The Secret of Trim – 6 Essential Carpentry Tips and Tricks

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases (more).

Coping SawI love working with wood. I don’t know if it’s my manstincts kicking in (*New Word Alert: Manstincts – Man and instincts put together), but cutting and shaping wood brings me to a primal state that often makes me raise my head and caveman grunt like Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor. Uh-Uh-Uh-UH-UH-UGGH! Let’s move on from that Tim Allen 90s catchphrase crap before that annoying grunting noise gets stuck in your head. Suffice it to say, I’m in love with woodworking and I really love to share my love with everyone. Ok, that came out wrong. I love to share my knowledge of woodworking with DIYer’s who want to beautify their own home with trim, baseboard and molding, but are too scared to try it because they’re afraid of screwing it up. If that describes you (or you want to pick up a trick or two), read on for tips to help you tackle any trim.

While it does take an initial investment to get set up with the right tools (less if you rent the tools, even less if you steal them) and materials, once you learn a few simple tips and tricks, you can start installing your own trim work right away. So, get yourself a compound miter saw, an assortment of hand saws and a few basic hand tools — then use these tips and tricks for installing your own trim like a pro.

Get to Know Your Tools

One of the most important parts of stepping up from a DIY weekend warrior and becoming a novice woodworker is getting familiar with your woodworking tools. Build stuff! Use your miter saw, break out the coping saw and install some new trim in your home. The more you practice—the better you get — that’s a no-brainer. But once you become more familiar with using them, don’t neglect to use them safely. There’s a difference between knowing-it-all on a miter saw and a know-it-all on a miter saw: and it’s often the tip of a finger.

Making a Cut for the Coping Saw
Making a Cut for the Coping Saw

Stick to the Plan

Trim around doors, openings and windows first, move to the walls and flooring next and finish with the baseboard and molding last. Work from the right side of the room to the left so all of your cuts are on the right hand side of the saw — go in the opposite direction if you’re a left-handed freak of nature (no offense).

Cutting Corners

Cutting inside corners on baseboard can be tricky for the uninitiated. Getting the angle just right takes a bit of work with a test block (see below). Unless you’re cutting stained or clear coated trim, you don’t need to waste your time cutting 45 degree angles for the inside corners of your baseboard. Instead, use a coping saw to cut out the “face” of the baseboard. Starting from the right side of the door and working your way around to the left of the room, attach a piece of baseboard to the wall that’s square cut on each end-wall to wall. Measure and cut the next piece wall to wall but cut the right end of the baseboard on a 45 degree angle with the long part of the angle on the back of the baseboard. Cut out the face of the 45 degree angle cut, using the trim face as the guideline. The newly cut piece should fit tightly together against the square cut piece.

Test Fitting

Test Fitting Baseboards
Test Fitting Baseboards
When you reach outside or inside corners, use a pair of test blocks to get an accurate cut. Test blocks are 1’ baseboard cutoffs (scraps work best) at a 45 degree angle. Place the two pieces of baseboard together at the outside corner of your wall and “test fit” the two corners. If the corners are tight — great; go play the lottery! You can cut the two large pieces at a true 45 degree angle (yeah right!). Most outside corners end up needing some tweaking, so you’ll have to adjust the cut (on the test piece) to find the right angle on your miter saw before you cut the final outside corner on the real pieces. Insider Tip: When cutting clear finished trim — I cut my test pieces with both inside and outside corners so I can test fit any angle easily before cutting the real baseboard angle.

Glue the Corners

Corners that are glued together – stay together. Wood shrinks and expands in any climate. People use Gorilla Glue, Tite Bond, or Elmer’s: it’s really a choice best left up to your preference and particular application. Use clear-drying glue for clear trim and painters caulk when you’re painting your pieces.

Cutting Crown Molding

There are two ways to cut crown molding: diagonally nested and lying flat. Diagonally nested is the easiest way, but it can create kickback on the saw. Diagonally Cut: Set the crown in the saw with the bottom face of the crown resting against the fence and the top of the crown face down on the table; then cut it on the 45 degree angle. Cut on a left 45 for the right hand side of the crown corner and make a right 45 cut on the miter to cut the left hand corner of the crown. It’s opposite because the crown is upside down in the saw. Flat Cut: This method takes much more skill, but creates a neater cut less likely to tear out. Check out this DeWalt video on cutting crown molding to get a better idea on how to trim out your house! If you’re interested in crown, we have a more detailed Crown Molding article headed your way soon.

Let us know how your projects work out in the comments below!

Photo of author

About Eric

Since Eric built his first skateboard ramp in his parents driveway; he’s breathed, slept and eaten DIY construction. As a second generation master carpenter who runs two Florida-based construction firms, Eric’s had the chance to work on everything from Mcmansions to your local mall to the cat lady’s bathroom. So when it comes to dealing with construction s@#t; he’s the man—literally. There isn’t a tool or construction material that Eric hasn’t used and abused, and if there is; it’s rocking in a dark corner nervously waiting for him to show up for work.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get access to free prizes, product sneak-peeks, reviews, how-to's and much more!

More Info | Email Privacy

5 thoughts on “The Secret of Trim – 6 Essential Carpentry Tips and Tricks”

  1. Im approaching 39 yrs as a carpenter. I use to cope everything for yrs. Now I miter all inside corners tight then glue. You have less shrinkage with a tight mitered glued joint. Todays trim from the Big Boxes have way to much moisture content and finger joints to cope anything.

    Crown molding can be intimidating until you really understand the math and how to approach the task. The novice and so called todays pro’s get confused when using the upside down and backwards technique. Ive been there myself over the yrs. When dual compound miter saws came out things changed though. I always cut my crown laying flat. Its much cleaner and safer. Plus your looking at the crown on the flat table exactly the way it will be installed on the ceiling.

    Now crown on a vaulted/slopped ceiling is a total different animal. There is a little more thinking that needs to be done. But at the end of the day its no different than base molding.

    A carpenter friend Ive know for yrs told me one time its way to difficult. I asked him if I asked him to install a 1×6 on a valt the same way crown goes up could he do it and get the joints tight. He said well sure, then I asked so whats so difficult about a crown with a profile on the face. He said well its different. Ok whats different because your working off the back of the 1×6 heal point arent you the same way crown works. At that point he realized the profile was what was making things look so difficult. He has never had a problem on a vaulted ceiling again.

    Remember your in control not the crown profile. I wish I could post some pictures but dont know how.

  2. Eric!! some good tips in there! One thing i do when coping trim is make my length cuts slightly longer than than the measured length; about 1/16 on pieces i can bow out in the middle. (don’t do this if it’s not long enough to bow!!) When you compress the bow into position the sharp edge of the coping can actually cut slightly into the adjoining trim making the joint all but invisible. On the double coped pieces i add 1/8; 1/16 for each end 😉 equality for leftie/rightie, share and share alike!
    I would recommend novices start out with base shoe; not the same as quarter round! Very simple but still forces orientation to keep everything lined up; quarter round is too easy, any way you turn it is right! Not as useful as a learning tool. (Full disclosure – personal preference/prejudice; i think base shoe looks better than quarter round although most people don’t notice the difference. or even know there is a difference.) and yes, crown molding is worth a whole article! I’ve put up a lot (feels like miles) of it and i still don’t much care for it… it really makes my jaws hurt. the bigger the crown the more clenching. ggrrrrrrrrrrr

    • Right on Bill! I like to add a little length too! If it’s too long I can hit it against the opposing wall and knock it in the drywall to make it fit tight.
      I also like base molding, it looks really good against a big profile (we call it shoe molding though)
      Don’t grit your teeth too hard:)


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.