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Woodwork – Custom Cutting and Installation Tips

Cutting and installing woodwork is not easy, especially if you want it done right. You need to have a high level of hand-eye coordination and you need to have some high quality tools. If you think that you are going to produce expert miters using a $19.99 plastic miter box and saw, you are crazy. I know some carpenters who just can't do it. They simply do not possess the level of precision required to make perfect joints.

Millions of Words

There are hundreds of books, articles and videos out there that try to show you how to install woodwork. Some of the finest books on the subject are published by the Taunton Press. They also produce Fine Homebuilding and Fine Woodworking magazines. You can read many of these and read all I have to say, but the bottom line is that you must jump in and start to hack away and practice. Of course you need the right miter box before you begin.

Tools - Ouch!

If you are serious about installing baseboard, casings and crown molding, you need a good miter box saw. The minimum saw you need is one with a 10 inch diameter blade. It will work fine for all but the largest moldings. These tools will cut off your fingers in a heartbeat, so you must use them only when you are alert and after you have read all of the warnings.

You will also need a razor knife, a rasp (a wood file), a coping saw and some wood chisels. All of these tools could easily set you back nearly $400. A good source of tools online is Coastal Tool Company.

A Simple Frame

I feel the best place to start is to make a simple rectangular picture frame out of standard door casings. You need to cut 4 pieces of trim - say 10 inches long - when measured from the outside corners of the 45 degree miter joints. If you cut them right, then when fitted together there will be no gaps. Make a mistake of just 1/16th inch on any one cut or measurement, and you will have problems.

Laying Flat

You may cut perfect miter joints for door or window casing that fit together fine on a workbench but when placed on a wall, the joint opens up. This often happens because the wall surface next to the door or window jamb is not in the same plane. The rough studs behind the drywall may be twisted.

Keep in mind that when you look at a mitered wood joint, only the finished surface area of the trim needs to touch tightly. If the wood just below the surface was hollow or didn't touch, who would be the wiser? You can remedy this problem often by back cutting the miter joint. In other words, use a razor knife to trim away the wood on the saw cut edge of the miter joint. Be careful as you whittle this wood with a sharp razor knife! Try a practice one to see what I mean. You will be amazed at how this allows you to create very tight miters.


These give people lots of problems, especially in new drywall jobs. The corners often look good when you fit the wood, but after they are nailed, there is a large gap at the bottom of the joint. Why? The drywall for 99 percent of all jobs is hung horizontally. The tapered edge of the drywall at the floor level is often never filled by the drywall finisher. To make matters worse, sometimes there is a hump of mud at the bottom that creates all sorts of problems. You have to chisel out any humps of mud and if the tapered edge is not filled, you may have to place thin shims at the bottom of the baseboards to get it to come together perfectly. Woodwork installation requires lots of patience, don't you agree?

Things Must Be Square

If you are installing casings around doors and windows and are cutting ordinary 45 degree miters, then you better make sure the door or window frame is perfectly square. If it isn't, your 45 degree cuts will be off, or when your miter joints are tight, your reveal along the edge of the jamb will be off. You can use a framing square to check these things, but straight pieces of trim cut at 45 degree angles will work as well. No two trim jobs are the same. You will find yourself constantly adjusting and whittling!

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