Masthead Region

Installing Engineered Hardwood Flooring - Personal Notes and Perspective from a Homeowner.

Trim and Trimming Operations after Laying Engineered Hardwood Flooring

Trimming, that is putting in base boards, quarter round, doorway thresholds, and dealing with special trim cases, after laying a new floor, takes a lot of practice. You can measure all you want, but there is an element of eyeing up the situation and immediately knowing what your going to get into. It is one of those jobs that by the time you have finished with the entire job, you just know what to do and how much under or over to add to a miter cut or a cope cut or an end cut.

I did a lot of internet reading on trimming and finishing floors and walls adjacent to the new floor. In our case, we decided to go with simple painted pine trim consisting of base molding and a base shoe molding.

For finishing, we pre-painted all the wall moldings so that only touch ups would be needed once they were attached. I even read a lot about filling nail holes. Many people recommend glazer's putty, but this will only work when an oil based finish is used. The oil in the putty will bleed through latex paint. Caulk is also used, but it tends to be messy. However, sometimes it is necessary to caulk to produce a good line or cover a gap. We used very little caulking on the entire job. Spackling material is also used for filling nail holes, and this was what we used. We used Red Devil Onetime lightweight spackling. It goes on quick, has very low shrinkage, and paints over well. There is nothing special about Red Devil. Other manufacturers material will work as well, I just had this lite weight spackling material around because I use it on my model aircraft.

As already mentioned, before we started the floor laying in a room, one task was to remove the the old base molding paint line with a sharp putty knife. We also spackled any imperfections in the wall near the molding and finally added small masking tape markers where the previous nail holes were, which indicated where the studs are.

I will break the trim problem discussions down into several categories. Keep in mind that what I offer is not a complete list of every situation. These are what I ran into and how I decided to proceed in my house.

Inside corner miters
45 degree miter versus coping saw
There are a couple of ways of doing inside corners. The professional way is to run one trim piece straight to the opposite wall, and the next piece is cut with a coping saw to fit over the first piece. This goes for base and base shoe moldings. There are excellent tutorials on this on the internet and I am not going to do any better than they do with indicating the procedure. The second method is to miter inside corners at 45 deg. I decided to start by using 45 degree miters or more accurately 4X degree miters, since few of the walls were actually straight enough for 45 degree miters. It took me about a half dozen inside corners to figure out the 45 degree miters were way to much work. In a few cases, they worked out well with tight corners and no gap showing. In others, it became a manipulation nightmare. Whether because of slopes in the walls, toe plates, or because of the residual paint line, or more likely all three, there was often a gap at the corners from bottom to top of the base trim, not just front to back. On top of that, I noticed that floors may look straight, until you put the base down, then the base lower edge looks like a roller coaster ride against the wood. The bumps and valleys are gentle and did not affect the floor lay down, nor are they even noticeable in the flooring. It is only when the base is laid down that they become obvious. Two ways to resolve this: One way is to scribe the molding to the floor using a compass or similar device to track the floor contour onto the base and then cut and sand to the contour. This is very time consuming, but equally very satisfying. The second method is to add a base shoe molding, which will more easily conform to the waves in the floor and hide the floor imperfections. The second method was what I used. Nevertheless, the floor waves also contributed to the corner miter problem by slightly raising or lowering the trim. Oh sure, why should I complain. I had all the advantage of a dual compound sliding miter saw to compensate for all this, but by the time I figured out all the angles, the piece was often just a hair too short. In some cases, I knew the joint would never show because it was in the back of a closet. In some more conspicuous cases, I had to start all over again, although now I knew all the angles to set. I am not complaining; just novice whining about what I am sure every professional knows about construction.

In the end, I came to realize all the reasons that the professionals prefer coped joints. It not only looks good in all kinds of humidity ( expansion and contraction), but it makes the job a bit easier. One of the main reasons I avoided the coping saw cuts was that it seemed awfully complicated. You are supposed to back cut at an angle while simultaneously cutting the shape out and change the back cut angle as you approach the end of the piece. It sounded like a 3D puzzle and I did not think I was proficient enough for the task. After only a bit of practice, I found this was a piece-of-cake. I just had to make sure the trim piece was well braced close to the cut. I would guess that I saved about 10 to 20 % of my time over using the 45 degree miters and the finished joints looked much better.

Many tutorials just say to cut the shape in; they do not even use a piece of base or base shoe to scribe the correct shape line. I am not that good; I did use small scrap trim pieces to draw out the shape. Took just a second, and every cut was good. For the base molding, I did make myself a little jig by screwing a small piece of base to some scrap flooring to get a nice straight scribe line.

There still were gaps to contend with either because of the uneven walls or a slight bias cut in the coped joint. However a little touch up with a Dremel tool with a drum sanding bit made compensating for these problems easy.

Trim solutions to different floor levels
I had several unusual trim cases or at least trim cases where my internet searches failed to find reasonable resolutions. Mainly these were several open doorways between rooms, where the new the hardwood floor needed to mate with a lower height tile or laminate flooring. We are talking about adding base molding and base shoe across a 6" wide wall with different height floors and, therefore, different height base and base shoe trims on each side. An even worse case was a 1" to 1 1/8" drop between the new hardwood floor sitting on a 3/4" floating subfloor and a laminate or sheet goods floor on the other side of the doorway.

Scouring the internet on these type of problems, I found nearly all manufacturers installation guides simply gloss over the wall trim problems. Admittedly, there are probably a lot of unique cases, but there have to be some basic ideas. One commonly addressed problem I did find was on straight walls, where hardwood flooring butted up against carpet or tile. The standard fix in this case is to either add a molding shim piece to the base molding on the lower floor side, or cut the base trim down on the higher floor. However, that is not exactly the same case we are talking about here because of the outside corners involved.

Case 1: Transition between slight to moderate uneven floors
For the base trim, I went straight across the doorway wall from the higher floor side to the low side cutting a 45 degree miter if necessary. With the new trim piece set in place, I drew a contour line of the old trim on the back of the new trim piece. The new trim was then trimmed back and the top edge beveled to match the old trim height. This can be seen in the photo at the left and the right top edge of the base molding.

The base shoe was a bit trickier. A piece of base shoe was cut to fit straight across with two outside corner miters using the high side as reference. A shim piece was then cut from a scrap piece of base shoe and glued to the low side of the base shoe. Be careful cutting this trim piece on the table saw, it is a narrow piece, cut from a narrow piece, and thus is a tricky, dangerous cut. I first cut the 45 deg. angle on the end of a longer than needed piece of trim and ripped the base shoe trim down to the length I needed and shut down the saw with the trim piece still on the blade, then removed the cut trim and finally crosscut the trim piece to length. I then glued the trim piece to the new base shoe (I used cyanoacrylate used for my model aircraft to speed up the gluing). This new base shoe assembly was placed up against the wall and a line scribed where the top of the base shoe stuck out above the low side base shoe. A Dremel tool with drum sander bit was used to sand down the edge to match the low side base shoe trim coming into the opening and provide a reasonably pleasing transition. The result can be seen in the last picture before final filling and painting.

Of course, not all cases matched up as cleanly as described above and some tweaking with the Dremel drum sanding bit, plus a bit of light weight spackling material was necessary in a couple cases to provide a reasonably nice looking transition and fill in some gaps. In the end, I believed this worked out well.

T molding between slightly uneven floor surfaces.
Another confusing case for me was where T molding was used to transition between tile and the new hardwood floor. In all my cases, the tile floor was lower than the hardwood flooring by 1/16" to 1/4". The question may arise as to why not just let the T molding piece angle a bit? If the gap is really minor you can, but remember the wood will expand and contract. Since you will be attaching the trim to the floor that moves the least, such as tile, if the tile is lower than the wood floor, as the wood flooring expands, it will push up the trim edge exposing a gap. Not really what you want. Of course, if the tile floor is higher that the hardwood floor, you can get away with this. After much thought, I came up with my own solution, which is not perfect, but does not look bad. In one case, the height difference was further complicated because not only was there a maximum height difference of 1/4" between the floors, but one end of the doorway 30" opening was 3/16" higher than the other end. One way of fixing this was a baby threshold, but I was concerned about the height difference and how to hide the tile edge. In the end, I made a special wedge shaped shim for the tile side of the T molding that ran from 1/16" to 3/16" across the 30" length. Since I did not have a taper jig I had to slap one together from some scrap waste flooring pieces to make the angle cut. The width of the shim was then sanded down to the correct width using the belt sander (from 3/4" to 1/2") so it fit flush with the edge of the T molding. (The thin shim would have splinted if I tried to trim it with the table saw, even though I was using pretty close to a zero clearance saw insert.)

The shim was glued with carpenter's glue to the inside top of the T molding and clamped together overnight. Finally, it was glued to the tile edge of the kitchen floor using construction adhesive. The first photo above shows a view that highlights the two piece T molding arrangement. It can be seen as two pieces, but this is also accentuated by the camera flash. From the photo to the left, the raised edge and wedge shape is apparent, but honestly you have to be looking for it to notice it.

A second case of moderately uneven floors was between the dining area and sun room. In this case, only a 5/32" thick straight piece was needed. The table saw was set to make the width 1/2" by blocking in the strip on side and top to prevent chattering and shattering. The final piece was thick enough that it could be cut directly and did not need to be sanded to fit.

A professional way of approaching this would be to custom mold a single piece. However, to do the job right would have required finding and ordering pecan stock and quite few hours to achieve the proper shape and varnish the piece.




Case 2. Severe drop between floor heights
There was a severe drop between the lower level bathroom and the new flooring because of the decision to use a floating subfloor. The floor was 1 1/2" above the concrete and 1 3/8" from the bathroom floor. The picture at the left, especially where the trim is cut back shows the magnitude of the problem. A similar, less severe problem existed between the office area and the family room, but here laminate was installed over old tile, and the difference was only 1 1/8". There is no standard molding that will cover this large a drop. A reducer strip is only about 2" long and would show a severe drop. An Ifloor ( expert suggested using stair nosing as if a sunken bathroom, but this also seemed to draw too much attention to the drop problem. After thinking about the problem a long time and trying a couple of things, the final fix was to use a standard 2" wide pecan 3/4" thick reducer strip with a piece of flooring and a wedge shaped sub floor piece to gradually drop to the old floor. The image below shows a profile view of how this was done for the office/family room doorway.


The angles were calculated from the measurements. The wedge shape piece that the flooring and reducer molding rested on was more difficult to set up than anticipated. I decided to use the most widely available material on hand, scrap flooring. However, my 10" table saw could not handle such a large cut through hardwood and the blade was burning the wood. Instead I made 18, 3/4" wide wedges from scrap flooring using the miter saw and a stop. This was a dangerous operation. The blade must not be raised until the saw has stopped, otherwise the blade pinches the wood and all sorts of unnerving things happen. This was one heck of a lot of multiple cuts to get the wedges and trim them to size. In retrospect, I probably should have just made the wedge in two long pieces and biscuit jointed them. If the small wedges fail in time, I now know what I should do.

The edge of the flooring piece between the hardwood floor and reducer strip was beveled at 4.5 deg to sit flush with the hardwood floor. (It was also back sanded a bit to ensure a tight joint. The subfloor also extended from the hardwood floor by about 1/2" and so it was necessary to bevel the edge surface to the correct angle using a plane and sanding block. The wedges were then glued to the floor until set, and then the doorway pieces glued down using the floor adhesive; there were no nails used on this. The final result is shown in the image. It looks good, but there is a problem that a ridge does show, because the pecan reducer was slightly twisted and not the same height as the flooring to begin with. Even though I used a lot of weight to keep the reducer flat when gluing, it still showed a bit of a twist.

The next section deals with one specific task. Installation of the planks on the stairs.




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Last Update: June 22, 2008