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How To Cope: Baseboard, That Is

June 15, 2011 | 15 Comments | DIY How To, Trim
DIY diva

Here’s a hint, unlike the other kind of coping you do when you spend a year living in a garage, this one doesn’t involve alcohol and mint chocolate chip icecream.Well. Okay, actually it may involve both. Particularly as a celebration if the end result means you have an almost-finished bedroom.

Baseboard is the piece of wood at the bottom of the wall that covers up the gap between the floor and the drywall.

10_final

You might think–if you’ve never done this before– that it’s a simple as cutting your baseboard pieces at a 45 and calling it a day. I thought that once too, but it turns out the correct way to install baseboard is a little more time consuming, but has much better results.

Shockingly enough, even if you’re in a brand new house there is almost no chance that your walls are perfectly square and at an exact 90-degree angle from each other. When you cope baseboard (or crown molding) one piece is installed flat against the wall, like this…

08_first_board

Then the right end of the piece that goes along the adjacent wall is coped, while the left end stays flat the the left corner.

09_second_board

If you do it this way you are only cutting right-handed cope joints (significantly easier than cutting a left-handed joint, but then again, I’m a righty) and its much easier to measure.

Here’s how you make the cut:

Step 1- The First Forty-Five

First off, I don’t measure anything to start with, I just make sure the board I’m using is long enough to work on a particular wall and make note of how much “extra” I have in case I make a mistake and need to be conservative when re-cutting it.

The first 45-degree angle should be cut in the exact way you think you’d cut a 45 if you were going to be installing the baseboard without coping it. The “outside” or decorative side of the board should be short side.

01_cut_at_45

Step 2 – The Back-Cut

After you’ve lopped the end of the board off at a 45, flip the board completely around so the good side is still facing out, but it’s upside down. You’ll be using the miter saw to cut a 45 in the opposite angle of the first cut. (This means if the long side of your board was hanging off to the left for the first cut, it will be hanging off to the right for the second one.)

You want to cut exactly on the line, and only for the straight part of the board.

02_backcut_at_45

The blade should not go all the way through.

03_second_cut

Saw Tip: Start the blade before you enter the wood, and keep it running until you’ve pulled the blade back out. I used to be in the bad habit of letting the blade stop while it was still in the wood, and you’ll break many a ends off a board that way.

Step 3 – The Cope

A coping saw is an absolute must for this step, and I have to admit that I was never a big fan of this kind of hand sawing. I’m a power-tool addict for a reason. However, when I first learned this method of coping on a Habitat build, the finish carpenter gave me a great tip on holding the saw loosely in my hand instead of having a death grip on it.

04_cope

A lot of pre-bought baseboard will have a curve of some kind at the top. You want to keep your saw at that same 45-degree back-cut angle and follow the curve while you cute. Since we made our own baseboard out of pine 1x with a bevel in the top (courtesy of the router) I had a little more “flat space” to cut out at the top.

Here’s what the finished cut looks like from the front:

05_coped_from_front

And from the back:

06_coped_from_back

You can see how this fits snugly with the uncut piece.

07_fit

If you have an extra long wall, you may also need to join two pieces in the middle. I like to cut these at a 45 also to minimize the seam.

11_join_pieces

Now you see it, now you don’t!

12_seamless

I attach baseboard using our handy finish nailer with 2″ 18 ga nails. Two nails in every stud. (For more on measuring and nailing check out these tips from my Habitat Build)

Here’s the before:

12_final

And the much more finished-looking after:
13_room_with_baseboard

It still needs shoe molding attached to give it the final “finished” look, and after that it’s pretty obvious what I’ll be doing next… door trim!

DIY diva

    Comments

  • hjc


    Or you could opt for the lazy man’s version (which the contractor’s did on our baseboard post-fire) where one board goes straight into the corner, and the adjacent board just butts flat against the first board – classy. I think your way wins, hands down! It looks beautiful.

  • hjc


    Arrgh! Which the contractors did (no apostrophe!).

  • Jen @ RamblingRenovators


    Great tutorial & your baseboards & floors look fantastic!

  • April Robinson


    Great tutorial. You make me want to head out to Habitat and volunteer. Sounds like you get to contribute to society AND get a great education.

    April

  • Holyoke Home


    Beautiful. I got defensive when Mr. Man told me our row house woodwork (done in 1898) wasn’t done with a lot of attention to detail, but looking at this – I can really see the difference! I’m not complaining, just appreciating your hard work.

  • Casey and Rachel


    Very well executed cope. You are close to having a completely finished bedroom, good stuff!

  • Elisa @ What the Vita


    I was researching on this exact topic a while back when we considered putting in crown moulding in our office – but didn’t find anything as clear as this! Even though we’re probably not going to do the moulding, we definitely want to replace our trim! Just pinned your tutorial, thanks!

    Bedroom is coming along beautifully. I virtually drool all over your wood.

  • Elisa @ What the Vita


    Um… wood flooring.

  • Leslie @ NE Portland Bungalow


    Off topic: drooling over your fire place!

    Also great tutorial and beautiful work!

  • Kelly


    Thanks for the 411 the pictures are great and really help…still trying to get my head around the 2 45 cuts, but i think i’ll try with some scrap wood and it will really sink in…question…what about “outside” cuts this is really dumb i’m thinking that those are true 45 degree cuts that you have to match up?

  • patti


    brilliant! it’s looking swell!

  • Ree`


    WONDERFUL instructions, (thanks for sharing in pics as well)! This is where I’m currently at in my dining room where I installed beautiful (IMHO) 13″ x 13″ ceramic tile in a diamond pattern w/a border in it. Was only going to put baseboard back but, decided it looked muuuch nicer w/the 1/4 round. Have a ‘free-standing’ brick fireplace in there.(Nice for me since, if I get tired of it in there? I’ll just stick it in another room for awhile ha ha). Have a corner fireplace that is in den/guest-room/office/whatever. Both have electric logs and sure throw some welcome heat in these cold Indy winters! (and saves on gas bill big time here!)

  • Pat


    Love the stain on the knotty pine you used. Is that standard #2 knotty pine (big box HD type?) and what brand/color of stain did you use? I’d love to replicate the same look for our basement. Thank you,
    Pat

    • Kit


      Hey Pat – I didn’t even go with the “select” pine for these, I pulled rough 1x from the lumber aisle at Lowes. The stain is two coats of Minwax Early American with a coat of satin poly over it.

  • David


    I know it’s a hassle, but when pulling boards, with length requirements in hand, take the time to match grain at the ends of two boards so your scarf joints match up better.

    You do better corners than I do. Very jealous.

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