Tips For Installing Beautiful (Almost Flawless) Trim Molding
First of all, thank you so much for all of your sweet comments about my Phase 1 progress on my living room yesterday! (See what I’m doing there? I’ve decided to live in a delusional state where those 530+ comments had nothing to do with a giveaway, and everything to do with my living room progress only. 😀 )
I had a couple of you ask for a tutorial on how to do the wainscoting.
Let me clarify that I didn’t actually install wainscoting in this room. Not yet, at least. So if you see something that looks like wainscoting, it might be shadows being cast from the new chandelier.
Wainscoting is part of my final plan for this room, but it’s not part of my Phase 1 plan. I’ll wait until that one wall is extended three feet or so, and I build the other wall with the grand entrance into the room (the one where I want to install stationary French door panels on each side of the entrance).
Until then, I simply put up one row of trim molding (i.e., a chair rail), and I painted one color above
But what I can share with you are four or so tips that I’ve learned about how to install nearly flawless trim molding.
1. When joining two pieces of trim molding, use a 45-degree mitered joint rather than a 90-degree butt joint.
This one tip alone will make a huge difference in your finished trim. Most new DIYers, when joining two pieces of trim together to form a longer piece, will cut each piece off at a 90-degree angle, butt them up next to each other (thus the term “butt joint”), and call it good. Those types of joints will almost always show in the finished product (and reveal that the installer was a novice at installing trim).
Instead, always cut each piece at a 45-degree angle before fitting them together.
You’ll be amazed at the difference. Not only does the joint fit together much nicer, but it’s so much easier to fill, sand, and make that joint disappear.
2. Never end trim molding with a blunt 90-degree angle.
Most of the time, trim is continuous around the room, or it butts right up against other molding (like around doors and windows), and those areas are almost always fine cut at a 90-degree angle.
However, there are times when you might want to stop the trim in an area where it doesn’t butt up against another trim. An example would be a chair rail molding that is interrupted by a window that does not have trim around it (i.e., a window with a simple drywall return rather than a decorative molding casing).
In a case like this, you never want to end the trim with a blunt 90-degree angle. Instead, cut the end of the trim at a 45-degree angle…
And then cut a return that goes back to the wall…
It’s a tiny piece, and a tiny detail, that makes a huge difference in the finished product.
(Obviously I could have done that a little better so that it ended right at the corner. Oops. 🙂 I’ve learned some tricks along the way, but I’m still far from a pro.)
And just in case you’re wondering, I would do this even if I were working with a squared off trim, like a plain and simple 1 x 3. I know it seems like it wouldn’t make a difference with trim like that, but it does. I failed to take the time to do this in the condo, and I regretted it each time I looked at it.
3. Use wood filler instead of caulk on the flat areas of the trim.
This is where the pros and I differ. 🙂 I always, always use wood filler to fill areas on the flat areas of trim. What I mean by “flat areas” (since my trim obviously isn’t flat here) is any areas where the finished trim would need to be perfectly smooth. This includes nail holes, areas where two pieces of trim are joined on a flat wall, etc.
I love to use wood filler on these areas because wood filler can be sanded. Caulk can’t be sanded. You’ll find that both caulk and wood filler shrink just a bit when they dry. With wood filler, you can go back and add just a touch more, let it dry, and then sand it to a perfectly smooth finish using fine (150-grit or higher) sandpaper. With caulk, you can add more if the first bit shrinks, but you’ll very rarely find someone who can get a perfectly smooth finish with caulk. It’s fairly simple to do with wood filler, though. (Just be sure to prime it before painting!!)
The combination of the 45-degree joint and the wood filler will result in a nearly flawless joint.
Be sure that you do any wood filler-ing and sanding before you do any caulking.
4. Use caulk on inside corners and areas where the trim meets the wall or other trim.
If you try to use wood filler in inside corners, you’ll make yourself crazy trying to sand it. Seriously. That’s a job for caulk. Caulk also works perfectly to fill in those tiny spaces where the trim meets the wall, or where the trim is butted up against other trim (like that around doors and windows).
Now when it comes to outside corners, whether or not you use wood filler or caulk will be determined by how perfectly you cut your mitered corners. If they fit together like a glove, then caulk will do. If they don’t quite fit together perfectly, you might opt for wood filler so that you can sand down the imperfections and fake a perfect corner. (I have plenty of experience with that on projects like table tops, where I put trim along the outside edge of the table top. Rarely do my outside corners match up perfectly, so it’s wood filler and sanding to the rescue.)
I hope those tips help you! And if you have others you’d like to pass along, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I’d love to learn from your experiences.
Also, as I mentioned above, I’ve learned some tips and tricks along the way, but I’m definitely not a pro. While I’m very pleased with the return that I cut for my chair rail where it ends at the outside corner of the wall, I know that there may have been a better way to do that molding since I was planning on painting with a dark color above and a light color below. I’d love to hear from any of you more experienced people. How would you have handled that? Should I have wrapped that trim around the corner just two or three inches and then ended it there? Something about ending it right at the corner like that bugs me, so I’d love to know how some of you more experienced people would have done it.
Addicted 2 Decorating is where I share my DIY and decorating journey as I remodel and decorate the 1948 fixer upper that my husband, Matt, and I bought in 2013. Matt has M.S. and is unable to do physical work, so I do the majority of the work on the house by myself. You can learn more about me here.
HAHA. Not just because of the giveaway… lol. Seriously, You were the first blog I ever religiously followed. I love your skills!
Great tips !
There’s a giveaway? 😉
Very helpful tips! Feeling braver now about my impending job with trim!
I asked this amongst the 500+ comments yesterday, so just going to ask it here right quick with hopes you will come across it more easily today…do you love the seagrass rug? I was wondering if it is soft to the touch, as in get down on your bare knees soft? We roll around on our LR rug with the grandkids and so need it to be soft rather than hard or scratchy. I love the natural rugs but have only seen pics. thanks!
Thanks for a clear post and detailed photos….it really helps. I’m also curious about the natural rug…how does it feel?
I absolutely LOVE my seagrass rug!!! BUT, if you’re the type of person who likes to walk around barefoot, or sit or lie down on the rug to watch t.v. or with the grandkids (or kids), etc., then it’s probably not a great choice. It’s definitely hard, and it would certainly be scratchy and uncomfortable if you got down on it. I’m not a “sit on the rug” kind of person, and I also don’t like to walk around barefooted. I love the rug, but I specifically got it for this room because it’ll be more of a “formal” living room for us. When we finally do get around to remodeling the sunroom and turning it into a family room, I’ll be putting a much more comfortable “get down on the floor” kind of rug in there.
I love your blog Kristi and follow you religiously… What I love best about you is that you pretty much do with what you can afford and have on hand and it really makes a difference. You are inspiring! It makes me a believer in the A2D philosophy. We can all do this if we really set our mind to it… Love your redo on the phase one living room. thanks so much!
Thanks for those tips! I am doing some real “learn as I go” trim work in my house right now. Gives me great appreciation for the art of trimming! The mitered corner tip will be a huge help!
I think the giveaway just spurred me on to actually leave a comment. I read your latest update and then go back and read the older posts. There is so much to learn from you. Thank you for posting about the tools you use. If I plan to copy anything that you’ve done, I really need to see the basics until I feel comfortable being a do it yourselfer.
I’m with you Kaye! I’ve read your blog, Kristi, for a long time now. I must admit to a bit of disappointment when I don’t get my A2D fix everyday! But I don’t begrudge you a day off every once in a while! 🙂 You’ll be glad to know that I made it all the way back to your first post! True devotion, I tell ya! You are truly inspiring.
True devotion, indeed! 😀 And you got to see just how much my blog has changed over the years. In the beginning, I knew I wanted to blog, but I had no idea what I was doing. It took a while for me to really find my niche as a “DIY blogger”. 🙂
So glad you posted this. I am getting ready to do this next month. Thanks!
Perfect timing. I just bought chair rail molding to put in my laundry room and have never done it before so this is very helpful. Love following your progress.
I have checked Overstock.com and found the decorative bird cages I have been searching for all over the place. The gift card giveaway would secure them for my Frenchy prettiness I am adding to my cozy home!!!
My biggest problem is inside corners. How do you cut your inside corners? Are they angled? How do you figure the angle? Quite honestly, I suck at angles so any advice would be deeply appreciated.
I understand the confusion, Terrie Jo. My brain has a very hard time comprehending numbers.
But basically, most angles where one wall meets another are 90 degrees. So since you have two pieces of molding meeting in the corner, you would divide 90 degrees by 2, which would give you 45 degrees. So each piece of molding needs to be cut at a 45-degree angle.
Not sure if that helps. 🙂 If you’re more of a visual person like I am, I’ll bet you could find some very helpful videos on YouTube showing the process in way more detail.
Hi Kristi. I love your website and how you explain things. The best ever! I do have a question on angles with the chair rail. My son is helping me redo a bedroom. He is doing great but I noticed he cut the right side of a corner piece at a 90 degree angle instead of 45. How should I cut the left side now? I am having a hard time matching it up and we are stuck.I didn’t want to have to take that long piece out that he cut but will if there is no other way.
Do you realize how unique and absolutely wonderful you are!?! – I cannot find another blog that shares projects step by step – you are a huge well of knowledge! I get all excited when I finally see your blog each day – I just soak it up – read them 2 or 3 times right off the bat!! Saying thank you, Kristi, just does not seem like enough – but thank you, thank you !!!
I So agree on this point — LUV your step-by-steps; there can’t be too much detail, as far as I’m concerned. ~:)
I’m so glad you find it helpful, Darlene!!! 🙂 And…you’re very welcome!
I enjoyed the tips on wood filler vs caulk. Makes sense. I guess we all saw ‘wainscoting’ where there is none. Optical illusion or wishful thinking? LOL
This was so helpful! My husband has been trying to explain a few of these tips to me and it wasn’t until I saw your post that it made sense! haha. I guess I need pictures! I love how seamless the cuts look. We have a whole house of baseboards to install. When caulking, would you just caulk where it meets against the wall or where it meets the tile floor too? (this is in reference to baseboards. obv) . Sometimes I see it caulked to the floor and other times I don’t. We are also doing chair rail and wainscoting, I am really nervous about it. Good thing there’s blog’s like yours to guide us along! 🙂
I don’t think I’ve ever personally seen baseboards caulked along the floor. Generally they’re just caulked where they meet the wall. That’s interesting, though. I’ve been tempted at times to caulk where they meet the floor, but I’ve never tried it. Makes me want to try it now! 😀
My dad used to caulk just about everything!! Especially in a bathroom, laundry room or kitchen where there is water in use. Kept the water from going under/ into places it shouldn’t go. He wasn’t the neatest “caulker”, but it did the job!
I hear you about wood filler. My husband used it to fill in some low spots on a subfloor. A contractor who was here for another reason saw it and scoffed, saying my husband should have used some liquid floor leveling product. I told my husband about it and he said he used the wood filler because it can be nailed through. We had no particular plan to nail the floor in that area but my husband is wary of using products that could cause unintended consequences.
Love your tip on the wood filler! That has always been my pet peeve with filling nail holes in trim and since I have new molding to put down in our dining/living room, I now know how to make it look fantastic!
Now I want to go back and redo the chair rail we paid someone to install in our daughter’s room.
Love the work so far! I’m looking forward to seeing your finished product!
Perfect timing for me too. I have been staring at my walls, with my new miter saw still in the box, wondering if I was in over my head. These tips really help. Thanks, Kristi.
Like the way you finished the ends. I think ours need that. You are both creative and handy….makes for a killer combination. Keep it up.
Thanks for the great tutorial! Looks great!
I can do a 45 on the molding, but never really got how to get the edge finished off like that. Thanks for that tip!
If you haven’t given away those Overstock gift certs yet, I have a friend in my church that is struggling with a little baby and a husband who can’t find work in our tiny town. They don’t own a car, so it’s tough to find someone to get him to any kind of work. No transit system into Longview, Tx, which is about 15 miles. They can’t afford to move right now. Anyway, they are trying their best. They could use a kitchen table and chairs from Overstock. With that cert, and a little money from my family, they could at least feel a little bit better. I’ve used Overstock many times, and have never been disappointed in anything I’ve bought there, so whoever gets the cert is going to enjoy shopping!
Btw, I love that Turkish rug. It is awesome and really, I like it in that room!
Thank you for breaking this down for us! I love your little end cap!
Just so you know…..I commented today on yesterday’s post lol. Not about the giveaway at all, really enjoy your blog. Yes really. I do ;-))
Thanks for the tutorial. I thought you decided to upholster a headboard not stool, with that beautiful piece?
Haha! Well, I change my mind about 20 times per day. 😀 Right now the plan is to stick with my original plan for the bedroom, and to use the Turkish kilim on an ottoman in another room. But again, that could change without notice. 😀
I love your blog! You inspire me and make me believe that I could also do this, once I have a garage and the appropriate tools and enough space to do it.. lol I’m so excited!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…..I wanna be you when I grow up. Love the blog.
Thanks for your detailed tutorials! I love the way you are empowering all of us who want to learn.
With all the details and photos, Kristi, I think your tutorial is great! FWIW, the joint between two straight lengths of molding that you refer to as a 45-degree mitered joint is called a “scarf joint.” (I guess that’s to distinguish it from a 45-degree mitered joint at a corner.) But you are so right—it looks a whole lot better than a butt joint.
I do have a tip regarding ending molding at an edge. I cut a 45 in the reverse, with the long edge on the wall and the short edge in the room. That way the angle is less sharp and intrusive than one cut at a 90. Does that make sense without a photo?
Makes complete sense to me Jeanne because I’ve done it that way too. Next time I’m going to try how Kristi finished the end piece. I really like how it turned out.
Thanks for that, Jeanne! I’ve never heard the term “scarf joint.” I know how to do lots of things, but I so often don’t know the correct terminology for it. 🙂
I can’t really picture what you mean about the 45-degree cut in the reverse. Do you have a picture? I’d love to see it. My email: [email protected]
Kristi, did Jeanne ever send the picture of her tip about capping the molding? I think I know what she means, but I would really like to see it. Or, in the alternative, did you come up with another way to cap the molding when using two different paints or wainscoting?
Thank you so much!
Hope this photo and/or more instructions show up later as I scroll thru the comments. FYI. This is the future talking! 2021.
I do reno’s with my husband, have now for 30 yrs. I have learned alot over the years, he has taught me well. I love this blog as it’s so wonderful to see you doing this all on your own – it now makes me want to tackle a room for my son – which my husband has no time for as he’s too busy. I am a little bit of a perfectionist when I work – so I really understand the caulking and wood filler issues. My husband prefers the caulking (quicker, easier I believe for him) but they are always sunken in and never looks right to me. I always use drywall mud to fill my holes, unevenness, etc… I find it great to work with, with great results too! As an added not – in less than a week I was shocked to see how much you had accomplished with your living – looks fantastic!
Your living room does look amazing! and I read your blog even tho I don’t comment alot! You are amazing and I love your creativity!
I’ve been looking at my dining room walls for a year, wanting to do something. Now, thanks to your tutorial, I think my husband and I could tackle a chair rail. I love that you recount mistakes, recoveries, budget limitations, using what you have on hand…these are real-world concerns. Then you amaze us all with your cleverness and hard work. Never stop blogging!
I, too, added a chair rail years ago with no wainscoting. Don’t plan to add the wainscoting. Love the difference the chair rail makes. Okey, that simple miter in the corner is achievable, but something that my husband and I tried together that drove us to fits of laughter and defeat, is the compound miter. When you get to the point of crown molding (you know, after redoing the ceilings, etc.) I will be trying my best to understand. What a difference you’ve already made in your living room. Maybe your fabric curtain and upholstered sofa will happen this winter, and you can live with great pride in your phase 1 living room.
Oh gosh, crown molding intimidates the heck out of me. Interestingly, I installed crown molding in my bedroom when I was in college, and I had no trouble with it. Now, I can’t seem to figure it out. I did notice that Kreg (the makers of the Kreg jig) has a crown molding jig that is supposed to help make the cuts much easier. I’ll probably end up buying one of those if I decide to do crown molding. Anything to make it easier!
ahh, I follow you in spite of giveaways 🙂
Learn so much. Thank you!
HaHa, I see the comments are back to normal! 🙂
I do love the chair rail paint combo. It looks so much like wainscoting but without the cost.
Thanks for the trim tutorial.
I am putting all new baseboard and window trim in my house. I solved the problem of the corners by using corner pieces so all cuts will be straight. My husband is not very handy around the house!
If a novice is going to do a lot of trim and it will involve “inward” and “outward” corners, I highly recommend making four different “templates” so that you don’t waste trim accidentally cutting an “innie” corner when you need an “outie” or vice versa. After a few projects, you probably won’t need them anymore, but for the first few corners (or if it’s been a while since you’ve hung trim), they can be a real lifesaver.
This Sawdust Girl blog post explains how you would do this for crown molding, but I’ve also used a set of baseboard / chair rail templates that are very similar.
Great post, Lori!
Love the idea of making the templates! That really simplifies things. Thanks for sharing!
Kristi, I would have *sworn* the white part of your wall was beadboard! Jeez, now I’m afraid I need to get my eyes checked, because I’m reading your blog on a 24 inch monitor, which is pretty big! I would never have guessed it was two painted sections separated by a chair rail.
Of all the blogs I follow, and there are A LOT of them, yours is my favorite by far. I am always struck by your creativity and talent, your intelligence and how you solve problems (I really thought for sure you’d be up in a harness trimming your own trees!), and most of all by your spirit and enthusiasm. You have so much energy it amazes me. Best of all, you are a genuinely nice person and with an adorable personality, which all comes across in your blog.
Haha! It’s probably just the power of suggestion since I’ve talked about wainscoting so much. 😀
And thank you for your sweet comments. 🙂 But rest assured, I won’t be swinging from trees any time soon. 😉
giveaway or not, I am learning a lot from your blog post! Installing trim/molding has always seemed difficult but your post has inspired me to at least try it!
cant wait to try this in my home
Wonderful tip!Always learning…
Oh man….installed beadboard in a half bath in the spring and had no idea how to cut and miter the trim properly….the unfinished edges are screaming at my eyes since I have now read how to finish them off nicely. Might have to rip that part out and redo. Thanks for the super tutorial!!
I didn’t enter the give away, but I read (and enjoyed!) the entire post! I agree with what someone else said, you are one of my favorite bloggers. 🙂
Thanks for this tutorial Kristi, I have been thinking of doing this in my family room and I actually feel like I can do it now on my own after seeing this. Thanks!
Great job describing how you did all this trim! I see these mistakes time and time again… butt joints and ending the molding with a flat cut instead of a return like you did. It really makes a difference in how the final product turns out!
As a fellow decorator, we differ on certain aspects of decorating. I believe your chair rail is way too high. I would never go up more than 25% of wall space from the floor. Yours looks more than 35%. I would also expect that you plan on installing crown molding. Lastly, i would never paint the area below a chair rail white unless I am installing picture frame molding and painting the entire lower space and all moldings a semi-gloss crisp white.
Everything I did in there was temporary.
Kudos to you Kristi for this amazing post and especially for the images! I have been looking for a trim molding tutorial to help my friend do that by himself and this is it. I know a lot of stuff myself, but sometimes it’s hard to explain in a way that would work.
John @ UBS
Just a quick tip on filling nail holes and joints from my experience as a carpenter… If you’re filling holes on primed or painted trim use a speckling compound such as Ready Patch or Dap instead of wood filler. You can sand it as well, but it will dry white which makes paint touch up much easier.
How do you decide what size chair railing to choose?
I just choose what I like. 🙂
Hope this photo and/or more instructions (for the alternative trim end) show up later as I scroll thru the comments. FYI. This is the future talking! 2021.
How did you cut the tiny return-to-the-wall end trim piece? I assume one end of the return has to be 45° to fit the 45° you cut the end of the trim. I know this is incorrect but in my mind it seems that you are just lengthening the wall trim – a scarf joint – and ending up with another blunt 90° end. A photo of the return before and after you cut it would have been helpful. Perhaps after this amt of time, you have a video of the process? One can dream, right?