Adding baseboard to a renovated space is like putting lipstick on a face; it’s the finishing touch that brings it all together. Today we’re showing you how to install baseboards to get professional looking results if want to DIY your baseboards. Whether you’re building out a space from scratch (like us) or replacing trim with more modern baseboards, these tips and tricks will help you get a great-looking finish. Follow along with our 12-step guide.
1. Baseboard Cutting Plan
Draw out your room(s) and take accurate measurements of each wall. Then you can calculate how many linear feet of baseboard you need to buy and develop your cut list. Just like for flooring, you could add 10%-15% more than you need for waste.
I did the plan shown below on computer, but a quick sketch is just as good. We found a supplier that sells up to 12′ lengths so calculated the best use of the offcuts with the least amount of waste.
However, we took it a step further and determined where on the plan we’d use our off-cuts so we could get the best bang for our buck. We were right on with our cuts because of our cut list, so we didn’t have any waste to speak of!
By the way, the room we’re working on in this post is my sewing room (it’s the squarish shape in middle of the plan above).
2. Mark All the Studs
Run a stud finder along every wall you’re placing baseboard.
As you go, mark each stud with green tape. Here you can see the edges of each stud with an ‘X’ indicating where the middle falls. This is important because when you have lengths that are too long for one piece, you will need to make cuts. Those cuts MUST fall onto a stud to attach them properly.
Be sure to mark every stud because that is where you will nail the baseboard to secure it tight against the wall! Below is Hubs getting towards the end of one wall.
3. Pre-Prime and Paint Before Installing Baseboards
It’s awkward to crawl along the floor to paint after installing baseboards. Not to mention potentially spilling paint on our new floors! We don’t leave the priming and painting until after the baseboards are attached: we finish our baseboards before we even start! Take the baseboard outside and spray it all at once with a spray gun. Let it dry between coats.
We primed first, then used Benjamin Moore’s Aura satin to topcoat. My favourite white trim colour is Benjamin Moore’s Distant Grey. It works beautifully with every paint colour in our house.
Of course, you don’t have to do this, but this is what keeps us organized. After the paint is dry, we mark each board with green tape according to the cutting plan you saw earlier. Each one has a number indicating where it will be placed in the basement and the length of each piece.
We stacked longer pieces on some boxes.
The shorter pieces were organized on top of a door we removed from our cold room (which we also used for tiling and it eventually became the desk top surface in my craft studio!)
4. Set Up Work Station
Now you’re ready to cut. Determine if you want to work indoors or out. Each has its advantages. Working outdoors means less mess to clean up in the house, but is more time consuming if the site is far from the front door as ours is.
Since our entire basement was already a construction zone, we set up our chop saw in what would eventually become the mancave. It saved wear and tear on the knees: running up and down the stairs isn’t something Hubs wanted to do! To cut down on dust, we hooked up a wet dry vac directly to the chop saw. Hubs also protected the painted walls with cardboard.
5. How to Measure Baseboards
Do you know the adage measure twice, cut once? Measuring how long to cut a piece of baseboard can be tricky. I know I get annoyed when I poke that tape measure into the corner, only to get the metal tip caught up on the edge of the flooring! Avoid that scenario completely. Cut yourself a block with a 45° angle on one end, and a straight cut on the other. We cut ours 10″, but it could be any length, and used MDF for our block.
Place block in a corner, line up the edge of the tape measure with the flat end of the block and measure to the end of the wall. Just remember to add the length of your block (in our case 10″) to your final measurement and note which way the angle needs to be cut.
To measure a long alcove, two 6″ blocks might make more sense. Measure between the two and then add one foot onto your final measurement (12″)!
On the opposing wall, the bock can be flipped upside down to measure in the same manner. Just position the angle cut tight into the corner and measure away!
It also helps to have sample angle blocks at your cutting station so you can visualize which way to cut your pieces. Here’s an example of an inside corner (which we’ll get to in more detail later).
6. How to Cut and Install Baseboards Like a Pro
This is the best video on how to make the cuts you’ll need for inside corners, outside corners and returns. It also shows you pro tips on how to cope baseboard. Hubs shows you how he does it in Step 10 if you’re not confident to cut a cope all at once.
These are all the angles to keep in mind as you progress through your baseboard installation. A compound mitre saw makes easy work of cutting 45° angles.
7. Dry Fit
Don’t attach anything permanently until you’ve done a dry fit of your pieces. That’s how we discovered that we had an uneven floor casing the baseboard gap you see below in the mancave.
At the end of this post, we provide a link so you can troubleshoot how to install baseboards on an uneven floor.
8. How to Nail Baseboards
Use a pin nailer to attach the baseboard to the studs previously marked. We leave the air nailer on top of a piece of cardboard so we can easily slide it along as we nail.
A pin nailer makes the installation go so fast!
As fun as it is to use, wear safety glasses in case a nail deflects. Shoot nails in at every stud along both the top AND bottom of the baseboard. Aim for consistency on where you position the nails because you’re going to come along afterwards and fill in all the nail holes. Below you can see the nail going in at the top of the board.
If you find you need close a gap between the wall and the baseboard, shooting two pins at opposing angles may help suck it in tight to the drywall. But don’t worry if you still get some gaps: caulk is your friend.
9. How to Join Baseboards
Disguise baseboard joins with a Scarf Joint
It’s unavoidable: you’ll need to attach two lengths of baseboard together at some point. Use a scarf joint and the joint will be much less invisible. A scarf joint is just two pieces of wood cut at complementary angles so they fit together. I’ve seen them scarf joints cut anywhere from 15, 30 and 45 degrees. We cut ours at a 45° angle.
Ideally, position the joint where it will fall behind a piece of furniture so you’ll never see it! Somewhere in the middle of a wall is a safe bet, but it depends on your own room layout.
Cut and situate the two boards so that the scarf joint can be secured to the wall over a stud. As shown below, position the first piece of baseboard so it falls in the middle of a stud. Make the first half of the scarf joint with a 45° miter cut that opens away from the wall:
Nail the first piece to the wall at each stud as described in the previous step. Lay the second piece over top:
Mark the cut:
As you can see, Hubs angles his pencil mark so he remembers which way to cut the angle:
Cut the second piece of trim using the opposite 45˚ angle. Join the two pieces together to test for fit.
How to Install Baseboards: Close-Up
The joint should look like this close-up. Pin nail on either side of the joint at the top and bottom, right into the stud. Since we pre-painted the baseboards, if you want perfection, you can dry brush some paint on the raw wood of the cuts to help disguise the joint before you put it in place. That way, you won’t see a darker line. We didn’t bother because you’ll never see it once the furniture is in place.
10. Coping Baseboard – Cutting Options
cope inside corners
On an inside corner you can cut inside angles (45° bevels) on both pieces of wood and leave it at that. You will likely get gaps (most walls are not a perfect 90°). The other option is to cut one piece straight and use a coping saw to cut along the profile of the adjoining piece of baseboard. Hubs chose to cope. At the end of this section, I’ll show you a comparison of how each of these two methods looks.
Rule of thumb: make the most difficult cut first (i.e. coped joint), fit the baseboard, then cut the rest of the piece to length. That way, if you make a mistake, you still have some extra length to recut the cope!
Here is the first piece of baseboard secured to the wall which gets a simple straight cut:
Using a coping saw on the next piece gives us a tight fitting corner that looks flawless. Undercut along the profile, removing the excess wood. With practice, you can cut the profile in one fell swoop, but here Hubs makes three vertical release cuts first:
Then he cuts along the profile of each section as close as possible….
… and lets the pieces fall away. He angles the coping saw away from him as he makes each cut (which is what I mean by undercutting).
Here it is half way done, from the top….
… and the side:
Two more sections to go:
Coping in Action
Here’s a brief clip of coping this section of the baseboard. As you can see, a sharp chisel is helpful for getting right into the corner to separate those tiny pieces.
Test the fit against another piece of baseboard and sand smooth any rough edges:
Ready to be installed!
Comparing a Coped Joint vs. Mitre Joint on an inside Corner
After installing, the coped joint is a pretty tight fit. We just need to touch up the nail holes (which you’ll see in the last step).
Below is a comparison of a regular mitred joint without coping. As you can see, the gap is noticeable. But we’re not fretting. This section of baseboard is going to be hidden behind a whole wall of cabinetry. We figured there’s no sense spending time on coping baseboard that won’t be seen! We’ll show you how to fix any gaps in baseboard corners in the next section.
I’m not gonna lie – coping is way more time consuming than mitre cuts. But if you’re adventurous and want to speed things up, you can try this coping method from the Family Handyman using a mitre saw. It’s pretty cool.
11. Filling in the Gaps
I get this question all the time: should you caulk baseboards? This unequivocal answer is yes! We show you how to caulk the gaps in the baseboard corner four pictures below, but first we caulk along the top of baseboards.
The picture below shows one instance where there is a gap – and it’s larger than usual because the wall bows in a little. Even if you are an expert drywaller and mudder, there will still be areas like this with a noticeable gap between the wall and baseboard.
Cut the tip of the caulk at an angle.
Run a piece of green tape along the wall just to protect it from excess. Run the tip of the caulk gun along the gap and squeeze steadily until the end. Dip your finger in some water and run it along the joint to smooth the caulk. A perfect finish:
Use caulk to fill in any corners where you didn’t cope. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect when the caulk first goes on.
Running a wet finger along the joint again will smooth out any imperfections.
After filling the corner, we continued with the adjacent wall. Regardless of whether there are gaps or not, we always seal along the top of the entire baseboard with paintable caulk.
12. Filling Nail Holes
Some people use wood filler for this step, but because we pre-painted our boards, we’d have to touch up every hole with paint.
The easier solution for this step is to use these putty sticks. Choose a colour that matches your baseboard paint.
After rubbing the stick over each nail hole, you’ll need a soft cloth to buff away any overfill.
Keep a plastic blade handy too:
If there’s too much to buff away with the cloth, a plastic blade makes quick work of taking off excess. Easy peasy!
Here’s how the baseboard looks after the caulk and nail filling is done. It looks pretty impeccable (just remember to lift all the green tape when you’re done)! We missed the piece in the corner before snapping this picture!
This is the same area, zoomed out.
Viewing the Empty Rooms
After all that finessing, this entire wall is going to be filled up with storage – hiding all our hard work – lol. You can see how we built in the storage using IKEA’s Pax wardrobe system.
Despite not seeing the baseboard, don’t skip the fine details we outlined in the steps above. One day when you tire of the space, you might convert it to some other use, exposing the baseboards again. You’ll be glad you took the time to complete everything on the checklist!
Here’s the view looking into the empty sewing room after installing the baseboard:
Before, During and After Reveals
Here’s the progression of our baseboard project from start to finish along the same wall in my studio:
The baseboard is installed:
And finally, the room is filled with furniture. I couldn’t take the final picture at the same angle because of the wall of IKEA storage cabinets you saw us starting above.
Troubleshoot How to Install Baseboards on Uneven Floors
Lather, rinse and repeat with the rest of the rooms on your cut list and you’ll have a job you can be proud of. Unless you run into this situation:
Things don’t always go according to plan in the land of DIY when you’re installing baseboards – whether you’re a professional or not 😉. If you missed the link earlier, read our previous post on how to fix gaps between the floor and baseboard.
We hope you enjoyed our guide on how to install baseboards! Pinning is always welcome and appreciated. If you think you’ll ever tackle a project like this, pin this for future reference!