Molding for Beginners!


Here’s a quick tutorial on chair rail (a form of molding) and I will share everything I learned by ….screwing up!  Remember I put some up in our laundry room? Well, I had no idea what I was doing, but it was actually pretty easy and you can totally do it too!  It will transform your room.  You’ll love it, and you can avoid some of my mistakes.   I tried to be really detailed here to help with all the questions I had, so settle in and let me know if I missed anything.

First things first!  I explored Lowe’s one day and found this awesome molding.  I think it’s MDF (?) and it’s super lightweight and comes pre-painted.  It looks like this: IMG_0828  IMG_0830






Because my laundry area is small, I didn’t choose the official “chair rail” because it is pretty chunky.  I went with the “Ogee Stop” trim because it was daintier and it still had a pretty shape. (Also, I looked for the same stuff at other hardware stores and Lowe’s was the only place I could find it.)

There are tons of different types of molding and I hesitated for a sec, thinking I should use the “proper” trim for the job I was doing.  Then I came to my senses!  Use what works best for you and your project!  

I was dumb naive and bought only enough trim for the perimeter I needed.  Duh.  Cuz I’m an expert and never make mistakes….ON MY FIRST TRY.  Arg.  All total I think I bought twice as much as I needed –across three or four separate trips to the store- because I kept messing up the longest cut.  I wasted a few pieces of molding, but at $4 apiece it didn’t get me down.  Lesson: buy extra and cut your longest pieces first!

Then I bought this little gadget for about $10:   IMG_0824

It’s called a miter box (comes with the saw too) and it allows you to cut those pretty angles you need for the inside and outside corners.  Super easy and super cheap.  Or if you’re brave you could use a real miter saw, but that’s NOT me!  Maybe someday…



You’ll also need:

  • Caulking (and painters tape)
  • Spackling
  • Sandpaper (I went for a multi pack of grits because I am clueless which one is the “right” one)
  • Liquid nails
  • Finish nails (any helpful guy at the hardware store will help with the right length you’ll need) for about every 16-32” of molding
  • Electric drill for the pilot holes

When you cut your trim, try a few practice cuts first.  Once you’re comfortable with how the saw feels, your goal is to cut the “front 45” off the inside corner pieces, and the “back 45” off the outside corner pieces.  Here are pictures to help:

IMG_0833 IMG_0834

A “front 45” cut will result in seeing the raw wood when you’re looking at the front of the trim, like shown above. (The front and back thing are my own layman’s terms.)

A “back 45” cut will result in the raw portion of the wood facing the back.



“Front 45” cut


“Back 45” cut



See how two “front 45” cuts (on opposite ends of two pieces of molding) make an inside angle?  Easy as pie!




Ok, here are the steps:

  1. Measure your wall and cut your trim to length.  Remember that the back of the trim is the length to cut to (ie on an outside corner the back will come to the corner of the wall and then the front will stick out a bit).  This took me a few tries.  It’s cheap stuff, so don’t get discouraged if you mess up a few times.  Use your sandpaper to sand off any splinters.
  2. Hold it up to the wall to make sure it fits
  3. Use a stud finder to find your studs – mark them with a pencil and then mark on the back of your trim with a pencil where they are as well.  You don’t need to put a nail at every stud unless you really want to.  I think I did every other stud plus one nail at each end.
  4. Drill pilot holes to avoid splitting your trim:   Put one of your nails in your drill.  Yep.  Sounds weird, I know, but it works great and makes perfect sized pilot holes.  Just get the nail so the head of the nail is as far down as it will go (half the nail or so should still be sticking out) and make sure the drill jaws are tight.  Use this to drill pilot holes where you marked the stud location on the back of your trim.  Be sure to drill from the front (painted side), and try to drill in a discreet area on the trim detail.  It will take a little extra pressure than you’re probably used to, but just keep going.
  5. (This step is for doing your chair rail BEFORE any paneling – if you are using trim that has a lip that goes over paneling, obviously do not affix the chair rail to the wall before the paneling goes up.) This step is putting a line of liquid nails (glue) on the back of the trim and gluing it to the wall so that the top edge is in line with the desired height.  Make sure she’s level!  You can skip the glue, but it really helps to hold the molding in place so you can nail.
  6. Nail in your finish nails through your pilot holes. Countersink those nails with a nail kit (countersink = the nail head is just slightly deeper than the surface of the wood).  A “nail kit” is a funky little metal guy that you rest on the nail head and hit with a hammer.  The one I got was about $6.  I tried cheaping out by using another nail….again bad idea.
  7. Use spackling to fill in your countersunk nail divots and any cracks where your trim angles meet.  Caulking also works great for the cracks.  Caulk the top edge of the trim (tape your walls first! ) and your chair rail is done!

I struggled with my outside corner measurements, so mine has a little gap that I filled with caulk:


You have to get THISCLOSE to notice it.  If your corners aren’t square, you may have a little gap too, that you can fill and it won’t be noticeable.


I don’t mind it too much, but I’ll try to be less impatient with my measurements next time.   


And how do you END your chair rail at an outside corner?  Here is how I did it:



On the outside corners where the laundry doors are, I couldn’t wrap the trim around because there wasn’t enough clearance.  So I did a straight cut flush with the wall:





And on the outside corners where I could have wrapped the trim, but I didn’t want it in the next room (like going behind the fridge), I did a nice tapered “front 45” cut.



There’s also a slightly different way to do inside corners (called coping) that I finally figured out, and it makes perfect inside angles.  I will save the coping for another post so this doesn’t get too long :)

Hope this helps!!!  It’s not difficult or expensive, it just takes an afternoon and some patience.

Get thee some molding and have FUN!!!  You’ll be amazed at the possibilities once you realize how easy those angled cuts are :)


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