Coping Baseboards

Installing baseboards is one of the final trim jobs in a typical construction or remodeling project. In a perfect world all the inside and outside corners of walls would be perfectly square and one could just use a table saw or a Skil saw to miter all trim, baseboards included.

But alas, it is not a perfect world and wall corners are rarely square so almost all baseboard miters have to be custom cut to achieve professional results. Enter the coping saw. In this article we will look at coping baseboards.

A good coping saw is rather inexpensive; one can be had for under ten dollars at any hardware or home improvement store. The coping saw is made so as to cut on the pulling stroke, with with the teeth facing the handle in other words.

This gives you more control over the more precise cuts. But a lot of carpenters like to fit their blade with teeth looking away from the saw's handle so that it cuts on the push stroke instead. Try it the two ways and make up your own mind. Different strokes for different folks, as they used to say.

A Tool and Material List for Coping Baseboards

  • coping saw
  • wood files (half round and rat tail)
  • sandpaper
  • paintable caulking (if you are painting it)
  • wood putty (if you are going for the natural color)
  • finish nails
  • hammer and nail set

Cope the Miter

Your first step in the coping process is establishing your cutting line. What you are going for is a forty-five degree angle to give you a good bevel. Although as stated before, this will vary since no wall is exactly square.

Begin with a forty-five degree angle. Test fit your cope on the adjacent trim. Sometimes your cope will be an exact fit right off the bat. But others will need a few minutes filing and sanding to achieve a snug fit.

If your joint is nearly fitting, you will just need to sand down the odd spots using sandpaper. To take off a larger amount of wood, use your wood files. It may take several passes but don't worry, your coping skills will soon improve (pun intended).

When you go to nail the baseboard up you will not always have a handy stud – that's alright; remember that you can nail to the bottom plate of the framing. Also, avoid nailing through the corner bead because you might blast off bits of sheetrock compound.

Different Kinds of Miters to Cope

There are basically three places that you will be mitering the baseboards. There are the inside corners where two walls intersect, then you have the outside corners where the wall changes direction or you have a case opening.

The third place to miter cut is on straight runs where you run out of one board and must start with a new one. This must be mitered; it is bad form to simply butt two lengths together.

Occasionally, due to the architecture of the home, you may have some oddly angled corners. This is where your newly acquired coping skill will pay off.

Finishing the Job

Once you've got all the baseboard installed, use the caulk or putty to put the finishing touches on the job. Done properly, the joints will be virtually imperceptible.