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How to Add Trim to Cabinets

Posted by on May 5th, 2013

Hey all! Hope everyone is doing well. Had another productive weekend around here. We got a huge jump on our Pinterest Challenge project. Stay tuned for that! We posted a couple hint photos on our Instagram account.

Last week, we wrapped up our sitting room built-in. I also promised a quick post on how to add trim to cabinets to make them look more “built-in” and less free standing cabinet. The process is pretty simple and can be used on any type of cabinet. There are a number of blog posts out there about turning ikea bookshelves or stock kitchen cabinets into built-ins. Adding trim can really add some depth to their look.

Here’s how to add trim to cabinets..

We start with the baseboard molding. When I installed the cabinets, I removed the baseboard molding on the wall where the cabinet was being installed. Made things easier.

baseboard trim on a cabinet

Before I add the new piece though, I’m going to add a couple thin strips of wood to the side of the cabinet. The cabinet front overhangs the sides by about 1/4″ and if I try to install the baseboard molding without a shim, it won’t look right. Adding a strip to the top and bottom help keep the molding solid against the cabinet.

shim on cabinet

The molding on the wall is cut square on the cabinet side and just butts up into the cabinet. The molding that goes on the cabinet has a coped joint on the left side and a miter joint where it meets the front. After it was installed, I caulked and painted the molding. To make this job easier, it helps to pre-paint all the trim then all you need to do is some touch-ups after it’s installed. Last thing you want to be doing is painting that close to carpet.

baseboard trim on cabinet

built-in molding 2

Now for the crown molding..

There are a couple ways to approach crown molding on cabinets. You could do option A, like John and Sherry did in their kitchen, which is to add a strip of wood on top of your cabinets. This method is perfect for already existing cabinets that don’t have a lot of width up top to accommodate the 1/2″ or so of crown molding that will need to make contact with wood.

Option B, let’s call it, is to skip the extra piece of wood and nail the crown molding right into the face frame of the cabinet.  This option works if you DO have a lot of space near the top of the cabinet.  In the case of our built-in, we’re going with option B.  Actually, I designed the top cabinet to have that extra 1/2″ space.. another benefit of building your own stuff.

To get started, I measured about 1/2″ down from the top of the cabinet and made some pencil marks.  I’m also adding a shim up here as well.  Oh and if you look closely at the next picture, you can see some splintering at the edge of the plywood.  That’s from using a saw blade that wasn’t as sharp as it should have been.  It’s okay though, because it’s getting hidden by a shim and crown molding.

crown molding on cabinet

shimming crown molding

Now, how to cut crown molding… It helps if you use a special crown molding jig, which you can pick up from Amazon or Lowes.  The jig keeps the molding at the right angle for cutting.  What’s the right angle?  Well, crown molding has two flat surfaces that are 90 degrees from one another.  Both of those surfaces need to be 90 degrees on the miter saw when you cut them.  Crown molding jigs help to lock the molding in that position.

how to cut crown molding

You also need to cut them upside down.  That can be tricky.  It helps if you think about the molding and the piece you are installing it on as being upside down too.  For real, find some crown molding that already installed somewhere and look at it if you were standing on the ceiling.  It would look just like normal baseboard molding if you look at it from that perspective.  The challenge is thinking about it like that when you are standing in front of your miter saw.  It’s tricky.  I’ve installed a lot of it and it still throws me for a loop.  I had to buy 3 pieces of crown molding for this project because I messed up the cuts twice.  It happens.  Crown molding takes practice.

I’ll probably do a more intensive how-to video or a dedicated post on it as some point, but for this post I just wanted to show you the basics of adding trim to cabinets.  Crown molding on walls is roughly the same, but requires a little extra work.

But seriously though, think about it upside down.

crown molding miter saw

crown molding on cabinet 2

When marking the crown molding for the cuts, I like to leave the first piece long and mark it for length right on the cabinet instead of measuring it with a measuring tape.  Just make a mark where it meets the front edge.  Your crown molding should just touch the 1/2″ marks you made earlier, which will ensure that your molding is level… as long as your cabinet is level that is.  I used a brad nailer with a 3/4″ nail for all of this work and I skipped the glue.

crown molding on built-in

So that’s crown molding and baseboards on cabinets.  Not too hard and it makes a world of difference.

Later this week I have a final exam and then I’m done grad school for the summer!  That means a summer blog theme face lift and more outdoor projects!  Only one more course in the fall too.  Can’t wait. 

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