls.
  • There will always be a bulge in a wall or a ceiling that interrupts a run of crown or baseboard molding.
  • There are no 45 degree inside or outside corners in any room anywhere.  They will always be greater than or less than 45 degrees.
  • Door jambs will not be square.
  • Sheet rock will always project beyond or below the door jamb.
  • Baseboard will often be grouted into the tile and you will have to chisel every single inch of it out.
  • Two pieces of moldings purchased from the same lumber yard will not be exactly the same.  This will complicate every scarf or butt joint you ever set your hand to.

This list of complications applies not just to slapped-together production homes, but also to multi-million-dollar custom homes.

If it’s any consolation, the best-constructed homes — from Seattle to Michigan to Arizona — are single-story ranch homes built-in the early to mid seventies.  If you have one, consider yourself lucky.  At least from a molding installation point of view.

So rather than getting all worked up because of someone else’s poor planning, craftsmanship or lousy materials, save yourself some angst and just accept and anticipate these issues when installing your moldings.

With all these variables to contend with, it’s imperative — for your sanity’s sake — to invest time and energy into tip #2.


2.  Know What’s True

Since you can’t do anything about all of these unknown complications, then you must have someplace that is true and reliable.  Some place you can control.  A starting point that is never in question.

And that place is the back fence-to-table angle on your miter saw and the guide fence and arbor of your table saw.  These two points must be true to perfection.

The best way to ensure these true points is to buy both high-quality miter and table saws.  Some of these tools have adjustments, and if so, then you must spend a bit of cash on the best squaring gauges you can afford.

Good tools like Bosch, Jet, Makita and Porter Cable, are going to come from the factory calibrated to perfection, hopefully.  And they will stay that way after years of use.  Mine always did.

Learn from My Mistake

When I decided to upgrade the moldings in a Tucson townhouse project, I had to replace all of the professional-grade tools I sold after changing careers from finish carpentry to wildlife field biology.

I was in a rush to get started and had a limited budget, and so I ended up buying poor-quality miter and table saws.  I thought that it wouldn’t matter that much.  It does.  And I regret these two purchases.

Here’s the silver lining in my poor tool choice tale of woe; if I can install beautiful moldings with inadequate tools, you can certainly do the same or better with the great tools you have or are going to buy.

[This is part of my How to Install Moldings series.]

10 Responses to Quick Tip: The Two Most Important Molding Installation Tips I Have

  1. Greg January 12, 2013 at 6:17 AM #

    Keep up the great work (and writing)!

  2. Ken January 12, 2013 at 12:34 PM #

    Thanks, Greg. And good luck with your new blog project. I’ll be subscribing for sure!

  3. jon January 13, 2013 at 8:03 PM #

    hi ken

    really enjoy your web site

    just a question about the valance box to cover the blind mechanism

    i notice the window you put it on has no other trim

    how can i make it look right if i want to do one for a window that has trim on it.

  4. Ken January 14, 2013 at 4:17 AM #

    Hi Jon,

    This post Before & After: Craftsman or Victorian Window Valance Box shows a valance box for that kind of installation.

    Hope that helps.

  5. annie Hiatt January 14, 2013 at 5:27 AM #

    Hey I’m living in New Mexico. Home of recessed windows and rounded corners. Currently we have no baseboards or trim at all. Is there a way to put trim throughout with rounded windows and corners? Thanks

  6. Ken January 14, 2013 at 3:26 PM #

    Sure Annie, you can install moldings on rounded corners and windows with no trim.

    Baseboard Our home here in Tucson also has rounded corners, and we installed a nice Classical baseboard in the kitchen. You can see how we did it here How to Install BASEBOARD-110 for $2.00/ft.

    But if Classical isn’t your thing, you can go with a simple flat-stock baseboard like this one: PZ Ranch House Moldings. This style is common in the Southwest.

    Window Trim You can install 1/4″ mdf flat-stock inside the window opening and make it flush with the wall. Then just wrap it in whatever style molding you want — perhaps something like Will’s window trim. It’s really easy!

  7. Les January 15, 2013 at 7:59 AM #

    Don’t point out that little “oops” to your wife. If you heed the warning, the “oops” will disappear. If you don’t heed the warning, the “oops” will grow exponentially in size each day she looks at it.

  8. Ken January 15, 2013 at 8:57 AM #

    Les, that sounds like a battle-tested tip!

  9. Merry Lu January 18, 2013 at 8:15 AM #

    Can you recommend a good saw? The one that you would have gotten if you hadn’t gotten the cheap one?

  10. Ken January 18, 2013 at 10:03 AM #

    I would love to have my Makita 12″ miter saw and my Bosh worksite table saw again. Sigh.

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