July 8, 2012

Do your own trim, save plenty of cash

BY STEVE MAXWELL

Installing your own trim, moulding and baseboard is one of the most profitable do-it-yourself home-improvement ventures you can take on because it lets you save so much cash. Looking ahead, winter is the time we Canadians are most likely to tackle trim installation, and with the right preparation, you’ll enjoy creative control and satisfaction of the sort that money can’t buy. Whatever your motivation, here are some tricks that make all the difference.

Mark all cuts with a knife

The sharp tip of a fresh utility knife blade makes a consistently thin, crisp, straight mark that’s easy to follow accurately with a saw. Pencils don’t work as well because they never stay sharp for long.

Place a piece of trim in position where you want it to go, then use the tip of the blade to make a mark.

When it comes time to cut your trim, shine a strong light on the wood and sneak up to the knife mark with several shallow cuts until you’re right on the waste side of the line.

Equip mitre saw correctly

A mitre saw is essential for cutting trim accurately to your layout lines, but it’s only as good as the blade it spins. Don’t attempt any trim installation job without a fine-toothed carbide blade at your disposal. Expect to spend $80 to $100 for a great blade that will last years with regular, professional sharpenings.

Shim the trim

It’s not unusual to have to custom-cut trim joint angles to fit out-of-square doors, windows or wall corners. And while you could do this by tweaking the saw setting one way or the other, sometimes it’s easier to simply shim one end of the trim.

This rotates the trim slightly relative to the saw, allowing you to tweak angles by a quarter of a degree or less. Cardboard or small wooden wedges placed against the mitre saw fence work great.

Utilize your block plane

No matter how skilled you are with a mitre saw, sometimes a piece of trim is just a little too long for a specific space. That’s better than too short, because a few strokes with a block plane can make everything perfect. One of the best ways to slightly shorten the effective length of an almost-right mitre joint is by planing the back surface of trim, not the end. If you need to remove more than just a paper thickness of wood, plane the joint face itself, but only with the trim fully supported on a solid surface. You want all movement to be only from the plane, with the trim steady as a rock.

Secure trim with pins

Twenty-three gauge pins are the latest kind of air-driven fastener and they combine reasonable strength with an almost invisible entry hole. Pins are roughly the same diameter as a standard sewing needle, so they leave behind marks that virtually disappear after sanding and finishing. The best pinners for trim installation fire two-inch-long pins that can hold door and window trim, as well as full-sized crown moulding. For strongest results, apply a little glue on hidden back surfaces of trim before installation.

Trim Carpentry Techniques by Craig Savage is my favourite book on the subject and it offers more help than I have room for here. He also has a companion DVD that shows how it’s all done.

Installing trim is one of the most effective ways to make your house elegant and unique, while saving pretty good money. Doing the work yourself also lets you connect with your home in a way that only a hands-on investment can deliver.

Special to Postmedia News.

Steve Maxwell, syndicated home improvement and woodworking columnist, has shared his DIY tips, how-to videos and product reviews since 1988. Follow him at SteveMaxwell.ca, on Facebook or @Maxwells_Tips on Twitter.

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