Make Your Own Baseboard
When it comes to adding baseboards to your home, creating custom solid wood baseboards isn’t the easiest option, but it will give you a lot of design options and create a stunning look in the right room. The benefits of making your own baseboards include being able to use less-common species, creating custom sizes and styles, as well as making a baseboard that will work seamlessly with custom built-ins.
You can also use the techniques in this article to create custom mouldings for your furniture, or for window and door trim and other mouldings around the house.
Making one pass over a router bit will produce simple baseboards quite quickly.
Something to Work Towards
When using the ‘Simple/Two Step’ approach, Brown makes a short pass with the bit to give him an exact profile to work towards. He then sets up his table saw to remove some of the waste before running all the workpieces over the table saw, then past the router bit.
After removing the waste on the table saw, Brown makes the final pass on the router table to create the baseboards.
Making one pass to remove most of the material, then making a second pass to remove the last 1/16" or so will often give you the smoothest final surface. Here, Brown made the complete first pass then machined the first 4" or so of the second pass.
Cap Moulding is Ready
After a few different setups to form this moulding, then ripping it on the table saw, this moulding is ready to be attached to a flat board.
Alignment blocks on the top and bottom surfaces of the flat material help keep the cap moulding flush during clamping.
Planning is Key
Before turning any machines on, Brown places his router bits against some scrap wood to get an idea of how the final profile will look.
This triple bead bit is easy to use as it only requires one pass, and it does a lot to dress up a flat surface of a board.
A small groove, machined on the table saw, will capture any glue squeeze-out during glue-up. Machine it as close to the edge of the board as possible, without weakening the edge too much.
Lots of Options
You can even create shaped pieces, glue them together, then add that glue-up to the face of a stacked baseboard.
Simple blocks, attached staggered on the bottoms of both pieces being glued together, keep the parts flush during glue-up. Machine the blocks with slight chamfers on their leading edges to allow the two workpieces to come together more easily.
Rather than taking the time to install a bit, and run the profile, you can get a quick look at how the profile will turn out by sketching the profile on the end-grain of the scrap workpiece. You can do this with all the bits you plan on using before you create any sawdust.
Remove the Bearing
By removing the bearing you can machine larger fillets or slightly change the overall shape being routed. Just be sure to not rout into the central post that remains.
Having a healthy selection of router bits on hand during the design process goes a long way to creating nice baseboards. Some bits do a single job, while others can be set up to create multiple profiles.
Additional tooling options
In addition to the basic tooling I’m using here, there are many other options when making baseboards. You can purchase moulding heads for the table saw, then run long lengths of wood over the cutters. You can also use a spindle moulder to help you create moulding. It operates similar to a router, but is a bit more appropriate when large quantity runs are needed. You can also find attachments that can fit on planers. Just feed the material into the machine and out come dressed mouldings. It’s possible to use traditional moulding hand planes to shape baseboards, but it will make an already large job even bigger. Unless you’re either only doing a small room, or you love hard work, I’d stick with power tools.
Even though I use a table saw to dimension the stock, and even remove waste from mouldings, another function of a table saw is to cut coves. By attaching a pair of fences for the workpieces to run between, then gradually raising the blade about 1/16″ each pass, you can end up with nice coves. The resulting surface needs a lot of smoothing, so this might not be for machining 300 linear feet of baseboards.
Featherboards are very helpful when creating baseboards. They help keep constant pressure on the workpieces and greatly reduce the chance of kickback. You can clamp featherboards to the horizontal work-surfaces and fences of your table saw and router table, in order to maintain even downward and sideways pressure.
Four basic approaches
There are four basic approaches to making baseboards. Simple/One Step is when a piece of wood is dressed then has one pass with a router bit to achieve the final look. Simple/Two Steps is when waste is removed from a board on a table saw, then passed over a router bit. The third approach – Applied Cap Moulding – is when you create a small moulding with one or multiple passes, then rip it from the workpiece and glue it to a flat board. The final, and most complex approach, is called Stacked; this is when you create two or more boards with routed or shaped edges and glue them together.
Once you understand how these different approaches produce a wide variety of baseboards you can mix and match the different techniques, as your imagination and tooling are the only limits to what can be accomplished.
This is the easiest way to create baseboards and is often used if someone has a lot of inexpensive material available, possibly from a tree they had milled. After jointing and dressing all the necessary stock, set up the router bit in your router table, adjust any necessary featherboards and infeed/outfeed support stands and run the material past the bit. You can create the final profile with multiple passes if needed. Doing so will take longer, but will leave a smoother profile.
This approach is very similar to the first one, but is used when the amount of material being removed by the bit is quite large and even doing it in two passes would be hard on the router, the router bit or yourself. Router bits are not great at removing large amounts of material. Some bits rout a deep profile; if this is the case for you, I would consider using a table saw to remove as much of the waste as possible. A table saw, whether with a standard rip blade or a dado blade, can quickly remove waste and leave the router bit to create just the final profile.
The first step in this approach, once the material has been dimensioned, is to set up the bit and make a pass in the first inch or two of one of the workpieces. This will give you a very accurate shape to work towards when setting up your table saw to remove waste. Sometimes it’s best to make one pass with a dado blade, but other profiles call for multiple passes to be made with a standard rip blade. If you do remove a solid piece of waste, make sure it doesn’t get trapped between the blade and rip fence, as it will kick out of the back of the saw. Plan your cuts so the waste is on the opposite side of the blade. The closer you get with this step, the easier your work will be with the router table. Having said that, there’s no need to get carried away – a few passes is almost always enough. Also be sure to not remove so much of the face and edge of the workpiece that it won’t sit square against the router table’s surface and fence, or the profile will not be even down the length of the board. With some of the waste removed, head to the router table and create the final profile. This should often be done with a couple of passes to create a smooth cut. Featherboards are going to be even more important when it comes to creating large, smooth profiles.
Applied Cap Moulding
If you want a baseboard that has a profiled upper edge, with the majority of the baseboard flat, you can use this approach. Run a small-to-medium-sized moulding, rip it off with your table saw, then apply it to the edge of a flat board. This is usually done with profiles that are a bit on the complex side, but not over the top. One thing you can do in this case is attach the profiled cap moulding to a piece of 3/4″ plywood. This works especially well when the baseboard will be painted, but you can do this with the same species if a stain or clear coat will be applied to the baseboards.
The hardest part of using this approach is gluing the cap moulding to the flat stock so it’s square and even. I clamp scrap blocks to the back of the lower, flat section, as they keep the back of the cap moulding flush with the back of the flat section during glue-up. It can still be a lot of work to first create the moulding, then glue it nicely to the flat section, so this is not a great approach for use throughout a large area of your home. It works great for rooms with built-ins, as you can create the same baseboards for the walls that will go in front of the built-in unit, bringing the entire project together nicely.
This is the most complex and time-consuming approach to creating your own baseboards, but it can leave you with a truly stunning finished look. The multiple layers add a lot of depth, and since each layer can be adorned with just about any profile of your choosing, the sky is the limit. I’m a believer that “less is more”, but everyone has their own personal tastes.
The key to this approach is planning. I would recommend starting with some scrap softwood lumber and see what you come up with. Once they’re together, multiple profiles take on a much different look, and the last thing you want is to do a lot of work in order to create awful looking baseboards.
Start with the largest portion of the baseboard and shape it to the profile you want. Generally speaking, once the largest portion is done you will add more pieces to it, building it up until it’s complete. Work off your initial test baseboard and do your best to set up the profiles as close as possible. This stacking approach can include all the other three previous techniques I’ve discussed.
One of the last things you want at this stage is to get a lot of squeeze-out between the mating parts when you glue them together. To combat this, machine a simple groove along the entire length of the back of the smaller piece. This groove should be as close to the visible edge of the workpiece, without weakening any part of the baseboard. Usually about 1/4″ away works fine, but every situation is different. This groove will capture excess glue before it spills out onto the visible face of the mating piece, saving you lots of time, a huge headache and ugly glue stains on your hard work.
When it comes time to start gluing parts together, you have to make sure you can align them consistently so the baseboards are all the same. Screwing a series of small wooden cleats to the underside of both the main section, and the smaller section, is a great way to keep their bottom edges aligned. They can be tricky to bring together, but if you add a small chamfer to the leading edge of each block it will make it easier to bring the parts together.
I usually already know the basic look I want – colonial, modern, etc. – so I start experimenting with some appropriate router bits to see what I can come up with. I don’t actually turn any machines on just yet; putting bits up against the end grain of some lumber and pencilling on their profile is enough for now. Once I have what looks to be a nice profile complete I flick the “on” switch and see how well my idea looks in real life. Often some adjustments are made. Sometimes a whole new approach is taken. After a lot of trial and error I come up with something that looks appropriate.
You can also start by looking at some baseboards at your local lumberyard, or online. If you really don’t have any idea where to start this is usually the best approach. You don’t necessarily want to copy the exact profiles you come across, but they do offer a good first step.
Having a wide selection of router bits will go a long way to giving you the flexibility to create a nice baseboard. A selection of rounds and hollows, common shapes and straight bits is nice to have, and a few additional bits can be purchased if necessary.
Baseboards are generally fairly long, so a lot of open space in your shop is likely going to be necessary. And because the boards are also going to be heavy and hard to handle, a shop helper to tail machines makes the process a lot easier.
If you’re using expensive primary material you might be able to use cheaper secondary wood when working with the stacked technique. It is possible to glue shaped mouldings onto secondary wood, then cover that secondary wood with the show species, but I’d only recommend going to this trouble if the main species you’re using is very valuable and costly.
Many router bits have bearings on them. While they obviously need to be in place for freehand routing, there are times when removing the bearing is necessary while using the bits in a router table. You can’t run the workpiece into the center section of the bit that has the threads to secure the bearing, but you can sometimes enlarge the fillet or get a slightly different finished profile without a bearing in place.
If using less common species and creating your own custom baseboards interests you, I suggest giving this a try. Start by practising on some cheap lumber and see if you can come up with a pleasing look. When you’re happy with the look, practising on a small room in your home will allow you to get a sense of how involved it is, before tackling your entire house.
Have you ever made custom baseboards? Share your experience and results at the end of this article.