Opening the Kimono (and another resource)

There are several “must have” skills when working on an old house like 118 Henry Street. On the sunny side of this business there are the relatively quaint abilities to paint, and to clean. On the north side, there are horrible dark arts like plaster repair and shingle replacement. Between the antipodes, there is are activities like tool sharpening, estimating materials, and being able to hammer nails efficiently.

Working with wood trim and moldings is one of my personal favorites in this rainbow of talents needed to retain sanity while working on an old house. We not only re-use existing wood moldings, but, also make new moldings to match. The toe molding around all the base boards is a great example.

A simple 1” high, 7/16” wide stick of wood with a funny little bead along the top.

ToeTrim Every room has this toe molding

If you’ve ever gone to shop for wood trim, you will immediately recognize that, despite it’s apparent simplicity, this profile is no where to be found at any home supply store. Unfortunately, when trying to remove the existing, less than 40% will remain intact. Even with the most careful removal techniques, most will split or break.

The good news for us is that the original clapboard siding on the exterior of the house is exactly the same thickness as the toe molding. So, we take the clapboards that are too split up from removal to be reused as clapboards, rip them down to height. Then, using a router table, put the bead along the top. About a third of the toe molding we replace is recycled from original clapboards.

Tool-wise, it takes a table saw, a router table, and an electric sander to get the molding ready to paint. I will put on 2 coats of primer and 1 coat of final paint before installing.

The techniques for installing wood moldings are as varied as the craftsmen who do it. You can propose an installation scenario to two trim carpenters and get  four different approaches. We have several books on woodworking techniques, including trim carpentry. Without exception, these books propose different methods for measuring and cutting the final wood.

I’ve tested all the various techniques in those books and the reference that most works with my skill level and the body of this old house is Craig Savage’s “Installing Trim” book and DVD from Taunton Press.

In particular, the parts on dealing with imperfect starting conditions are extremely relevant to our house; corners are not square, walls are not even, parallel or plumb.

Reference back to the toe molding, exempli gratia, in the kitchen annex. We use Craig’s simple graphical technique for doing outside trim corners. Under the corner, tape a piece of white paper. Using the wood molding as a guide, draw lines extending from both sides of the corner to create the final trim intersection.

ToeTrimDetail  Draw the intersecting lines

You will end up with this:

ToeTrimDetail  Where the lines intersect is the final length

And the angle, mostly likely not a 90, is correct. Bisect it to find the setting for your miter saw

Here is an angle on the final corner:

ToeTrimDetail  Ready for final paint

Note the condition of the original baseboard at this high traffic corner.

More about the final finishing next time…