How to Install Baseboard

Paul Pogue
Written by Paul Pogue
Updated January 17, 2022
Professional baseboard installation
Angelov / Adobe Stock

Measure twice, cut once

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Baseboard is a decorative trim installed between the floor and wall to give a room a clean, finished look. This type of trim comes in various colors, materials, and styles, allowing you to customize it to your liking. Learning how to install baseboards can be accomplished by the motivated DIYer with the right tools and attention to detail.

Difficulty: Intermediate (3/5)

While the baseboard installation process itself isn’t particularly difficult, finding and cutting the correct angles can be tricky, especially if your room has many alcoves or corners that don’t meet at a perfect 90-degree angle. 

Total Project Time: 1–2 days for an average-sized room

Cost: $0.80 to $1.20 per linear foot for basic designs, but it can go up for more intricate styles and materials

Materials

  • Sandpaper

  • Semigloss paint (optional)

  • Painter’s tape

  • Baseboard molding

  • Construction adhesive

  • Finishing nails

  • Wood filler

Tools

  • Safety goggles

  • Earplugs

  • Utility knife

  • Pry bar 

  • Stud finder

  • 4 ft. level

  • Compass (optional)

  • Circular saw (optional)

  • Angled paintbrush (optional)

  • Protractor (optional)

  • Miter saw

  • Coping saw (optional)

  • Brad nailer

How to Install Baseboard: A Step-By-Step Guide

It’s important to note that baseboards can be composed of a cap molding (an ornamental trim on the top of the board), shoe molding (an ornamental trim at the bottom of the board), and the actual baseboard (the main, flat piece of the molding). However, you may not need all three components when choosing materials.

1. Remove Old Baseboards

Pulling away old baseboards with a pry bar
Jens_Lambert_Photography / Getty Images

Start by removing any old baseboards first. 

  • Use a utility knife along the top seam of the old board to break the caulk or any paint seal.

  • Then, pry off the old boards using a pry bar. If they don’t easily come off, you may need to position the pry bar closer to the nails in the wall and pull. 

  • Pull out any remaining old nails from the wall and sand down leftover caulk or rough spots.  

Pro tip: Place a scrap piece of wood on the wall behind the pry bar when removing the old baseboards so you don’t damage the walls.

2. Paint the Unfinished Baseboards

Baseboards usually come pre-primed, but if you want to change the color, if they are unfinished, or if you want to add another layer of protection, it’s easier to paint them first before attaching them to the walls. 

Use an angled paintbrush to apply an even coat of paint in the same direction. Then, add a second coat for a finished look. Allow to dry fully before you begin the baseboard installation.

3. Prepare the Area

Measuring wall before installing baseboard
Andy Dean / Adobe Stock

Before you start cutting your boards, there are a few prep steps to set yourself up for success. Because wood is prone to temperature fluctuations, it’s important to bring the boards inside for a day or two so they can adjust to the conditions of the room. 

  • Start by taking measurements of the room and marking the boards with a small pencil. Leave extra room for any outside corners the room may have. If this is your first time installing baseboards, it’s helpful to purchase a few extra boards to account for any errors. 

  • Next, use a stud finder to mark the studs in the wall with a pencil, and apply painter’s tape on the floor as a guide to where the boards will be nailed. 

  • Number the back of the boards and label the corresponding wall so you can keep track of them when cutting.

4. Level and Scribe

Once you have prepared the space, it’s important to ensure the floors are level before installing the trim.

Leveling:

  • Place your 4-foot level next to the wall to make sure the floor is even. If not, you’ll have to make a few adjustments to ensure the top edges of the trim are level. 

  • Move the level across the length of the wall until you find the lowest point. 

  • Temporarily attach a scrap piece of molding at that point, and then make intermittent horizontal marks, maintaining the same level along the wall. These marks will indicate the top edge of the board so you can align the new baseboards with these marks to ensure a straight and level outcome. 

Scribing:

  • If the floors are noticeably uneven, you can use the scribing method to fit the boards to the floor. 

  • Temporarily attach the baseboard to the wall for fitting purposes. 

  • Use a compass at 1/4 inch width, and position the pencil along the baseboard so the points are vertically aligned. 

  • Drag the compass along the bottom edge of the board to make your pencil mark, and use a circular saw to cut along this line. 

  • Sand down any fine areas for a snug fit if necessary.

5. Determine If You Will Create Miter Joints or Coped Joints

Carpenter using a coping saw on millwork trim
BanksPhoto / Getty Images

A miter joint is made by cutting each angle to 45 degrees and fitting them into place. Coping is a special sawing technique requiring precise cuts. This is done by making a straight cut with a miter saw on one edge, then manually fitting the other edge to the straight cut using a coping saw.

Not every room has corners with a perfect 90-degree angle, and while you can use a miter joint for an angle that’s a degree or two off, coping works better for angles with a larger gap. Because coping requires more carpentry skills, you may choose to cope all of the inside corners or just the ones that are absolutely necessary, depending on your comfort level.

6. Make the Initial Cuts and Install the First Board

Safety note: When working with a miter saw, clean off any sawdust or debris from previous projects before making any cuts. Also, be sure to wear goggles and ear protection when using the tool. 

Start by making the initial straight cuts in the boards using the pencil marks you made as a reference point, leaving a few inches for outer corners. Install the first board on the longest wall in the room. 

If you plan on coping the inner corners, butt the straight edge up against the inside corner so it’s flush against the wall. Install using a nail gun and finishing nails into the marked studs. 

If you plan on creating a miter joint for the inner corners, you will need to make a 45-degree cut at the edge, and then use the nail gun to attach it to the wall.

7. Cut the Inside Corner Joints and Install

Installing white baseboard at inner corner of wall
KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images

If you are coping the inside corner, fit the flat end of the next board against the installed piece, and mark with a pencil (leave a few inches to allow for any potential errors). Use your miter saw to make an initial 45-degree-angle cut to reveal the profile of the board. Then, trace along the profile, and use the coping saw to back-cut along the line, removing any excess wood. 

Cut the other end of the molding to either a 45-degree angle or a straight cut depending on the next corner you’ll be working with. Bring the piece back to the room, and test it along the installed board. If the coped joint is too snug, you can adjust it by sanding it down. Secure into place using the nail gun.

If you’re creating a miter joint, fit the flat end against the angled pieces, and mark with a pencil. Cut at a 45.5-degree angle to start, and adjust as necessary until you have a tight fit. Cut the other end of the board either at a 45-degree angle or a straight cut, based on the next corner you will be working with. Secure the piece into place with the nail gun.

8. Cut and Install the Outside Corner Pieces

As you work around the room, you may have outside corners from alcoves or bump-outs. Once the straight edge is flush against the wall, mark the board with a pencil where the outside corner ends. Be sure to continue the angle of the wall when marking so you know which direction to make the cut.

Cut the first corner to 45.5 degrees with your miter saw. Next, repeat the same process with the adjacent corner, and cut in the opposite direction to create a miter joint. After both pieces have been cut, line the miter cuts up against the corner. If the fit is too snug, you can sand it down until it creates a snug fit.

Once you have a tight fit, press the two corners together securely with a thin line of caulk so it covers the joint. Then, nail into place with a nail gun.

9. Caulk the Seams and Fill Nail Holes

Caulking top edge of baseboard
andrewginns / Getty Images

Once all the boards have been installed, look for any gaps and nail holes. Fill in the nail holes with wood filler, and apply a thin bead of construction adhesive to the corner seams. Apply a thin line of caulk along the top edge of the entire trim and wipe away any excess.

How to Choose Baseboards

When you look in the millwork aisle at your local home improvement store, you’ll notice there are many different baseboard styles and materials to choose from. It’s helpful to understand the different choices you will be presented with to choose the best type of baseboard for your room.  

Baseboard Materials

In most cases, baseboards are made from either MDF, wood, or PVC. 

MDF: MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is the most cost-effective option and comes in a wide variety of styles. It’s usually pre-primed so you can easily paint the boards before installing. 

Wood: Traditional wood baseboards can give the space an elevated look, but they have the highest cost of the three materials. Most wood baseboards don’t come pre-primed, so you will have to stain them or apply a few coats of paint before installing. Wood is a good option for historical homes or restoration projects to provide an authentic feel in the room. 

PVC: PVC is another material option, made from plastic polymers. While it may not be as durable or cost-effective as MDF, this material is water-resistant and insect-resistant, making it a good choice for homes or rooms (like laundry rooms or outdoor spaces) that are prone to water or high humidity levels.

Baseboard Styles

Baseboards come in a variety of options to coincide with the overall look of the room. You could consider the architectural style of your home and pick the type of baseboard that best matches it. For example, if you have a Victorian home, pick baseboards with ornate details. Conversely, if you have a newer home, opt for simple baseboards with a flat profile. 

You can also choose the style based on the interior design concept. For example, choose a flat and angular trim for the modern farmhouse aesthetic or curved and ornamental boards for shabby chic or bohemian design.

Baseboard Height

Baseboards come in different heights and although an inch or two may not seem like much at first, the size you choose can significantly change the look (and cost) of the project. Baseboards that are too wide can overwhelm the room, but baseboards that are too thin may not look balanced within the space. 

A general guideline is to choose baseboards that are 7% of the height of your room. For example, pick 6.5-inch to 7-inch moldings if you have 8-foot ceilings. Also take into consideration your personal preferences, whether or not you have crown molding, as well as your budget when deciding on a height. 

Best Paint for Trim and Baseboards 

White is a common choice for baseboard trim because it goes well with any wall paint and can make the color pop against the boards. If you want to shake up the design of your room, you can pick a color other than white, such as greige or dark blue, to serve as an accent.

Opt for a semigloss paint finish, especially in highly trafficked areas, as this sheen is easy to clean. Oil-based paint is a good choice, despite its long drying time, because it can withstand wear-and-tear and moisture due to its thicker consistency. 

For interior baseboards, you can choose an interior-specific paint or an interior/exterior option. If you’re painting exterior baseboards, an interior/exterior finish is the best choice due to its durability and weather-resistant properties. 

Baseboard Installation FAQs

What if the wall is longer than the length of one board?

If you have a long wall in the room, you will need to make a scarf joint where the two ends meet. This is done by cutting the edges at 45-degree angles (in the opposite direction), then gluing them together so they overlap at the seam. Nail the top piece into place by attaching it to a stud.

What about door casings or other millwork in the room?

Work around millwork by creating a butt joint by making a straight cut in the board. Then, attach it flush against the millwork with the nail gun.

What if the corners are uneven?

Use a protractor to determine the angle, then divide it in half and cut as necessary. 

What type of miter saw blade is best? 

Choose a fine-tooth trim blade.

Do I need a power miter saw? 

While power tools can make the job easier, you can still install baseboards using a manual miter box and saw.

Do I need a brad nailer?

If you don’t have a nail gun handy, you can use a hammer, but you will have to pre-drill each nail hole first so the wood doesn’t split.

What if I’m also installing cap or shoe molding?

Use the same technique and measurements that you did for the baseboard install, and affix them to the boards using construction adhesive.

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