[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.]