Creating custom moldings

MATERIALS: 1x3 pine; twice room perimeter plus 8 feet, 11/16 x 2 5/8 inch chair rail (WM390), room perimeter plus 8 feet; 11/16 x 2 1/2-inch chair rail (WM298), room perimeter plus 8 feet; 1 1/16 x 1 1/16-inch cove molding (WM100), twice room perimeter plus 16 feet; wood putty

TOOLS: Chalk line, 6-foot level, saw, hammer, #4, #6, and #8 finish nails, nail set, blue painter’s masking tape, paint or stain, miter box or power miter saw, wood form

GO LONG - When you make a cut in a miter box, never try to cut right along the line on the first try. Make a cut that you know leaves the piece a bit long, and then edge the piece over to make another cut. Keep cutting and edging until the piece is the right length. If you want the piece to fit tightly between two walls, cut it 1/32 to 1/16 inch long, flex it into place, and nail it down.

While home centers and lumberyards carry what seem to be large selections of wood moldings, they usually have two or three choices with slight variations—mostly the same profiles in different widths. If it’s variety you want, create custom molding by combining stock. This chair rail is a combination of simple profiles. Each molding is identified by a number assigned by the Wood Moulding and Millwork Association. The upper rail, for example, is based on a 1/16 x 2 5/8-inch chair rail called WM390. The lower rail is built around WM298, a 11/16 x 2 1/2-inch chair rail. The rest of the stock is either 1x3 or cove molding. If all this molding talk seems like a foreign language, ask an associate at your home center or lumberyard to take you on a tour of the molding and trim area.

Combining multiple chair rails can give your home a distinctive look. You can combine molding creatively in lots of ways. Play with combinations m the molding aisle until you come up with something you like.

1 MAKE A SAMPLE PROFILE. Determine from the molding profiles above which molding you want to create. Sketch the molding and then make a full-size drawing to take to the store. Purchase samples—you may be able to buy 1 -foot samples of the moldings—and use these to create short sample assemblies. Before you purchase the molding you need, hold a sample in place in the room to get a sense of the scale and fit.

2 DRAW A LAYOUT LINE ON THE WALL. The base of the double chair rail molding is a pair of 1x3s. Determine the height of the chair rail; 30 to 40 inches from the floor is typical. Draw a level line where the bottom edge of the lower 1x3 will be.

3 CUT THE LOWER 1x3 TO LENGTH. Butt the 1x3s at the inside corners, and miter the outside corners. Nail the 1x3 to the wall with #6 or #8 finishing nails or fasten screws into the studs. Use a 1x3 spacer to position the second 1x3. Rest it on top of the piece nailed to the wall. Use the scrap as a spacer to keep the second 1x3 parallel to the first.

4 NAIL ON THE ADDITIONAL MOLDINGS. Before you nail the top trim in place, bevel the edges where the molding will fit window or door frames. This will provide a cleaner look. Nail moldings to the face and edges of the two 1x3s.

5 MITER MOLDING AT INSIDE AND OUTSIDE CORNERS. Use a miter box or power miter saw to cut all the inside and outside corners. Wherever possible miter the end of the first piece and nail it in place. Hold the second piece in place and mark it to meet the first piece. Miter at the mark and put the molding in place. It's faster and more reliable than measuring. Cut long, and trim it to fit.

6 PRIME AND PAINT THE MOLDING. Mask the wall at the top and bottom edges of the molding. Set all the nails and fill the holes with latex wood putty. Prime and paint the new molding. An alternative to painting in between the moldings is to run a strip of wallpaper that matches other decorative elements in the room.

SCARFING MOLDING TOGETHER - Although walls may be 12 feet long or more, moldings often come in shorter lengths. No problem. Just splice or scarf a shorter length onto the long one to complete the wall. Make a splice joint by mitering the end pieces and overlapping them. Be sure the splice will be over a stud. The angle is not crucial (although between 35 and 45 degrees is best). Cut the first piece, with the molding on one side of the box. Put the second molding against the other side of the box when you cut it. Overlap the first piece with the second piece to create a straight rail with no visible seam.

Installing crown molding

BUILT-UP MOLDINGS - Crown moldings come in a few basic profiles, but you can create more than just a few basic styles. Combine moldings to achieve a fancier look. Typical solutions are shown here.

Like chair and picture rails, crown molding is coped rather than mitered together in the comers. The cope is a joint in which one molding is cut to nest against the profile of another. Coping overcomes out-of-square corners, wall irregularities, and problems caused by wood expansion. Because crown molding slopes from the wall to the ceiling, however, coping requires some fancy work at the miter saw. It’s nothing so fancy that you can’t do it, and once you’ve made the miter cut, the rest of it is no harder than coping baseboard or chair rail. So far, no one has invented a nesting joint that works on outside corners, so the joint you’ll use there is a good old-fashioned miter. It too is complicated by the slope of the molding but is simple to lay out and straightforward to cut.

To help visualize the cut, imagine that the base of the miter box is the ceiling and the fence of the box is the wall. When joints are coped instead of mitered, you cut the profile of one molding into the end of another. The two nest together, creating the look of a miter without creating the problems miters cause.

MATERIALS: Crown molding, finishing nails, wood putty, caulk

TOOLS: Tape measure, stepladder, 4-foot level, power miter saw, stud finder, electric drill, hammer, caulking gun, coping saw, clamps, nail set

NAILING MOLDING WHEN THE NAILS WON'T REACH THE CEILING JOISTS - On the two walls perpendicular to the ceiling joists, you'll nail the bottom edge of the molding into the studs, and the top edge into the ceiling joists. On the other two walls, there are plenty of studs, but the first ceiling joist is some 16 inches from the wall. Carpenters use one of two tricks to solve the problem. If they can, they'll predrill and drive a 16d nail at an angle to catch the framing at the top of the wall, as shown at left. If this doesn't work well enough, they’ll cut infill blocks, such as the one shown at right. Nail the infills into the studs and into the plate at the top of the wall. When you install the molding, nail it to the infill.

1 PLAN YOUR INSTALLATION. No joint is perfect so carpenters install molding in a certain order for the easiest and best-looking job. Start on the wall opposite the door (1) and install a piece that's square at both ends. This presents the best (and easiest to cut) side of the joint to anyone entering the room. The molding on the second wall (2) is coped where it meets the installed molding and square where it meets the other wall. The third wall (3) is treated the same way. The fourth wall (with the door) will have to be coped on both ends but it's the wall where tiny mistakes will be less noticeable.

2 MEASURE THE ROOM AND MARK THE STUD LOCATIONS. The molding will be nailed into the wall studs. Find them with a stud finder and make faint pencil marks high on the wall (where they won’t be covered by molding) to guide the nailing.

3 PUT THE MOLDING AGAINST A FRAMING SQUARE TO SEE HOW IT MEETS THE WALL AND CEILING. Note the distance between the face of the molding and the corner of the square. Cut a scrap of lumber to the correct dimension and draw layout lines marking the distance on the wall and ceiling. When you install the molding, align it with the layout lines.

4 MEASURE THE WALL OPPOSITE THE DOOR, AND CUT A MOLDING TO THIS LENGTH. To prevent molding from splitting when you nail it in place, drill pilot holes the diameter of the finishing nails you'll use. Mark the locations of pilot holes by holding the molding in place and transferring the wall stud marks onto the molding.

5 LAY OUT THE COPE JOINT. Now that the first molding is in place, lay out the cope joint on a second molding. Start with a piece a few inches longer than finished length and flex it in place. At the end you'll cope, draw a line from the bottom of the molding up and away from the corner of the room at roughly a 45-degree angle. It's OK if the line isn't straight and if it isn't perfectly 45 degrees. This line is there to show you the general direction the saw will cut, not its precise path.

6 SET UP THE SAW. Put the molding on the miter saw so that the ceiling edge is flat on the bottom of the miter box. Lean the molding back so the edge that goes on the wall is tight against the fence. Turn the saw in the general direction of the line you drew in Step 1. (If the blade and line won’t even come close to aligning, turn the molding upside down and try again.) Set the saw to cut at 45 degrees and cut a miter close to the end.

7 CUT THE PROFILE. When you look at the face of the molding, you'll see that the miter cut exposed the profile of the molding, outlined here in pencil. Cut along the profile with a coping saw to create a joint that will nest against a similar piece of molding. Tilt the coping saw back at a 45-degree angle to create a razor-thin edge where the two moldings will meet.

8 TEST-FIT THE CUT. Check the joint by fitting it against a cutoff. Be prepared for an imperfect fit. Even experienced carpenters fine-tune the joint.

9 SAND AND FILE TO CREATE A TIGHT FIT. Sand or file to remove high spots that keep the moldings from fitting properly. When the joint fits, measure the wall. Cut the molding 1/8 inch longer than measured by making a square cut on the uncoped end. Flex the molding in place—the extra length will help push the cope joint closed.

10 NAIL THE MOLDING IN PLACE. When the moldings fit together without any gaps, nail the molding to the wall and ceiling. If you're painting the molding, run a bead of caulk in the seam and wipe it smooth with a wet finger.

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