Coping Baseboard

Trim carpenters agree coped joints are best. Here's advice on doing them well. June 16, 2010

Installing 4-1/4 stained red oak baseboard which has a moderately complex profile. I've always felt that coped joints would look better but wanted an opinion from the forum. Also, since I'm not very fast at coping, I got to thinking that if I used a small piece as a template, why couldn't I rout the coped profile similar to flush trimming? Seems this would speed things up and should be darn near dead on profile. Is there some reason this wouldn't work?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor Z:
Depending how much you have to do I vote for my coping saw and a fine tooth blade. I think trying to get a setup with the router will take longer than just using a good coping saw.

From contributor J:
In my opinion coped stays looking better over time. To route a complex profile cope does not seem like a workable solution, but without seeing the profile it's only a guess. Cope it, you will be faster by the time it's done. Thatís the only way to get faster.

From contributor Y:
Cope, cope, cope. You will have a much better joint than trying to route it. Never miter inside corners they always open up over time and the corners are never square after the mudders or plasterers get done the cope has some forgiveness.

From contributor V:
The problem with that scheme is that round flush trim bits leave rounded inside corners. You could use a template and then chisel out the rounded corners but as others have said itís probably faster to just bite the bullet and learn to cope.

From contributor K:
Cope like everyone else who knows how to do this says. Coping is a basic skill for a finish carpenter. You would be spending an inordinate amount of time (now and in the future) trying to avoid learning this most basic of carpentry techniques.

From contributor B:
Mitered joints open up over time. I have coped for years using an inverted router. Size the bit to suit the profile A 3/8" or 7/16 works for most profiles. Make sure the whole board is supported and freehand cope. If you already have a router table the chore is quick/easy and more accurate than a coping saw.

From contributor B:
I have a tip to make coping pretty easy, but you might already know it. Instead of having to cope through the full 4-1/4 base board, back cut a 45 degree away. It is kind of hard to explain. Everyone cuts a backwards 45 do show the profile to cut. Then just flip you board around, upside down, leaving the 45 set up the same way, and trim off the excess as close to the profile line as you can. Now when you do your coping you are only cutting through maybe a 1/16" of wood instead of an inch. Don't make the back cut all the way through because it will be visible from the top. So on the top use your coping saw and make a regular 90 cut. This is how I do most coping and I can honestly do most joints with a miter saw and utility knife and a little sand paper. I really like coping.

From contributor M:
Cope it. I cope with a jigsaw and clean up with an angle grinder with a 24 grit sanding disc. Any finer detail gets a touch with a file or sandpaper or dremel. Iíve been doing it this way for many years, it just takes practice and a steady hand. It's fast, and the copes are tight.

From contributor J:
I have done many oak baseboards with pretty difficult profile to cope so to speed things up I mitered them. I use an angle finder to check the angles on the wall and set the angle on the saw accordingly. Use some cardboard behind the moulding to shim and you can use a colored putty to fill. You can even use colored caulk before assembly. Itís still your call but it works great.

From contributor R:
I would definitely agree with coping consensushere. To do a really tight job mitering you with have to custom cut every corner with test blocks. It would be very time consuming, especially if the saw isn't in the room. Back-cut the flat stock part of the profile at the miter saw. 15-20 degrees is usually good. Any more and the profile might blow out when snapped in under pressure. If there is a bead in the middle of the flat stock part of the profile you are pretty much stuck coping all of it. It's only 4" base anyway. Of course I cope everything except a rare crown profile where it isn't practical, and all I do is trim. I haven't tried the coping foot for a jig saw where you hold the saw upside down. I've always wanted to though. The other trick I used long ago was coping simple base with a table saw. I would back cut the flat part at the miter saw and nibble away the rest of the profile at the table saw free hand. The blade arc creates a natural back cut.

From Gary Katz, forum technical advisor:
I agree with everyone else (except the one miter suggestion). Buy a coping foot right away. Take a piece of baseboard into your shop and practice making five or six copes. It takes about fifteen minutes to learnthe technique and you'll always be really glad that you did. Don't question this. Just do it. I used to hate coping hardwood - and I do it a lot. Now I love it. The technique for coping base is much easier than crown, but you hold the saw the same way. Just clamp the base down flat to a work table. Always clamp the work piece. You'll have a lot more fun that way.

From the original questioner:
I appreciate all the input. Yes, I'll keep trying to get over my coping hurdle. A follow up to my routing question though -scribing the profile onto a 3/4 piece of plywood and using a scrollsaw to fab the mirror image and then setting it up with a flush trimming bit still seems to be a bit faster and can have someone doing this less talented/costly doing it. Once set up, the only risk I can see is that the trim may not have been fabricated from the same set of knives. From the responses, it seems that I've touched on the Holy Grail of trim carpentry. Don't mean to short change it in any way, just want to get the most repeatable product/process in the least amount of time.