Never Underestimate a Good Trim Job

Definitely a "do over" miter joint here--it's not even close to closing.

Definitely a "do over" miter joint here--it's not even close to closing.

If you’re a trim carpenter by trade, and if you pride yourself on doing high-quality work, here’s a tip of my hat to you. You folks are the unsung woodworkers of the world.

I say this partially out of plain-old respect for the building trades, but also because my house is missing your expertise. This past summer my wife and I finally got around to painting our daughters’ bedrooms. I was in charge of “cutting in” around windows, doors and ceilings, so I spent quite a bit of time examining the moldings along the way. Let’s just say that the trimwork in those two bedrooms left a lot to be desired. To illustrate my point, here are several photos documenting what I saw up close. As you can see, the mitered window casings aren’t even close to touching. The chair rail in one bedroom has a scarf joint smack-dab in the middle of the wall, and were it not for copious amounts of putty, you could drive a small truck through it.  What an eyesore.

Here's a scarf joint that pulled wide open somewhere along the way. It isn't nailed over a stud, and the putty can't hide the mistake.

Here's a scarf joint that pulled wide open somewhere along the way. It isn't nailed over a stud, and the putty can't hide the mistake.

Maybe the fellow who installed these casings just “eyeballed” the measurements. Or, maybe my house suffers from some weird malady of shrinking woodwork. I’ll never know why or how the trim got to this stage, but I can tell you one thing for sure: it’s coming down soon.

I suppose it’s true with trim carpentry that the best workmanship goes unnoticed. I would guess that the causal observer rarely admires an airtight miter joint or the perfect return on a window stool. Never mind the more complicated jobs like crown installation or stair-building. Those details blend into the general scenery of a room. But, a really bad trim job sticks out like a sore thumb, especially to a woodworker.

Another gaping miter joint, this time with a poorly placed nail right in the middle of the casing instead of in the shadow line. It's gotta go.

Another gaping miter joint, this time with a couple of poorly placed nails right in the middle of the casing instead of in the shadow lines. It's gotta go.

So, one of these weekends, when I’m prying those moldings off the wall, I’m going to remember all of you good trimmers out there. Quietly getting the job done right, the first time and on budget. You guys are great woodworkers, and you deserve a pat on the back now and again. Here’s one from me. Keep up the good work!

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor

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About Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall has been writing for Woodworker's Journal as a contributing editor and field editor since 2001. Prior to that, he spent five years developing home improvement and woodworking books. He's written five of them and has served as a contributing writer on many more. A wood and tool junkie since childhood, Chris thoroughly enjoys building projects and reviewing woodworking tools for the Journal. When he's not assembling new machinery, sawing parts, taking photos or crunching text for an upcoming story, he enjoys spending time with his family and a houseful of pets at their home in rural Ohio.

10 thoughts on “Never Underestimate a Good Trim Job

  1. “Wooden” it have been a lot easier to re-do the trim work before re-painting? At least the removal-of-the-old?

  2. Pablo,

    Yep, I thought about that, but my wife wanted the painting DONE. So, enough said. A happy wife comes first. I can still get the trim off pretty easily, no matter what.

    Thanks for posting!

  3. I will not be able to sleep if something did not align or match up. If it takes all day to fix it, then it takes all day.

  4. Javier,

    More power to you! That’s the way every job should be done…well or not at all. Wish you had been on the crew when this trimwork was installed! They could have used you.

  5. I love a good miter joint – probably because I think I suck at it. It seems to be ok with my wife, though. However, I know where every single one of those “suckers” are.

  6. Hi Chris,
    I am a trim carpenter by trade. One trip to Lowes will make the job of removing your case work a breeze. They sell a mini pry bar(9 1/2″) that works wonders. It’s in the paint section of the store. You’ll want to sharpen the ends on a belt sander. While your in that section get a couple flat wooden paint stir sticks. (they’ll give them to you for free)
    To remove the trim without damaging your previous paint job, use a utility knife with a SHARP blade to score around the trim. This prevents the paint from peeling as you pry the casing up. Lay the stir stick flat on the wall next to the casing. Use the sharpened pry bar to lift the casing from the wall. The Stir stick prevents you from gouging into the paint by accident and allows you to use a little extra force if it’s needed.
    Once all the casing is removed, use new wood and recut all of your trim work. You’ll learn some new expletives if you try fixing the mess you have in the pictures. Take your time, measure, and make precise cuts. Be sure to putty all of your nail holes with a matching color when your’re finished. They will virtually disappear unless you’re up close and looking for them.
    Thanks for taking the time to acknowledge the craftmanship that goes into trim work. For me it’s a huge sorce of pride when I see a job done right.

  7. Pete,

    Good trick–I wouldn’t have thought to grind a mini pry bar to sneak behind that trim. I’ll try that! Lots we can learn from you pro trimmers.


    I think miter joints are the toughest of them all to get right. Just wait until the December print issue of the magazine for another good example of these tricky but “do-able” joints.

    Thanks for all of your comments, folks!

  8. It’s seems to be that way with door trim and other moldings. I am always back in forth to the miter saw. If I try for the perfect cut the first time, I waste more or have to settle for less than perfect joints.

  9. Hey all you trim pros,

    Maybe you can give me some advice…i put in my first laminate floor, and didn’t take the trim down around the doors but cut the floor around it. Little did I know that the floor would be shifting every time I laid a new row. For the most part I can trim over the gaps along the walls, but what do I do now that I have gaps around the door trim? I haven’t put in the T-molding in any of the doorways yet; I thought maybe putting in really wide T-molding, by first pulling the door trim off and overlapping the floor then putting new molding back up. Any suggestions, advice?


  10. Wanda,

    Hopefully you have have standard door casing and can upgrade the molding. Purchase a flush cut saw, and instal plinth blocks onto the casing.

    I purchased a home as a renovation project. They only item the previous owner upgraded was the hardwood floors. They did not cut the door casings, but attempted to scrib the wood to meet the casings. It drove me nuts, but I was hoping to save some money by keeping the new floors. I used the method described above and was satisfied with the results.


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