Why You Might Want To Leave The Baseboards Alone
During my 35-year career selling and installing new floor coverings, one of the most common fears of the homeowner was the removal of the old baseboards. After numerous paint jobs, the base looks like it’s molded to the finished wall. The fear usually is that removing it will cause the paint to peel off and create more work. What the average homeowner doesn’t know is that protecting the paint job is the easy part. Prying that old base off the wall without poking holes in the wall, that’s the hard part. You may have seen those tell-tale dents and punctures in the wallboard just above the line of the base; or seen those craters on the face of the base when the nails have been pulled out? Who would have thought you’d ruin the board if you pulled a nail out the same way you put it in?
It doesn’t have to be that way. Your fear of creating all that damage – even greater now that you know it’s more than just peeling paint – can ease away because this article is here to help you do the job the right way. Except for most carpet jobs, removing and replacing baseboards was standard procedure for me. I made a few mistakes of my own and learned, practiced and taught this method for decades.
Removing Baseboards Is As Easy As 1, 2… 5
- Preventing that peeling paint is step one. You can’t just go at it with a pry bar and start pulling. That’s how the paint job gets ruined, probably higher up the wall than your new base will cover. Most of the time, people put the old base back on because they have already spent too much on the new flooring.
New baseboards is an extra expense you might not have considered when buying new floor covering. If it was part of the plan, very often the new base will be the same kind, or at least the same height as the old. To minimize any damage, gently slice through the paint right where it meets the top of the base. Score the first pass with a very shallow cut, then a second pass to get cleanly through all the layers of paint. Not too deep though, you don’t need to cut deeply into the wall. This will separate the baseboard and wall when you begin to pry.
If you install the new flooring over the old (that’s a whole other discussion), replacing the old base will hide that fine cut line. Even if you remove the old flooring too and the new is at the same elevation as the old was, the cut line will get sealed with a light coat of caulking when you install the base and paint.
- The greatest damage seems to occur when a pry bar is used against soft sheetrock or plaster walls. I’ve seen (of course, I’ve never done it) huge holes or dents in walls when the pry bar was placed on a section of sheetrock that had no stud behind it. Big mistake. Use a broad knife or some other thin, but sturdy metal plate to protect the wall. A broad knife is made of very strong spring steel. It’s like a really big putty knife – you could use a wide putty knife. Use something to protect the wall, or you’ll be doing some major repairs. Maybe there will be another article about making those repairs, because chances are, you might have found this article because you started the base removal already and made just such a mistake.
- The broad knife is used to protect the wall, not for prying. There are a number of tools you can use to get the edge of the base away from the wall enough to get behind it. My former helper, Robert (these photos were taken about 15 years ago when I was still doing floors for a living) is using a wood chisel above to get the base started. You might be able to go straight to the pry bar, but I found the chisel helps to set the base up for removal because of its sharp edge. You only need enough room to get your pry bar in.
Wiggle the prying tool in as deep as you can to get a good grip on the baseboard. You want the bottom and the top of the base to pull away from the wall evenly. If you pry too near the top, you risk splitting the board. Work slow and carefully. Sometimes you find a stretch of paint you didn’t cut through well enough and it’s sticking to the base as you pull it away. Grab the knife and relieve it.
- When base is installed, the nails are usually counter-sunk and the void is filled and painted over. Maybe it’s been painted a few times. If you go banging the nail through the front of the base because that’s the way it went in, you might end up with a huge crater in the baseboard. Then you will have to fill the big hole you just made. Your goal is to not to create more work for yourself than necessary.
Since the nail has already been driven deep into the base, pulling the nail out through the back of the board will be the easiest way to remove it. Use a pair of pliers or something like these end nippers Robert is using after you remove baseboards. Grab the nail shank and gently pull it through the back of the board. Most of the time, it will leave a clean, undamaged face on the base. Your new nail will be the only countersinking and filling required. You can use the nippers to remove nails from the wall that didn’t come off with the baseboards – be sure to pry against the broad knife there to prevent denting the wallboard.
- The average room has many, many feet of baseboards. You must keep track of where they go, if you plan to put them all back again. The last thing you want to do at the end of the job is to try to remember where all that baseboard molding goes. Some expanses of wall might have more than one piece of base. The solution is quite simple and it only takes an extra moment at the same time you remove baseboards. Number them! Number the wall too. The time and headache you save is huge. And here’s a free tip: sometimes a 6 and a 9 look similar, depending on whether you’re standing on your head or not. Underline them so you know what’s what.
Everything You Need To Do the Job
That’s pretty much all there is to it. You just have to be a little conscientious, a little careful and have the right tools. These are the tools I gave all my helpers to remove baseboards. I used a hatchet in place of a hammer in my flooring work, but the hammer end of it is all you need for this job. Use a pry bar that is suitable for the task – there are many sizes available. Many people have most of these tools, or acceptable replacements handy. You shouldn’t have to go out and buy anything special just to remove baseboards. However, some of the Pro members of my flooring forum have been pleased with a new prying tool that is pretty reasonably priced if you plan to do more than the average room. It’s called the Zenith Trim Puller – follow that link to The Home Depot and check it out.
I hope this article has helped save you time and frustration during your remodel project. I kind of miss that part of my life, but I do enjoy sharing what I learned those years of crawling on my hands and knees. Please add your thoughts and questions below.