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Must Know Shortcuts for Trim Carpenters

Updated: Oct. 20, 2022

Install trim faster, with better results

FH09NOV_SHOCAR_01-2 piecesFamily Handyman
Learn better ways to cut and install casing, baseboard and crown molding, tricks for hanging doors and avoiding bad transitions, and other secrets of the trim carpentry profession.

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Brad Nailer Helper

trim pieces

Temporary nail trim pieces

Holding trim pieces in place to mark it for length is faster and more accurate than measuring. But that’s not easy to do with long pieces of trim. When you’re cutting miters and need to hold the end of a long piece of casing in place while you mark the far end, just pin it with your brad nailer. It doesn’t take much. If you’re putting up 3/8-in.-thick trim, just tack it with a 1-in. brad. After marking, pull the molding loose. You’ll have to pull the nail and fill one extra nail hole in the trim pieces. But that sure beats hiring a gum-chewing helper.

Measure From the Ends to the Middle

Mark multiple of 10 in.

It’s always guesswork when it comes to getting an exact inside measurement by bending the tape into the corner. An easier and more accurate method is to measure from both ends toward the center and add the two lengths. To make the math easy, make the first mark at 10 in. or a multiple of 10.

Measure to mark

Measure from the opposite corner to your first mark and add them to get the total length.

Speed Coping With a Miter Saw

Faster coping cuts

If you’re coping baseboards or other moldings that have a relatively long straight section, cut the straight section with the miter saw instead of your coping saw. You’ll get a straighter cut and save time. After cutting the first 45-degree, swing the miter saw to 30 degrees and cut along the straight section of the cope. Be careful to lift the blade before releasing the trigger. If you’re careful and have a steady hand, with a little practice you can even rough out curvy sections of copes with the miter saw. Then it only takes seconds to fine-tune the cope with a file.

Shim the Rough Opening

Tack shims first

Simplify door installations by shimming the hinge side of the rough opening before you set the prehung door. Mark the hinge locations first, right behind the hinges if you’re adding long screws into the framing for heavy solid-core doors, or just above or below the hinges for lightweight hollowcores. Use a long level or tape a shorter level to a 6-ft.-long straight board. Make sure the shims extend equally from both sides so the jamb won’t get twisted. Shim the top and bottom first until the level reads plumb. Then use the level as a straightedge to set the center shims. Tack the shims into place with your brad gun. Aim for about a 1/4-in. gap between the level and the stud.

Nail door jamb at shims

Now you can simply set the door in the opening and nail through the hinge-side jamb into the shims. No more fumbling around trying to hold the door in place while you shim it. You’ll still have to shim and nail the latch side, but that’s easy with the door already supported.

Industrial-Strength Hot-Melt

Tack small pieces with glue

Hot-melt glue has always been handy for temporary holding tasks, but industrial-strength polyurethane hot-melt adhesive is strong enough to make permanent connections. It’s especially handy for those small pieces of molding that are sure to break if you try to nail them. It’s also good for hard-to-attach items like handrail returns.

We bought a kit from a woodworking supply store that contained a glue gun and three sticks of hot-melt glue. Search online for “polyurethane hot melt glue” to find more information and a buying source.

Craft a Block for Awkward Transitions

Hide transitions

Transition blocks can solve all kinds of challenging molding problems. One of the most common uses for blocks is in old houses where door casing and base meet. But there are several other situations where transition blocks are an elegant solution:

  • The top and bottom of stairs where the skirt board meets the baseboard.
  • A stair landing where the skirt board turns the corner.
  • Where the floor level changes and the baseboard continues, such as where tile meets carpeting.
  • Where crown or chair rail moldings that run at angles must turn corners, such as up a stairway.

Don’t Mark for Studs

Locate both edges of stud

When you’re nailing baseboard, you can avoid finding and marking every stud. The key is to find the exact center of a stud that’s on a 16-in. (or 24-in.) layout. Do this by looking for drywall screws along the bottom of the wall or probing the area on either side of and below an outlet. Make a series of nail holes into the wall where it will be covered with the baseboard, stopping when you find both edges of the stud.

Measure over from center to center

Mark the center of the stud on the floor. Extend and lock your tape measure along the floor, and align one of the 16-in. layout marks with the center mark for the stud, as shown on the right. Use the 16-in. marks of the tape as a guide for driving nails.

Add Continuous Backing for Crown Molding

Backing for crown

Finding and marking wall studs and ceiling joists for crown molding installation is tedious. And even after locating framing members, you’re limited to fastening only at these spots. It may take a little more work initially, but installing a continuous backer will speed up crown molding installation and result in a better job. You don’t even have to locate studs.

Make a template by aligning a small piece of crown molding with the edges of a sheet of paper. Let one edge of the paper represent the wall and one edge the ceiling. Trace along the back of the molding to make a pattern. Adjust the pattern to leave 1/4 in. between the back of the molding and the blocking to allow for variations in the wall and ceiling. Use the template to set your table saw to the correct angle and rip 2x4s for backing. Attach the backing with screws driven into the top plate.

Leave Crown End Loose

Corner joint trick

When you install crown moldings, don’t nail within 2 ft. of the inside corner on the end of the straight-cut pieces. Leaving the end loose allows you to shift the molding slightly to align perfectly with the intersecting coped molding. Since the end is trapped by the coped piece, it doesn’t require nails to stay in place.

Don’t Hassle With Double Copes

Problem solver

Sometimes you’ll need to cope both ends of a molding. But getting a good fit is tricky, and if you mess up, you have to start over. Avoid the hassle by cutting the molding about 1/4 to 1/2 in. too long. Then cut it into two pieces. Cut at a 30-degree bevel at a position that will locate the joint over a stud or other nailer. Now fit the copes one at a time. When both are perfect, nail up half of the molding. Then trim the 30-degree bevel on the other until you get a perfect joint.

Required Tools for This Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Brad nail gun
  • Coping saw
  • Cordless drill
  • File
  • Hammer
  • Hot melt glue gun
  • Level
  • Miter saw
  • Safety glasses
  • Tape measure

Required Materials for This Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 2 x 4s
  • Finish nails
  • Polyurethane hot-melt glue
  • Shims