Living Room Built-In {post 4: Coping Base Moulding}

By Pinktoesandpowertools | Woodworking Tutorials

I have attempted to cope moulding in past projects with limited success, so I was a little leery of how well it would go this time. It was one of the things I was determined to learn because I would like to put in crown moulding on the entire first floor eventually, and from what I read, it sounds like coping is a necessary skill to make it look good year-round due to expanding and contracting of the wood during seasonal weather changes, and from walls that may look perfectly straight, but are not (so you don’t have a perfect right angle to split in half and you have to figure out what angle you DO have–not fun I imagine).

In case you happen upon this post without seeing the project I am talking about, here is the built-in I will be referencing in this post 🙂

Built In cabinet left side

First I want to show you how I put the Living Room Built-In right next to the wall to make it look built in without removing any base moulding. In previous projects I have removed all the base, cut the base so I could slide the cabinet next to the wall, and reattached the moulding around the cabinet. If you want to go that route, you can look at Pip’s built-ins or the laundry room built in and see what I did on those. It will involve prying it away from the wall and removing all the nails.

There is a LOT of moulding to remove on the wall where this built-in resides. I dreaded the thought of having to pull it all up, so…

I originally planned on using a Dremel MultiMax like they do in the video “Cutting trim from a wall” so that I didn’t have to remove all the moulding. But in the end I decided to do something a little different so that I could move the cabinet if needed in the future.

I traced around a scrap piece of the base on the back corners of the cabinet and cut it out with a scroll saw. I should have erred toward cutting it out a little shorter than my base because the cabinet sits on carpet and causes the base around the cabinet to stand proud from the base already on the wall due to the carpet height.

Did you follow that??!! It wasn’t a big deal–I had a small hole that I filled with caulk–you’ll see it a little farther down in the tutorial.

Cut out the back of the cabinet to slide over the base moulding

Built-in cabinet slid into place

So now it slides right up to the wall and can be moved along any point of the wall and still look built-in once the moulding is applied to the front and sides. However, now the only way to apply the moulding to the sides is to cope the wall end to fit over the existing wall moulding. Here’s an example of a coped joint from Family Handyman if you want to check out their instructions. Maybe you can get good results with a coping saw–I couldn’t. Then I found this YouTube video and now coping is possible for me!

I didn’t quite have the supplies I needed from the video. I had the Dremel rotary tool, but not the cutting wheel he mentions. I could only find it available by ordering it online and I was on a deadline. So I looked at what I did have and it worked in a pinch. This is how I did it. (The following picture was lost in the blog move, but it’s not essential–it just shows the part that is furthest to the right in the next picture, the part you are going to cut away)

No matter how you go about doing this, you have to start with a 45 degree miter cut. This one will be going on the left side of the cabinet–the extra wood will “point” at the wall.

Coping moulding step 2This step is important! You must check that what you just cut is square. On my first attempt, I used a piece of moulding that already had the 45 degree cut when I pulled it out of my scrap pile. I didn’t check for square and it didn’t turn out well.

Coping moulding step 3

I used a coping saw to get rid of the extra wood that the gentleman in the video used the Dremel for. I would only do this because I had two to cut for this project. If I end up doing the crown in the house, I will DEFINITELY buy the cutting wheel that is used in the video. The coping saw I have was $8–maybe a more expensive one would work faster. This one did not.

Using the coping saw to remove extra wood

I got as close to the edge as I could with the saw, working in two sections. Pay attention to how the saw is angled back.

Removing extra wood for coped joint

Notice that I left the small rounded part at the top. Cutting that out with a coping saw seems near impossible to me. At least with the one I have.

Close up of detail cut using a coping saw

At this point I got out the Dremel.

End result with the coping saw, now using a Dremel to clean it up

I have the cordless model. In a workshop where I have to unplug in each tool I am using CONSTANTLY because I’m working off an extension cord and one outlet, this was heavenly.

Dremel 8220 with sanding attachment for coping moulding

I used a sanding drum attachment–the coarsest one I had in the kit that came with the Dremel. I do believe I would have used this attachment even if I had the wheel the video guy talked about, because this attachment worked so well in the smaller area at the top of the moulding.

You’ve got to be careful in here. The video guy has a great hint for controlling the cutting your are doing with the basketball analogy–but I played basketball (short legs and all–I saw a lot of action from the bench). If you didn’t, just watch what he does with his hands and how he guides the Dremel.

Careful coping out the small detail at the top of the base moulding

This was only my second attempt! If you get right up to the edge where the paint meets the wood you are good to go.

Finished coped joint using the Dremel 8220

This is what the back looks like. Not as pretty as the front 🙂

Back side of the coped joint using a Dremel 8220 and coping saw

Once again I will tell you that this was only my second try! I would have had a perfect first try if my cut has been square too. The Dremel makes this a dream.

Coped joint on the built-in next to the base moulding

I advise you to do your coping, fit it to your project, and then mark you miter cut to go around the cabinet. That way if the coping doesn’t work out for some reason, you are only going to waste the small amount you have to cut off to start the coping again. I always make a mark for where I need to cut and another with the angle that the cut needs to be. I make mistakes otherwise once I get out to the saw in the garage.

measuring the built-in base to get a perfect mitered cut

Here’s the finished corner. I used 18 gauge nails to pin it to the cabinet and then a couple in the corners into the other piece of moulding to keep the corner tight. Unfortunately I had to rip all this out the next day when I discovered that it wasn’t straight across the front–one side was 1/4″ higher!!! Doh! I got too anxious to get done and didn’t measure. That was a big mistake. I also had to shave some off the bottom of the moulding around the cabinet due to the carpet holding it up higher than the moulding on the wall.

Finished mitered corner attached with 18 gauge nail gun

Here’s my third attempt at coping on the right side of the cabinet. You can see where I should have cut out the back of the cabinet a little lower than the baseboard (remember that I had to shave some off the bottom…). Caulk covered that right up.

Finished coped moulding up next to the baseboard moulding

**I received this Dremel to review and tell my readers how it performed. All opinions about it are my own. I can tell you that if you only have two boards to cope, that it may not be worth the purchase price. I can also tell you that I am psyched about the coping skills I have with this machine!! I was doubting my ability to complete the crown moulding in our home in a satisfactory way until I picked up the Dremel. No doubts now–the Dremel makes it easy to get great results with no learning curve.

I’m considering using the Dremel rotary tool to grind some of the strike plates (see video in the link) I can buy in Oil-rubbed bronze at Home Depot or Lowes so I can trade out the ones I painted where the paint is wearing off and revealing the gold color they used to be. You can see what I’m talking about in Refinishing Door Hardware part 7: One month update. Buying the ones that will fit our doors is ridiculously overpriced–like $6 per strike plate!!! No way I was paying that. I found some at the box stores at less than $2 a plate, but they are slightly the wrong size.  I’ll let you know how it goes if I take that project on…

If this tutorial was helpful, I sure would love a share! It makes my day.

Read more about the Living Room Built-In Bookshelves Project:

Living Room Built-Ins {post 1: The Befores}

Living Room Built-Ins {post 2: The Plans}

Living Room Built-Ins {post 3: The Reveal}

Living Room Built-Ins {post 4: Coping Base Moulding}

Living Room Built-Ins {post 5: How to Install Crown Moulding}