Interior trim and casings are some of what make an old house so exquisite! I love the unique profiles and designs on older homes. So many new houses have “standard colonial base and case” as we call it, and it’s at every home store and in every new subdivision.
Those old style casings are still around today, but they have changed just enough in the last 80 years or so that what you find at Home Depot may not match exactly what your old house has on its walls.
So, is it even possible to match old trim or should you just piece in unmatched trim and pray no one notices? It may not bug my guests, but it would drive me absolutely batty to have something like that in my house.
It can be tough to match old trim. So, I’ve come up with a few hacks for making sure today’s trim options match the historic profile you’re likely to have without going to a specialty mill shop to pay hundreds of dollars to have stuff custom made.
These are all off the shelf items that with a little tweaking can be made to match their historic predecessors almost perfectly.
Most baseboard today is 1/2″ as opposed to 3/4″ thick from about 1910s-1940s and 1″ thick pre-1910. When it comes to baseboards, you’re going to have to do what the old timers did. Buy a piece of 1×4 or 1×6 or 1xwhatever, buy base cap separately instead of buying the all in one baseboard that is common today and assemble the baseboard piece by piece. Here’s what I do:
Measure the height of the flat board part of the baseboard. This may be 4″ or 6 3/4″ or some other random number that is not the standard 3 1/2″, 5 1/2″, 7 1/4″ or 9 1/4″ sizing we have today. If it’s not one of these standard sizes, then buy the next size up and rip it to width on a table saw.
For example, the baseboards in my house are about 4 1/8″ tall so I couldn’t use standard 1×4 (which is really 3/4″x3 1/2″). So, I bought a 1×6 (which is really 3/4″x5 1/2″) and ripped it down to 4 1/8″ wide for a section that I needed to replace.
Then, depending on the cap of your baseboards, you may need to add base cap which is still a fairly common molding profile and hasn’t changed at all over the years. Or maybe you’ll need a beveled top or something else. Whatever style piece goes on top of your baseboard (if there is one) you can usually find it at the stores or make it simply on a table saw with a few passes.
Then, after that is finished, add the shoe molding (not quarter round likely) in the size that matches your house. Think of it like shopping al la carte for moldings. It’s BYOB, except this time it means Build Your Own Baseboard!
Backband is the little square piece of trim on the outside of the door casing in this picture. There are many styles of backband that were around, but by far the most common I come across all over the country is this simple square style, which I have yet to find at any home store or lumber yard. I guess nobody uses it but me, so I’ve created a simple workaround.
To recreate this appearance, I use 1 1/8″ outside corner which, when installed, gives exactly the same appearance as original backband. Outside corner is available in almost every home store, so finding this should never be a problem.
Usually for 3/4″ to 1″ thick trim, a 1 1/8″ outside corner molding fits best with one small modification. You have to rip to side that terminates into the wall down to a 3/4″ (or 1″) inside measurement. If that sounds confusing, you’ll understand it the first time you try a piece. It won’t sit quite flush unless it is ripped down. Just trust me that for 3/4″ and 1″ thick trim, 1 1/8″ outside corner molding (ask your lumber yard and they will know) is the ticket.
You also have to check the width of the main trim board this accents to make sure that once installed, it is the same finished width as the original. You, once again, will likely have to rip a 1×4 or 1×6 to the proper width in order to make this substitution work, but once installed, you’ll never know the difference.
The window stool is the molding that stands proud just above the lower trim board, called the apron. Window stools have gotten smaller and smaller over the years. What used to be 1 1/8″ thick has now dwindled to 11/16″ in most stores and it’s special order at that.
For some reason, a lot of suppliers have even stopped calling it by the proper name of window stool and switched to window sill which is a completely different piece of molding! Not to worry, I’ve got a fix for this too.
You can buy 5/4″ trim (which is usually between 1″ and 1 1/4″) and add base cap to the interior edge of it make it look exactly like an original window stool. The profile for a window stool is almost identical to an upside down base cap with the little bevel at the top. What you do is cut a 5/4″ board to fit within your window opening and then modify the base cap on the table saw.
For the base cap, rip off just an 1/8″ at the wide part of the base cap and then rip it once again on the other side so that it matches the thickness of your 5/4″ board. Glue it and nail it onto the face of the 5/4″ board. Mitre the corners for the returns on the stool, and you’ve got historical window stool without custom ordering and without breaking out the router table.
If your house has what look like, and possibly were, complex custom profiles on its trim and moldings, don’t be downhearted. Take a step back and realize that most of these profiles are pretty timeless except that they have all gotten a little thinner over the decades.
A lot of custom designs can be pieced together by using several different stock moldings at the home store. Most profiles are just a combination of coves, ogees, and bevels in various sizes and patterns to create a custom profile. If you can start to break the shapes down in your mind, you can start to see that it’s really just like assembling a puzzle.
Before you order expensive custom molding by the foot, take a minute and see if these hacks can help you get the job done with just a table saw and mitre saw without all the custom work that a mill shop can provide. You might just surprise yourself.
Plus, these tips are super helpful for when you just have less than 60 LF of molding needed, because custom molding usually has a minimum charge, which can make it extraordinarily expensive for short runs. If you’ve got big orders, then by all means, have the moldings custom made, but for the small stuff, follow these tips to save time and money.
Founder & Senior Editor
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.