Installing baseboard trim requires a certain amount of technique and precision to achieve a profession appearing finish. It’s definitely not as simple as cutting the boards to size and simply nailing them to the wall. It’s important to have the proper tools for the job and to take the time to do the necessary planning. The following contains some experience tips that should help you achieve a quality finish.
Installing painted baseboard is a fair bit easier than a finish stained or clear coated wood trim, so we’ll start with the painted trim. I would recommend pre-painting the trim, as painting it after the install can be more difficult and tedious. That said, you will likely have to do paint touchups afterwards, depending on your level of fit and finish standards. If painting isn’t your thing you can always hire a painting services outfit and have them paints the walls and the trim at the same time, after the install.
First of all, purchase and paint the baseboard of your choice. Remember to take into account the flooring type you will be covering. If you just laid down some nice hardwood flooring, or a floating floor, you will need to cover that expansion crack left around the perimeter of the room. Choosing a thicker baseboard would be ideal, but you can also opt for the addition of quarter round trim, which will require additional work.
Having a good electric chop saw, or miter saw is paramount for making this a smooth clean project. Other tools needed, will just be your typical measuring tape and pencil. Consider purchasing a studfinder, as you will likely need to nail into the vertical studs. Get a caulking gun and a tube or two of paintable indoor caulking. Choose a caulking color that closely matches your wall or trim color.
Typically, the installed drywall will not reach the floor, and this will usually leave a gap of a few inches. This can be a problem when nailing in the bottom part of the baseboard. A solution is to cut some narrow strips of plywood that is the same thickness as the drywall sheets and use it to fill the gap. This will ensure a solid flat surface to install the baseboard onto. After that, all door casing trim will need to be installed first, as your baseboard will butt up against this casing.
In a perfect world, where all your walls are perfectly straight, and all your corners are perfectly square, you will cut all your corner joints at 45 degree angles for a flawless, seamless finish. Regardless, Start one board at a corner of the room at a 45 and work your way around the room from there. If two boards need to be joined in the middle of a long wall, also use 45 degree angles. Feather the overlap away from the angle it will be most viewed, to hide any possible gaps. Finally, wherever the baseboard butts up against the door casing, use straight cuts.
Inevitably, you will have to fit a board requiring precise cuts on either end, and requiring a precise length. Don’t try to measure and cut this piece in one shot. Don’t be afraid to cut it an inch too long, test fit it, and continue to shave it down until it fits perfect. If you end up with a little extra gap in the corner, or your cut angle didn’t quite match, don’t sweat it, that’s what the caulking is used to cover. This will take some practice, and don’t sweat it if you make a few mistakes. Try to plan the layout to leave the tougher cuts for the shorter boards to make the job easier, and to reduce possible waste.
Nail a row of finishing nails along the base of the trim every couple of feet. Use finishing nails appropriate to the thickness of the baseboard, and countersunk with a nail set. Use another row of finishing nails near the top of the trim; one in each stud. This top row is especially important for the taller fancy baseboard. This process will require a fair amount of kneeling down and if you are on a hardwood or tile floor, you made consider finding some old chair pads cushions or something to kneel on.
Now, typically you will find that there are uneven crack lines opening along the top of the baseboard against the wall. Your corner cracks may be a little uneven as well. This is where the caulking comes in and it will make your finish product look professional. Run a bead of caulking across all these cracks and smooth out with your finger. It’s important to not use too much caulking as you don’t want it to end up too wide or uneven. Also fill the nail set holes with either the caulking or wood filler. After it dries, you may follow up with a touch up paint job or a full final paint coat. The caulking is paintable, so the final product will be a smooth, fine, “crackless” integrated seam.
Installing non painted baseboard is a fair bit harder, as you typically can’t use caulking to hide any cracks or install errors. The top of the baseboard will need to be flat against the wall, and the corner joints require a different procedure to ensure a smooth seam. This can’t easily be described in words, but essentially one of the two joining piece will need to be miter cut using the opposite angle. A hand scroll saw is then used to cut out the profile of the baseboard design. The two should then join seamlessly like two puzzle pieces. The same technique can be used with painted baseboard for a caulkless professional finish, but it is very time consuming. Good luck!