If I’ve learned anything about home improvement, it’s that every DIY project is an opportunity to learn something new buy a new tool. So far with the kitchen renovation I actually haven’t needed to buy anything new, but that all changed when I recently decided to try installing new baseboards.
As you may recall, one of our prep steps before laying the new floors was to remove the existing baseboards:
They were in really bad shape so I was not optimistic about reusing them, but I’ve saved them anyway in case I can reuse bits and pieces or I get desperate. However, one area where I was really itching to install baseboards for a more finished look was along the new half-wall between the kitchen and dining room:
There isn’t actually that much baseboard to lay in here since the radiators are along most walls, so it’s just this stretch and then a few other spots. While part of me wanted to wait to do all the baseboards in the dining room and kitchen at the same time, I’m not ready yet to do the kitchen (because there’s still so much work to do in there) and in the meantime I’m ready to make the dining room feel a bit more finished. It’s gotten to the point in there where these little finishing touches can make a huge difference.
So I decided to pick up some 8′ lengths of pre-primed baseboard with a simple rectangular profile. It’s not the most exciting profile in the world, but it’s what we have throughout the rest of our house so I figured I should stay consistent.
I knew I would need a 10′ length to span this open wall, but I couldn’t fit that in the car safely (even 8′ was sticking out the back window pretty far) so I just planned to splice two pieces together. I got everything home, started measuring and preparing to cut, and then realized I had a problem: I really didn’t know how I would cut the mitered corners.
Mitered corners are the beveled edges that make trim pieces like baseboards and crown molding fit together around corners and look far more finished than 90 degree pieces butting up against one another. They’re really a necessity. I hemmed and hawed a little and thought about just using a hand saw, but I knew that it would probably look rough and it would take forever. Add on the fact that I will eventually need to cut a lot of mitered corners for the molding around the top and bottom of the cabinets too, and I knew that hand sawing was not a good solution. I did a lot of research. I talked with my dad, who is a carpentry genius. And everyone agreed: I had no choice — no choice but to buy a compound miter saw.
So what exactly does a compound miter saw do? The “compound” comes from the fact that it can cut angles in two different ways — so it can cut a piece at an angled length, like this:
But it can also tilt to cut a beveled edge, like this:
And it can do both at the same time, like you need when you’re cutting crown molding.
I did not want to spend an arm and a leg on a new saw but I did want something that will last, so I did some research and decided that the Hitachi C10FCH2 was my best bet — Popular Mechanics dubbed it the “best buy” of the compound miter saws it tested for functionality and value. I found it on Amazon for $150 (affiliate link – read our policies), and was psyched when it arrived in the mail a few days later.
Then I proceeded to leave it in its box in the entryway for approximately 4 weeks. I just couldn’t work up the energy to read the manual and assemble it, and I confess that the prospect of cutting my own baseboards did not sound so thrilling. But finally over Labor Day weekend I decided to bust through my apprehension and while Sam was out running errands I broke out the saw.
Setup was pretty quick, it took me about 45 minutes to read the manual to my satisfaction and get it ready to go. Because it is heavy and the tilting, moving blade makes it shift around, this is a saw that you should either bolt or clamp in place. My workbench is not currently the best place to mount a saw because it is covered in kitchen appliances that have been displaced during the renovation, so I decided to use our patio table like I am wont to do when the weather is nice (that way I don’t have to worry about sawdust everywhere, either). I just used some clamps to hold the saw in place, and tried rocking it around to make sure it was going to stay put.
The saw I picked has a laser guide, but that turns out to be nearly impossible to see outdoors (it’s too bright outside), so I didn’t really use it. I will definitely need to spend some more time getting the laser calibrated once I’m using it indoors and doing more cuts with it. But for a few starter 45 degree angles, it was pretty easy and satisfying! First I tested on some scrap wood:
And then I moved on to the baseboards. To start, I wanted to cut both ends of an 8′ length to 45 degrees — one end would be on the end of the wall to form an outside corner around the door threshold to the kitchen, and the other end would join with a shorter piece to finish spanning the length of the wall. When you join two pieces you should always cut them at an angle rather than having them butt up against one another at 90 degrees in order to allow them to expand and contract against one another more easily.
Nailing my first piece in place was also super easy thanks to the amazing Solstice/birthday present that Naomi bought me:
In case you can’t tell from this super over-exposed selfie, that’s an air compressor and brad nailer that Naomi bought me because she knew I would need it for this kitchen renovation. And she braved some impressive misogyny to purchase it, even by home improvement store standards.
This was another tool I was super intimidated to use because it’s loud and it shoots nails at things, but it has also turned out to be fairly user friendly. First, you run the compressor to fill it with pressurized air. This just involves 1) plugging it in, 2) making sure the air escape valve on the bottom is closed, 3) making sure the knob on the front for pressurizing the hose is turned all the way to the left (off), and 4) turning it on.
It will start making a really loud sound, and the pressure gauge on the left will start to climb.
The one on the right (which indicates the pressure of the attached tool) won’t do anything because you turned the knob all the way to the left to start with. Once it reaches maximum pressure, it will automatically shut off. At this point you have a fully pressurized tank, and you can unplug it and carry it around wherever you need it. The next step is to attach the hose to the tank:
And then attach the other end of the hose to whatever tool you’re using. In this case, the brad nailer. Before attaching, though, load the brad nailer with whatever nails you’re using. I used 18-gauge 2″ nails, because that’s what came with the brad nailer and the internet told me they would work fine. Once they were loaded, I attached the other end of the hose to the brad nailer.
Now it’s time to pressurize the brad nailer! You do this by turning the pressurizer knob to the right so that the pressure on the right-most gauge starts to rise. The internet seemed to recommend 80 – 100 psi for brad nailers, so I set mine at 90 psi. That just means you stop turning the knob once the pressure reaches 90 psi, and you’re good to go!
Nailing is as easy as pressing the nailer against the surface (depressing the foot) and pulling the trigger. The nailer only shoots if the foot is depressed and the trigger is pulled, so it’s hard to accidentally shoot it off. Not impossible, but hard.
Anyway, back to the baseboards. I used the brad nailer to secure the first length of baseboard, shooting a nail in every ~16 inches and alternating between high and low on the board. Once that was nailed in place, I cut a second shorter length with a complementary 45 degree angle to finish off the first wall.
Next it was time to tackle the corner. This also proved pretty easy, I just had to measure and cut two more pieces to wrap around.
And just like that, I had a baseboard!
Of course walls are never totally straight, so that’s where caulk comes in. I went from noticeable gaps along the top of the baseboard:
To things looking pretty seamless:
I used wood filler to fill in the gaps between the two adjoining pieces and the mitered corners, as well as fill in the nail holes. Then once everything dried, I sanded down the patched holes and put on a coat of semi-gloss trim paint. I put down tape to protect the new floors.
And now we have an actual baseboard!
Okay yes we are still sorely lacking a threshold between the kitchen and dining room (I’m still trying to figure out what to do here, it’s too wide for a standard threshold), but still it’s starting to look so much more finished! And that is a very good thing.