How to Install Moldings

Architecture is frozen music!



Molding Pattern  I use this term to describe a specific design that is made up of multiple pieces of molding and or flat-stock, such as CROWN MOLDING-106 or BASEBOARD-110.

Molding Profile  This term is used when referring to an individual piece of molding or millwork, such as BB-001 or CM-003.  See all the molding profiles I’ve used here on my DIY Molding Inventory page.

My Eight Design & Installation Principles

I developed these principles over the last nineteen years while teaching myself how to design and install affordable moldings, and they outline my very specific approach to decorating with moldings.  I hope they help you too.

1. You Don’t Need to Be a Woodworker

Crown molding buildup model
Simple tools and techniques.

The Joy of Moldings is a decorating with moldings blog — not a woodworking blog.

If you can make a few simple cuts using a miter and table saw, pull the trigger on a nail gun and squirt some glue on moldings, then you have the basic skills needed to make anything you find on this site.

Having the desire to create something beautiful with your own hands is the most important tool in your tool box, everything else follows from that.

I certainly didn’t start out knowing a thing about woodworking, I just wanted to decorate my home with moldings, so whatever tools and techniques I needed to learn to do that, that is what I focused on.

So don’t let inexperience keep you from creating the kind of home interior you want. It’s just wood and MDF. If you make a mistake or don’t like how something turns out, then do what I do — I do it over.

Posts in This Series

Twenty-One Pieces of Moldings

Tool Kit: Just The Tools You’ll Need to Install Beautiful Moldings

The Tools in My Tool Belt

The Only Finish Carpentry Book You’ll Ever Need

The Two Most Important Molding Installation Tips I Have

2. Work in Affordable, Paint-Grade Moldings

Painting Moldings
I love paint-grade moldings.

Three reasons I like paint-grade moldings:

  1. I adore the look of white moldings against colorful walls. Not that I don’t appreciate finely crafted natural finishes (stain-grade) on moldings, but it’s just not my thing.
  2. Paint-grade moldings are a lot less expensive than stain-grade moldings. For example, a sheet of MDF flat-stock at your local lumber yard will cost about $30.00, where a sheet of oak plywood will cost $80.00 or more.
  3. Paint-grade moldings require few advanced woodworking techniques and expensive special tools. I love tools and I love learning advanced techniques, but my tools and techniques are a means to an end — and that end is to help you decorate your home with big, beautiful, affordable moldings.

Perhaps the most important reason I love white, painted moldings, is that people tend to give a restrained and thoughtful, “hmm” when they walk into a home decorated with elaborate, stain-grade moldings.

But when those same people walk into a home decorated with big, painted moldings, they gasp, they oooh, they ahhh and they gawk shamelessly. I know, I’ve run very scientific tests.

Related Posts

A Case for White-Painted Moldings

Fun With Flat-Stock.  MDF Board for Molding Projects

A Room With a Blue: French, c. 1760-70

Wood Molding Warpage: A Warning

3. Buy Mostly Local Materials

Bringing home the moldings
Buy local moldings if you can.

When choosing moldings and flat-stock, favor locally available stock over exotic specialty items.

You may have to go to several molding stores to find everything you need, but that’s half the fun.

The people at your local molding stores — the sales staff, the guys working the warehouse and the cashiers — will often be more interested in your excited descriptions of your latest project than you can reasonably expect your friends and neighbors to be.

Using local materials also helps to keep up your project’s momentum; if you run out of material midway through a project, you can pick up what you need right away instead of pining for weeks after a lost or slow shipment of special-order moldings.

Of course, you will need to make exception for projects that require unusual material like Flex Trim. We homeowners tend to thirst needlessly after unique items, though, so it’s best to begin by erring on the side of simplicity.

Posts in This Series

Molding & Millwork Index Page  To quickly find your molding by item number.

Molding & Millwork Category  Pulls up all posts in this category.

Architectural Ornaments | Baseboard Profiles | Casings | Crown Moldings | MDF Flat-Stock | MDF Board | Panel Moldings | Picture Rail | Plinth Blocks

Consumables Index Page

Consumables Category

dining room with dentil crown molding
Start and finish one room at a time.

4.  One Room at a Time

You can avoid much confusion and frustration when decorating with moldings if you start and finish all of the moldings in one room during one project: crown molding, door and window trim, baseboards, wainscoting — everything.

For instance, the only reason you would ever want to paint your crown molding before it’s installed is because you’ve painted your walls first, and now you don’t want to get molding paint on them.

Another reason is molding transitions.  You can’t install a new, larger baseboard without installing new, larger door trim as well.

Posts in This Series

One Room at a Time

More Moldings Please!

5. Apply High-Resolution Ornaments

Woodworking appliques
This is a high-resolution ornament.

The woodworking ornaments you install on your moldings need not be expensive, but they absolutely must have finely detailed relief.

You can buy some appliques, corbels and ceiling medallions locally, but online suppliers typically offer a much wider selection at competitive prices.

Installing the really low-resolution ornaments from your local big box home improvement store on your carefully crafted fireplace or door surround, is kind of like wearing sneakers with an evening gown, it’s plain to see that something isn’t right.

The way I see it, If you can’t install high-resolution appliques, then don’t install any at all.

Posts in this Series

The Best Place to Buy Woodworking Appliques

The Lawyer & The Lute: A Short Tale of Moldings & Music

Ornaments Inventory (This category is new. I will continually add to it the ornaments we use on The Joy of Moldings)

6. Finish With a High-Resolution Paint Job

A door trim painted perfectly by hand.
You can paint like this too.

I’ll show you step-by-step how to paint a room full of moldings — by hand — and without using masking tape.

If you want the moldings you install in your home to be painted as nice as the moldings you see on The Joy of Modlings, then first dismiss much of what you’ve read or hear about painting interior moldings — especially the crime of painting crown molding before you install it.

All of the steps in my process are important, but if you omit any one of them you’ll be left with a nagging sense of dissatisfaction whenever you enter your remodeled rooms.

It’s not as difficult to do as you might think. And if you really hate painting, chances are it’s because you don’t have a familiar process to follow or don’t have the right tools and materials.  That’s OK, I’ll show you all the right stuff to do a great job.

Posts in This Series

How to Paint Moldings Series  A very detailed step by step tutorial.

7. Create Variety With Architectural Subordination

Dominant Arch Capital
Create drama through variety.

It’s OK to install different molding patterns in each room. In fact it’s preferred.

This is how you create drama as you move through your home, no different than changing dynamics in a piece of music.Install simpler moldings in utility rooms and then crescendo to public rooms.

This may run contrary to what you’ve heard. But installing the exact same moldings in every single room in a home is a production trim technique — good for trimming a subdivision in  a week, but has little relevance to the kinds of moldings you really want in your home, or the kind you’ll find here on The Joy of Moldings.

Posts in This Series

Architectural Subordination: Achieving Molding Variety Without Sacrificing Unity

Victorian Door and Window Molding Combinations

8. Draw Inspiration from Historic Homes

Historic home at Greenfield Village
Historic moldings for modern homes.

You can hardly go wrong if you base your moldings on designs found in historic homes.

That’s what I do.

I’m forever going on historic home tours and visiting grand old public buildings — like museums, libraries and courthouses — I’ve even gone on condemned historic home “expeditions” in downtown Detroit.

I snap pictures or make sketches of the moldings that inspire me, and then try to replicate them using materials from my local lumber yard.

If you can recreate a molding pattern exactly, that’s fantastic.But don’t hold yourself only to an exact replication, allow yourself the creative freedom to use materials that are locally available to you, just like the craftsman of old did.

Posts in This Series

The Joy of Craftsman Moldings

Moldings, Beautiful Even In Decay

PZ Ranch House Moldings

Grand Historic Building Inspires My Half Bathroom Project

Nonce Orders.  Why There’s a Lizard in the Architecture

A Man Named Vandal Guides You Through “Period Classical Moldings”

Dentil Molding’s Origin

The Moldings of Independence Hall’s Assembly Room

The Historic Hunter House, Greek Revival

A Molding Makeover

A Molding Makeover This page explains the two-room project.

A Kitchen Molding Makeover  It turned out even better than I’d hoped.  Take a look!

A Half Bathroom Molding Makeover

How to Design & Plan Molding Patterns

Molding Design Basics

Her First Moldings

A Molding Makeover Checklist

Finding a Room’s Limiting Factors

Test Paint to Find Molding Proportions

Molding Dissolves are OK!

How High Should the Entablature or Overdoor Frieze Be?

Tray Ceilings: Decorate with Moldings or Paint?

Lots of Moldings in a Small Room

Pilaster Capital Ideas

The Wonderful World of Plinth Blocks

Plinth Block Necking Baseboard Question

Dave’s Foyer Moldings: An Architectural Subordination Issue

Corner Blocks for Dave’s Living Room & Foyer Archways

The Great Baseboard-Grouted-Into-Tile Conspiracy

Wainscoting on Inside & Outside Corners

Return Chair Rail On Top of Door or Window Trim

Wall Frame Moldings and Electrical Outlets

How to Install Moldings: Quick Tips

The Two Most Important Molding Installation Tips I Have

Liquid Nails for Moldings: Which Kind Do I Use?

Molding Buying Tip: Turn it Over Before You Buy!

Should I Caulk Moldings Where No One Will See?

Bang, Bang, Psssssh! Wet Walls & Stud Finders

Making Two Pieces of Flat-Stock Flush with Each Other

Blending Molding Scarf & Butt Joints Perfectly

Keeping Track of Good & Bad Layout Lines

Moving a Light Switch Away from Door Trim

How to Install Crown Molding

All of my crown molding posts have moved here >>

Hiring a Finish Carpenter

How Much Does a Finish Carpenter Charge to Install Moldings?

Hiring a Finish Carpenter Tips

$400.00 a Day.  The Cost of Hiring a Finish Carpenter

Frankentrim: You Get What You Pay For

Keep up with the many molding installation tips and thousands of molding photos I’ll post in the coming years by subscribing to The Joy of via email or an RSS feed.

Good luck with your own project. Show me what you can do!

Ken O’Brien

easy to install mdf moldings


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