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5 Tips for Better Crown Molding Results

Posted by on June 26th, 2014

I’m relieved to finally tell you that all of the crown molding has been installed in our home office.  It was a bear.  Granted, I still have to putty all the nail holes, caulk the joints and paint them.  I’ll save that work for the weekend.  That’s not the end of the molding in the office either.  Once the built-ins are completed and installed, I still have to install a final piece of wall trim and all the baseboard molding.  However, that type of trim work should be considerably easier to handle.

In today’s post, I’m sharing a video tutorial I made (with Lisa as camera lady) as well as some additional info below where I discuss some of the techniques I used to get better crown molding results.

coffered ceiling

Tips for Better Crown Molding Results

1.  Pre-paint your Molding.  While not hugely important, getting at least one good coat of paint on the molding BEFORE you install it will allow you to only have to paint it one more time after it’s installed.  That’s less time on the ladder.

2.  Use Backer Blocks.  In the video, I use some simple plywood backer blocks.  These little blocks can be cut from scrap wood and provide the crown molding a solid surface to lay against.  It makes installation SO MUCH EASIER.  After this list, I’ve shared a quick tutorial on making your own backer blocks.

3.  Make a Cut Guide.  Before measuring and cutting any intersecting crown molding pieces, make a cut guide with a piece of scrap crown molding.  The guide can have a 45 degree cut on both ends and can be used to determine if any adjustments need to be made before the actual piece is cut.  You’d rather find out that your molding needs a slight adjustment before you cut through it.

4.  Use a Crown Molding Jig.  While I do recommend using the Bench Dog Crown Molding Jig (affiliate link), you can just as easily make your own using some scrap lumber and a couple of clamps.

5.  Be Strategic with your Boards.  When you walk by the office or look inside, all of the crown molding pieces that face you don’t have any miter cuts.  They all are straight pieces.  That’s intentional.  All of the cut boards are on the sides of the boxes.  That way, even if the joints aren’t perfect, almost no one will notice if they stick their head in the room.  Getting the joints done right is important, but any minor mistakes will be less visible this way.

 

How to Make Backer Blocks for Crown Molding

1.  You’ll need a carpenter’s square, a small piece of the crown molding, a paper, and a pen.

crown molding tips

2.  Arrange the crown molding inside the carpenter’s square so that both the top and bottom flats of the molding are flat against the square.  This is how the crown molding will look when installed.

crown molding tips 2

3.  Using a pen or a pencil, trace the inside triangle made by the molding and the square.

crown molding tips 3

4.  You can remove the square and the molding.

crown molding help

5.  Measure the length of the top and the length of the side, marked here as “A” and “B,” respectively.

crown molding help 2

6.  Now for some math.  Using a scientific calculator or an online calculator take the inverse tangent (tan raised to the -1) of A over B (A/B).  If you do that math, you get 38.7 degrees or roughly 39 degrees.  Now you can set your table saw angle to that value.  All you need to do now is make sure you cut the board to the length of “A,” which in this case is 1″.

crown molding backer block

crown molding cheater block

To make things easier on you, you can also lay that drawing on your miter saw and use the miter saw’s gauge to determine the angle of the molding.  OR you can just use a protractor.

For our home office, the larger molding had a block with an angle of 36 degrees and as mentioned above, the smaller molding was 39 degrees.

I hope you found this post helpful.  Even if you’re not planning any crown molding work, keep this project in mind for when you do.

Now I’d like to hear from you.  Do you have any crown molding installation tips or tricks?

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects,Videos. Tagged in ,, , ,

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. 

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,, , , ,

Dining Room Wainscoting Wrap Up

Posted by on August 20th, 2012

Finally.  We’re done the dining room wainscoting project.  Yep.  All done.  Well, except for some minor paint touch ups and a little bit of caulking.  BUT, it’s on a 6″ section of doorway baseboard molding, so.. technically, it’s not really IN the dining room.  So, like I said.  We’re done.  High five.

I don’t want to seem like we’re spiking the football here.  We posted last week when we finished up the painting and we got a lot of very kind comments.  I almost feel guilty posting about it again.  Almost.

We started the planning for this project back in February with an intro post.  We started the demolition and electrical work in March and April.  The actual trim carpentry started on May 15.  So, it took us about 6 months from planning to final brush stroke.  Yikes.  It was worth it.  Here’s a more thorough wrap-up of the work that went into the dining room.

Our Dining Room Wainscoting Project, the Cliff’s Notes.

A year ago, the room was completely unpainted.  We still have quite a few rooms in this builder boring state at the moment.

We started the upgrade process by adding some molding beneath the crown and painting it all semi-gloss white. Then we painted the room accessible beige by Sherwin Williams.

Then the rest of the process went like this…

– Removing the existing chair rail molding
– Adding a new outlet behind the buffet
– Planning the options, look and layout of the wainscoting
– Installing the poplar frame (1, 2, 3, 4)
– Adding the MDF panels
– Adding the bolection molding and capping
– Priming
– Painting

And now we’re all done…

You know you’re getting old when wainscoting is considered eye candy.

Couple things to note.  See if you caught this.  The dining room table is missing a chair.  It was in another room when I was taking the pictures.  Oops.  Lisa noticed.  I didn’t.  Also, we’re going to be adding some additional decor items at some point and eventually replacing the cellular window shades.  For now though, this is fine.

Any items you’re dying to remove from your to-do list?

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects,Home Decor,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,, , ,

Wainscoting Painted

Posted by on August 13th, 2012

I was originally thinking about skipping all the posts on our dining room wainscoting until we were completely finished with it. Staged and all.  However, it may be another week until it’s all buttoned back up, so I think I’ll just get on with it and show everyone where we’re at.

The last couple weeks we’ve been painting.  A lot.  We finally finished painting the wainscoting and this past weekend we finished painting the walls.  We had hoped to avoid repainting all the accessible beige, but the touch ups were pretty visible, so we ended up repainting ALL of it.

One tip I learned from painting the large panels of the wainscoting is definitely worth sharing. I was getting some major streaking or flashing with the semi-gloss on some panels. You can see the brush strokes. For some reason it just wasn’t going on evenly. It was driving me mad.

To remedy this problem, I just used a small roller and applied a nice even coat just to the MDF panels and then used a dry brush to flatten it out. Worked like a charm.

Yesterday, I started adding the outlets. Since they are situated in the MDF panel part of the wall, the boxes need to be extended by 3/4.”

I was able to find outlet extenders at Home Depot. They come in varying sizes (1/4″, 1/2″, etc) and can be screwed right onto the existing boxes.

When installed, it brings the receptacle flush to the wall.

Here’s some shots of the room. We still have to finish up a few more outlets and add the oak quarter rounds to tie the walls to the floors. Then we’ll need to clean up and bring everything back in.

Can’t wait to be done with this already!! Late last week we were in DC for a couple days, which is why we skipped out on posting. We’ll be sharing some of our experiences with that trip later this week.

Do any painting this weekend? What are you looking forward to finishing?

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects,Electrical. Tagged in ,, , ,

How to Make a Window Sill

Posted by on August 6th, 2012

Hope everyone had a great weekend!  Lisa and I were upstate in NEPA on Friday for an annual golf tournament that’s held in memory of my father.  It’s usually a great time and the proceeds are donated to a local charity.  This was the fifth year we’ve had it.  The tournament is organized and run by a committee of people that knew and worked with my father and they do a masterful job making it happen every year.  It’s a lot of work on their part and our family is deeply grateful for their efforts.  I especially enjoy seeing all those folks that knew him very well.  It’s nice to be reminded he was well liked and is still missed.

Even though golf is supposed to be a leisurely sport, it’s a long day on the course and it was pretty hot out.  We didn’t get back home until late and Saturday I was pretty sore all day (I golf like once a year).  Consequently, this weekend wasn’t that productive in terms of home projects.

We don’t have a lot of work left to do on our dining room wainscoting project.  We were able to squeeze in some time this weekend to get some painting done and if you’re following me on Instagram (john_ohfs), you were able to catch a sneak peek of the current progress.  We still have to do some touch up painting, wire the outlets and add the shoe molding (which we’ll be staining ourselves to save money).

Right before we added the cap and started painting, I made a new window sill since the old one was too small with the paneling on the wall.   When I told Lisa that I needed to make a new sill, she asked me if we could just buy one at Lowe’s.  If you didn’t know, you can’t really buy window sills.  You may be able to find some online, but the best way to get a window sill is to make them.  I’ll show you how we made ours and you’ll see it’s not terribly difficult.  It took me all of about 30 minutes to make ours.

Here’s how to make a window sill.

Once the paneling was completed under the window, I put this old sill back in.  I kept it and didn’t throw it out because I wanted to use it as a template for the new one.

You can see that the old one is too short on the back edge.  No problem.  I’ll just measure from the front of the old window sill to the window.  That’s how wide the new window sill will need to be.  For material, I bought some poplar.  The piece was a 1x6x8′ and cost around $20.  I almost always use poplar for painting projects.  It’s the same wood that’s all over the wainscoting.  It’s only slightly more expensive than first select pine, but it’s a hardwood, whereas pine is a softwood.  Does that make a difference?  I think so.  Over time, pine will be more prone to showing dings and dents and poplar may not.

To begin the replacement, I used my window sill router bit and routed a window sill profile on the entire front edge of that new poplar 1×6 I bought.  It’s better to put the sill profile on the entire board first before cutting out the shape of the sill.  You can cut the board first and then route it, but if you make a small mistake while routing it, you pretty much need to buy a new board.  If you make the mistake early, you can flip the board over and route the other side.

Once the profile was on the new board, I laid the old window sill over the new board.

I lined up the edges of the old sill with the edges of the new board and traced out the profile of the old sill onto the new board.  To make sure the new board would be the right size, I added some additional width to the back of the poplar piece.

Then I just cut along the lines I drew.  I used my table saw for the long straight cut along the back and my hand held jigsaw for the shorter cuts.  Once it was cut out, it installed with some shims, construction glue and finish nails.

I made sure to shoot at least one nail through each shim.  To remove the unused portion of the shim, I scored it with a box cutter and then cracked them off.

The gaps against the window will be resealed with painter’s caulk.  This new one actually sits a little lower than the old one.  You can tell by looking at the old caulk marks on the window.  Not sure why.  Don’t really care.

We’ll show you it painted along with the rest of the room very soon.

Ever install a window sill?  Do you need to replace any?  Get anything done this weekend?

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,, , ,

Spraying the Primer on the Wainscoting

Posted by on July 24th, 2012

I think this is going to be the last progress post I write on the wainscoting until we’re finished.  I’ll probably do one more post on how we replaced the window sill, but that will be it.  We’re that close. Over the weekend we were finally able to prime the panels.  Instead of brushing on all the required coats of paint, I thought we’d get a better result if we sprayed on the first two coats, which are the primer coats.

Before I get into the why’s and what’s of spray painting, I thought I’d post the last few photos of the dining room unpainted.  Makes for a solid ‘before.’

There, that should do it.

Now, if you paint unfinished wood like this wainscoting, you typically need to apply several coats of paint to hide the darkness of the wood and to achieve your desired finish.  Painting unfinished wood with a brush for all of those coats can end up giving you a goopy look with a lot of visible brush marks.  After four coats of latex paint, it tends to do that.  To avoid that look, you can spray paint the primer AND the paint or just spray on the primer and then brush on two coats of the finish paint.  Get it?  By reducing the amount of brushed on coats, you can get a smoother, more professional looking result.  Why would you even bother to brush on any coats if you can spray them all?  It’s useful if you want to match some existing paint in your home like trim or crown molding.  It’s a perfect approach for built-ins.

For larger projects like our wainscoting, it’s a little impractical to use cans of spray paint.  Not sure how many cans it would take, but I’m pretty sure it’d be a lot.  Instead, we’re using an HVLP (high volume, low pressure) paint gun.  You’ll also need an air source.  You can use a large compressor, smaller pancake compressors don’t provide enough air.  We’re using a turbine system, which provides air like a large compressor, but it’s very compact.  They’re available used on ebay or craigslist for reasonable prices and they may be worth it if you’re planning on doing a LOT of spray painting.  We picked our’s up when we built our first home’s kitchen cabinets. The paint guns are fairly inexpensive and there are a ton of used guns available.

I’ll get into more of the pro’s and con’s of spray painting in another post.  For now, just trust me that it works pretty well.  I used a Bulls Eye brand water based, low odor primer.  I only bought a quart and was able to get one solid coat done.

We still have to do some light sanding after this primer coat and then we can actually apply the finish paint coats.

Here’s how spraying the primer on the wainscoting came out…

We’re hoping we can finally get this done soon!

What’s been keeping you busy lately?  Any projects dragging on?

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,, , ,

Capping Our Wainscoting

Posted by on July 19th, 2012

The long march towards a completed dining room wainscoting continues.  At this point, the only thing I have left to do is finish up some caulking and do some last minute sanding.  Then it’ll be PAINT time.  Right now the plan is to spray the first two coats of primer and then we’ll brush on the last two coats of a regular latex semi-gloss trim paint.  Since we want it to match our trim, we have to use the latex, but I may try to water it down a touch so it doesn’t goop up.

Today I’m going to show you how we went about capping our wainscoting.  The cap is just some thin poplar that runs along the top of the wainscoting and adds some interest to balance the look out.  It will also serve to hide any gaps where the frame didn’t sit completely flush against the wall or where the corners were a touch open, like here.

Since we needed to replace our existing window sill anyway, I thought it would be easier just to use a trim piece that had the same profile.  To make a new window sill, I need to use a window sill router bit, so using the same bit for both applications kills two birds with one stone.

Before we made any decisions, we reviewed a couple of the raised panel wainscoting pictures we had pinned and noticed the top cap on those were minimal and at least one of them used the same sill profile.


(via New England Panel)

Once we were okay with the look, I ordered the bit from Amazon.com and shortly after it arrived, I got to work.  The router bit is much small than the raised panel bit, so I had to make a quick modification to our router table to accommodate it.  The hole in the router table where the router sits shouldn’t be much wider than the bit itself.

Ideally, I didn’t want to buy more material for this cap.  The cost of this project has been adding up and I didn’t want another SUV full of poplar.  When I cut the wood for the top rail, I had a lot of small strips left over.  The top rail is the long horizontal piece that runs the length of the room.  It’s a 4″ piece, so it needed to be cut from a 1×6 to get the 4.”  A 1×4 is actually 3.5.”  That 1.5″ left over is where the scrap came from.

Before we started, I routed a sample piece with one small section of the scrap wood and then another with a piece that was a little wider.  Lisa then picked the width she liked the best.

The good news is Lisa picked the smaller trim piece.  The wider piece was from scrap, of which I only had a few feet.  If she picked the wider one, I’d be heading to Lowes.  Very happy she liked the more narrow cap.

To start the installation, as I do with any trim work, I cut two small 45 degree sample pieces.  I use these samples to mate up with the piece I’m installing.  I used this same approach when I trimmed out the bolection molding.  It basically ensures that the pieces will meet up well.  In the picture below, I’m using the small sample to match up with the piece on the left, which is actually getting installed.  You can see that the corner seam looks pretty tight, so it won’t need any adjustment.  The other piece just hanging out there on the far left is the other sample.

Once I’m happy with how it looks, I apply some construction adhesive to the top of the framing and use my brad nailer to attach the cap to the frame.

This particular wall section is longer than the caps, so I’ll have to join two pieces.  To join them, I cut the first piece on a bias and then start the next piece with the exact same angle.  I’ll add a good amount of wood glue in that seam.

Whenever I’m dealing with an end piece, I don’t bother with the measuring tape.  I just leave the next section long and then mark it where is meets the end point.

After about 45 minutes, the entire room was capped and I didn’t have to buy a single piece of wood for it.  Hopefully, we’ll make some major progress this weekend.

Any plans for the weekend?  Anyone else in dire need of rain?

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,, ,

Caulking the Trim

Posted by on July 16th, 2012

Hope everyone had a great weekend! Lisa, the baby and I went up to Northeast PA on Friday evening to visit my mom and to spend some time at the local church bazaar. We’ll be posting about that stuff later this week… CAUTION: There will be pictures of delicious ethnic food. Consider yourself warned.

Saturday was my 33rd birthday!! Yikes. Getting knee deep in the 4th decade of my life here. Crazy. To celebrate, I took it easy, playing some video games and getting Thai with the family for dinner. If you’ve never had Thai food, you need to try it. I just had it for the first time in May on a work trip and I’m officially addicted. The Thai sweet iced tea is unbelievable. I’m also a big fan of Thai curries and the sticky rice. Two thumbs up.

Yesterday I managed to sneak in a little bit of house work. I caulked half of the dining room wainscoting. I’ll finish the rest of it later this week. My window sill router bit arrived in the mail early, so I may get to those caps as well.

Caulking is almost always a necessity when dealing with trim that will be painted. It’s usually applied right before you paint to close up any gaps that might otherwise be visible. You normally wouldn’t use it on stained projects since it doesn’t absorb stain. Painter’s caulk comes in a variety of colors and there are companies online that can ship you a color matched caulk if you really need it..

Whenever I use painter’s caulk, I try to use a product that has silicone in addition to the normal latex. The silicone gives the caulk some added flexibility, which means it will shrink and expand along with the wood. You won’t have to reapply it in the future or hopefully, ever again. It’s only a little more money than the plain latex painter’s caulk. Bathroom and kitchen caulks are mostly silicone. The more silicone though, the harder it is to paint.

For filling wider gaps, like in my wainscoting corners, I cut the top of the caulk tube further down the tube to give me a wider nozzle.

I try to squeeze the caulk gun with an even amount of pressure over the entire seam and I judge my application speed by how much is coming out, that way the corner gets an even amount without it getting all over the place. I’ll follow the caulk gun with my finger to even out the bead.

For smaller seams, I’ll cut the caulk tube to a fairly small diameter. It’s easier to junk smaller seams up with caulk, so a small nozzle makes it easier to deliver the perfect amount and it helps to avoid a mess.

Here’s a helpful tip: Carry some paper towels with you to catch the excess caulk from the gun and to wipe off your fingers. I usually go through a lot of paper towel when I do a large room. Now matter how careful you are, it tends to get all over the place.

The molding on the left in the photo below has just been caulked. The molding on the right has not.

You can see a small seam on the right molding. That will need to be filled before it can be painted. You can’t assume the paint will fill those small gaps.

Here’s a close up of that un-caulked trim.

If you’re not a fan of using a caulk gun, you can just put a dab of caulk on your finger and rub it into the seam. Once it’s filled, I’ll go back with a little sandpaper and sand it very lightly to knock down any high spots from the caulk. Then it’s ready for paint.

You know you’ve done a quality job with the painter’s caulk if you can’t see it when it’s painted. You want the caulk to be invisible. Ideally, you won’t need very much of it. If you have large seams between molding cuts, it may be a better idea to try re-cutting them than loading them up with caulk. If you’re having trouble identifying a tough angle during a trim install, you can try this t-bevel method we posted about some time ago.

How was your weekend? Did you get any work done this weekend or did you lounge around?

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,, ,

Adding Trim to Wainscoting

Posted by on July 8th, 2012

Back to life, back to reality (Thanks Soul II Soul).  After taking off five glorious days from work, it’s back to my day job.  Oh to be retired at 32.  Maybe if this blog thing works out I can retire early, like 70 instead of 72.  I know, I know, I’m getting ahead of myself.  We hope everyone had a fun holiday!!  While we mainly did some home improvement projects to beat the heat (106 in Jersey on Saturday!), we still found some time to relax with family and also squeezed in a quick trip to the shore.

To bring you up to speed on the dining room progress… it’s really coming along.  Last week I openly hoped to have the room completed by today.  Unfortunately, the last couple tasks took longer than expected and we’re not quite ready to paint it.

We started the holiday break with the dining room looking all clean and polished.  We had just finished installing the raised panel MDF sections to the wall.

To protect the floor from the torment we were about to unleash in this room we rolled out some rosin paper we had left over from the hardwood floor installation

It was overlapped and taped down using some blue painters tape.

First thing on the agenda: fill all the little nail holes with wood filler and sand.  Luckily, I was able to get help from Lisa on this one (jackpot).  She’s a whiz (like cheese whiz) with the random orbital sander.  The frame saw most of the sanding, but we did do some light sanding on the MDF panels as well.

Next up: prep the MDF edges.  Since I’m using medium density fiberboard (MDF) instead of solid hardwood for my panel centers, I need to dress up the routed edges before they can be painted.  When cut or routed, MDF tends to fuzz up a little wherever it’s cut.  That fuzz needs to be smoothed out.  Here’s a zoomed in shot if what I’m talking about.  You can see the front of the panel is as smooth as glass, and the edges are soft and furry.

Ok, so it’s not crazy-out of control- fuzzy, but you get the idea.  To correct this problem, there are a few approaches that may provide some relief.  One of them was recommended by Alex from Old Town Home

The remedy is a mixture of wood glue and water at a 50/50 ratio.  It gets applied to the edges, sanded down after it cures and then repeated three times.  Sounds easy enough.  I’m game.

When mixed the solution feels like a custard…

The results: mixed.  After two coats of this process with the follow up sanding, the edges hardened up as advertised, but it wasn’t smooth.  It actually had a bit of a texture.  Texture is going to ruin the smooth look I’m after, so this process didn’t work for me.  Moreover, the texture was kind of pitted.  Now, I don’t want to throw Alex under the bus, after all, there were several serious woodworkers online that swear by this process.  It obviously worked for them.  So, why am I so special??  Did I mess something up here??  After thinking about this problem for a while I think I have an idea.  I think my slow router speeds may have led to some rougher surface texture.  Slow router speeds are recommended for large router bits like the bit I used.  Slow speeds though mean rougher cuts.  Rougher cuts equal slight material tear outs and a crappier surface in general.

If I had decided to use plain hardwood (like poplar) for these center panels, I wouldn’t have had this problem.  Hardwood presents its own issues though.  For starters, it’s much more expensive.  It’s not wide enough for my needs either, which means I’d have to glue a few of them together for each panel.  Then before I glue them, the edges would have to be jointed, they’d all have to be clamped over night, I’d need more clamps yada yada yada.  You get the picture.  MDF is much cheaper and it’s probably less work anyway.  Not always the perfect choice, but for a paint grade project, it’s a no brainer.

After sleeping on it, I took another approach to the texture issue.  I figured if I could fill all those little divits with wood filler I’d be in business.  So, I thinned out some wood filler with a little bit of water until it was the consistency of a runny hummus and I applied that all over the MDF edges.  After it dried, I sanded the edges lightly with a piece of wood block with a sheet of sandpaper wrapped around it.  Worked like a charm!!

Here’s a shot of that MDF edge ready for paint (ignore the molding, I’ll get to that in a sec).  Do you see all those light brown spots on the MDF edge?  Those are divits that the wood filler… er, filled.

With all the edges ready for paint, I could finally start trimming out the panels!  The trimming turned out to be a little easier than I had expected.  Still a little tricky though and tedious!!!  Took forever!!  See, the trim that wraps around these panels sits at a bit of an angle.  That little angle means it can’t be cut laying flat on a miter saw.  It needs to be propped up a bit… you have to cut it like it’s installed.. kinda like crown molding.

To figure out how high to prop  the trim up, I need to know how it will sit on the poplar frame and the MDF panel.  I can get that height by just measuring the distance between the two.  That dimension then becomes the thickness of the prop I’ll need.

When I was cutting the trim pieces at the miter saw, these prop pieces sat underneath the trim.  In the photo below, you can see the plywood prop resting underneath the trim, propping it up.

Over at the panels, I used another useful trick that is extremely helpful in all sorts of trim installations.  I cut a couple trim pieces out of scrap wood and I used them to help with measuring the trim length needed.  They also were a huge help with getting the trim lined up to the next cut section.  Working with a small sample piece is good practice for baseboards, window trim, you name it.

After about 12 hours worth of trim time, the panels are all decked out.  To make things go as efficiently as possible, I brought up my miter saw.  A miter saw in the dining room means sawdust all over the place.  To keep that dust from escaping to the rest of the house, we setup overlapping plastic tarps for an exit door.

The kitchen was completely sealed off as well.  Because food tastes better sans saw dust.

That’s 15 photos!!  Here’s a couple more.

So before we paint, we still have to cap the paneling with some sort of decorative trim.  Will hopefully be low-tech and easy to do.  Then it’s just caulking and we’re set.  Can’t wait!!

So, did you do anything exciting over the 4th holiday?  Anyone else stay home for a gratuitous amount of time? 

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Installing the MDF Raised Panels

Posted by on July 2nd, 2012

Major dining room progress this week!  It’s actually starting to look sorta close to done!  This past weekend I was able to start and mostly finish installing the MDF raised panels onto the walls.  I only have the two sections remaining under the window to wrap up and then I’ll be ready to finish up the trim and start painting.  The goal is to be done everything (paneling wise) sometime next week.  Keep your fingers crossed.

So, last time we talked about this project we had cut out and were routing the raised panel sections on the router table.  Btw, if you’re interested in seeing how the router table was built, check our guest post at One Project Close here.  Once all the panel were routed, I brought them all in and staged them in the room.

Installing them took some patience.  I went easy on myself at first and installed the panels without any electrical outlets in them.  I just sat the panel on some shims and tried to center it in the square.  All of these panels have an outline in them that I can line the panel up to.  The panels are a touch smaller than I would have liked so they don’t line up exactly with these outlines, but they are close.  My primary goal with these MDF sections is to make absolutely sure the top of the panel is level and square to the top of the frame.  I’ll get more into that once I start trimming out the panels, but for now, just concentrating on that made it a little easier.  If the the sides aren’t perfect, you’ll never notice.  Once the panel is lined up, it’s glued using Liquid Nail adhesive and then nailed into place using a finish nailer.

I’d love to hit a stud with my nails, but to be honest, once the glue dries it’s not coming off.  Really, the nails just keep it in place until the glue sets up anyway.  The longer nails of the finish nailer are crucial here.  I wouldn’t be able to use a brad nailer, since MY brad nailer only allows 1 1/4″ as the longest nails.  I need to go through 3/4″ thick MDF and then 1/2″ of drywall… that adds up to 1 1/4″, but in practice it needs to be longer.  The finish nails are around 2″-2 1/2.”

Here’s one of the installed panels sans outlet…

After going around the room with the outlet-less panels. It was time to go back and finish up the more challenging panel sections.  Each panel that falls on a section of wall with an outlet needs to be marked and cut to remove a small box for the outlet.  To help make this process really easy, I used a long, straight scrap board I had lying around, but you could also use a long level if you have one.

I begin by lining up the board with the edges of the outlet opening.  Then I mark the frame above, below and to the sides of the outlet box.  Make sure you mark both sides of the outlet and both the bottom and the top.  This extra step will allow you to transfer those marks more accurately.

With the frame around the opening marked, I temporarily install the MDF panel.  I’ll use a couple shorter brad nails to do this part since it only needs to hold it for a couple minutes.  With the panel up, I’ll mark it by using the same long board to transfer my marks from the frame to the panel.  This is where marks on both sides of the frame pay dividends.  I can line up the board with both sides and I know I’m dead nuts on target.

With the outlet box marked, I’ll take the panel down and cut out the hole using a drill to start the corners and then cutting the straight sections with a handheld jigsaw.  Then the panel is just reinstalled like all the rest.

Even though I could put in the receptacle at this point, it won’t go in until the very end of the project.  Gotta say this room is really coming together nicely.  Still have little ways to go, but we’re getting there!

What are your plans for the 4th?  Do you spend time with family and friends or are you hanging out at home?

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