Custom Millwork

Dear James: I want to jazz up my living room decor without busting my budget. I want to add decorative woodwork trim, but I cannot find a unique profile. Where can I find it? I also need some installation tips. — Teri W.

Dear Teri: Adding custom woodwork trim in your living room can dramatically improve its decor. Unfortunately, as you have found, it can be difficult to find unique-looking baseboard, crown molding and window casing woodwork trim at most home-center stores. If you are lucky, you will find three or four common profiles to choose from.

All is not hopeless. There are companies (wood mills) that make a wide range of unique profiles or they can mill custom profiles to your own design. Take some time to look through custom home and builder magazines for some woodwork profiles and styles that interest you. Combine what you like about each one and draw up your own custom profile.

Search Google for “Woodworking Mills” or “Woodwork” to find local mills. You might be surprised by how many there are. Also check with local lumberyards to see if they know of any local mills that can make custom profiles for you. Koetter Woodworking is also a good source for a huge selection of stock profiles.

First, you must select the type of wood that you want. If you plan to paint the woodwork, select finger-jointed poplar. Poplar mills very well with crisp detail. Finger jointing allows the mills to use smaller scrap pieces of wood to create longer pieces of trim stock. This is good for the environment and the joint will not show through the paint. Painting also allows you to fill some gaps with filler, so installation is easier.

If you plan a natural clear wood finish, select maple, oak or cherry. In this case, finger joints would show through the clear finish. Some people do not mind this, but others do. Look at a few samples first to determine if it is acceptable. Finger-jointed woodwork is less expensive than a solid piece.

Once you have designed your custom profile and have selected the type of wood to use, the custom mill will make the cutting knife to produce your profile. This should cost about $150 to $200. Have at least an extra 100 feet of trim milled. This will take care of your mistakes and imperfections in some of the wood pieces. If you need more later, you will have to pay the mill’s setup charges again.

Installing woodwork trim would be a very simple job if all rooms and doors were true and square, but unfortunately, this is seldom the case. You can cut all the perfect 45-degree mitre corners you want, but you will still have a lot of hand fitting to do. To do an entire room with window and door casings, baseboards and crown molding is a major undertaking.

With woodwork trim, it is only important that the exposed edges meet perfectly. No one can see what is behind it. If the sawed edges do not meet, and they surely will not, use a coping saw, utility knife and file to partially hollow out the back of the corner. This will allow you to twist and move it just enough so that the front edges fit together.

Installing baseboards can be a particular problem if the drywall was hung horizontally. This leaves a slightly recessed edge at the bottom. When the baseboard is nailed on, there often is a gap at the top. If this is the case, place some thin shims behind the baseboards at the bottom to space them out evenly.

Tools and materials required for this project: mitre box and saw, coping saw, utility knife, tape measure, wood files (rasps), wood chisels, hammer, painting materials, woodwork trim, nails and wood filler.

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