Your Guide to Buying Molding

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Moldings are one of the touches that can turn a "plain Jane" room into a finished space. The difference between an inexpensive "spec" home and a higher priced custom home down the block is often things such as the use of decorative moldings to emphasize a fireplace, doors, windows, and ceilings.

Decorative moldings need to be selected in harmony with the property where they are being used. A 10-inch crown molding will overwhelm a 1970s tract home that has 7.5-foot ceilings. But a couple inches of bright white can make a bigger difference than most people might imagine.

In this guide, we will review some of the many ways moldings are used, especially in residential properties, and a few of the elements that are combined with moldings to create crown moldings, fireplace mantels, wainscoting, and other designs. We will review the various materials used in making moldings, and how to determine the correct amount to purchase for a given project. Then we’ll look at where and how moldings may be purchased.

How Moldings Can Be Used

Molding comes in a variety of shapes, heights, and depths, which make it useful for a range of applications. Here is a summary of some typical molding uses, both in original construction and in do-it-yourself (DIY) upgrades:

Molding Use

Appropriate Moldings

Molding Sizes, Characteristics

Baseboards

Styles vary for different home styles

From 3.25 to 5.25 inches high

Toe Kicks

Typically quarter - round trims along the toe kicks of cabinetry

Range from a true quarter-round at 0.75 inch, to elongated quarter-rounds that are only 0.5 inches in depth

Crown Moldings

Special crown moldings are made or may be assembled from multiple molding elements

Up to 10 inches high, typically intersecting the ceiling and wall at a 45 degree angle

Ceilings

Cove moldings create a clean transition from wall to ceiling

From 0.75 inch to 4.25 inches wide

Door and Window Casings

Often narrower than baseboards in the same home

From 1.1 to 5.25 inches wide

Transition Molding

Provides transition between two kinds of flooring

T-shaped or reducer moldings, in 2-inch to 3-inch widths

Landing Tread

Provides the sturdy edge for a step or stair

Typically 3.5 inches deep, with a front nose thicker than the portion that sits on the step itself

Picture Rail

Specialty molding allows decorations to be hung from special hooks without drilling into the wall.

Usually mounted 6 to 12 inches from the ceiling

Wainscoting, Boiseries, and Chair Rails

A wide range of moldings may be used to create wainscoting to chair rail height or higher

Choices depend entirely on the effect intended and the height


A ceiling-high wall panel is technically a boiserie, with the word wainscot reserved for half-height panels, but the distinction is rarely made.

Other Elements Combined with Moldings

Elements frequently combined with moldings include:

  •     Plinth blocks, to create large dentils in deep custom crown moldings
  •     Corbels, to support other molding elements
  •     Corner blocks, which are traditional in some styles and eliminate mitering

    DIY Upgrades with Moldings

    Do-it-yourselfers can use moldings in a variety of ways to upgrade their homes.

    Door and Cabinet Door Upgrades

    Shallow moldings on flat panel doors create a more elaborate door appearance. Look for lightweight moldings, especially if the door is hollow core and the moldings will be glued in place.

    Mirror Upgrades

    An oversized square "builders’ mirror" in the bathroom can be trimmed in with lightweight flatback moldings. Heavy duty hook-and-loop fastening strips will hold molding in place, fitting and filling around existing mirror clips.

    Bookcase Upgrades

    Flat moldings are recommended unless the skill level allows creating an insert behind a crown molding. The molding needs to be proportional to the overall size of the bookcase. Fluted Federal - style moldings with corner blocks work well for wrapping all four sides of the front of a set of bookcases.

    What Kinds of Molding Materials are Used

    Moldings go through periods of fashion. Naturally stained moldings with contemporary lines were in vogue during the 1970s; today, most people prefer some shade of white or pale gray and many very traditional molding styles are being used. In commercial properties, a full range of traditional moldings in painted, color-stained, and two-toned colors appear, as well as "retro" designs that evoke the 1970s and earlier.

    Moldings are made from a range of materials, including the following:

    Wood

    Wood moldings are made from a number of different woods including hickory, walnut, poplar, oak, cherry, eucalyptus, poplar, pine with knots, and knot-free or clear pine. Pine with knots is considered "paint grade" molding while knot-free pine is considered "stain grade."

    Stone

    Various kinds of stone, from marble to onyx, are used to make baseboards and ornamental moldings for tiled walls and floors.

    Composite

    These pre-primed molding elements made from plastics typically are used on exteriors but they are convenient for interiors as well. Their relative flexibility makes them useful in applications where walls are not perfectly straight.

    Painted MDF

    Pre-painted white moldings are made from medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and used in interiors. One caveat for its use is that it is very water-absorbent, even when painted, so should not be used for baseboards or in other applications where water may be present.

    Historic Reproduction

    Although it is not a specific material, it is worth making special note of the many historic molding patterns available today, including the acanthus leaf, egg and dart, lamb and tongue, Greek key, reed and ribbon, various dentillations, and more. Companies that specialize in these also offer the plinths, corner blocks, and other inserts that allow for fully customized designs of traditional style interiors.

    These are often embossed in soft poplar for affordability, but fully carved moldings are also available. They may be combined in a wide variety of ways to create unique door and window casings, crown moldings, ceiling trays, wainscots, chair railings, and more.

    Decorative Painted

    Some baseboard and wall moldings come illustrated with colorful decorations particularly well suited for children’s rooms.

    Determine the Length of Molding Required

    How to determine the length of molding will vary depending on the project. Here are two examples.

    Crown moldings and baseboards begin with the entire circumference of the room. For baseboards the width of any doors is subtracted. Add more length as appropriate to allow for any alcoves or cut-ins.

    In most applications, moldings will be mitered or coped at the corners of the room and at any alcoves or cut-ins. Additional length will be allowed below for these cuts. In some crown molding applications, crown blocks are used instead of corner cuts. These reduce the required length, sometimes substantially, and need to be allowed for in calculating the molding length.

    Calculate Total

    Once the length has been calculated on the basis of the overall length to be covered, less any corner blocks, plinths, or other special inserts, round the number up to the next full foot and add a 10 percent contingency.

    Compare to Lengths of Moldings Available

    Most moldings are available in lengths of 4 feet, 8 feet, or 12 feet. If 81.5 feet is required, then rounding up brings the total to 82 feet. The 10 percent contingency brings the purchase total to 90.2 feet.

    Depending on the lengths of the walls, the purchase may be most conveniently made as eight 12-foot moldings, for 96 feet total, or as eleven 8-foot moldings plus one 4-foot molding, for 92 feet total.

    How to Shop for Moldings

    Moldings are almost always purchased with a very specific project and concept in mind. Having the opportunity to shop where there will be a broad assortment and the quantities needed will be important.

    Stone moldings typically are found at tile and stone specialty vendors and flooring companies that have significant stone flooring sections. Wood, MDF, and composite moldings are found in home improvement stores and lumberyards. The more specialized reproductions of traditional wood designs are available through specialty vendors through their brick and mortar or online shops. Any of these may appear in online marketplaces such as eBay .

    Buying Moldings on eBay

    When you’re shopping for moldings on eBay, you can start by searching for Moldings in All Categories. Some of the options you will see are Wood Molding, Crown Molding, and other kinds of molding that may unrelated to what you are doing. You may wish to browse these. You may also wish to check other sections, such as Home Improvement, that are appropriate to your project.

    Because many moldings are relatively large and heavy, you may want to select for the vendors nearest to you. You can change the sort criteria to have the results shown by Distance: Nearest First or Price Plus Shipping: Lowest First to help you pick the right seller.

    You can feel confident in eBay vendors when you see positive feedback left by prior customers. Top rated sellers are a subset group of vendors who have not only gained consistent positive feedback but have demonstrated, over many transactions, that they provide top levels of reliability and customer service.

    Conclusion

    Adding decorative moldings to a commercial or residential property is one of the more visible ways to customize the interior and add value. Wainscoting a hall, dining room, or powder room has been a popular improvement for some time. Adding crown molding in formal public spaces remains popular in traditional communities. Using moldings to define tray ceilings or other design elements adds further interest to rooms that could otherwise be blank canvases.

    Moldings painted in light shades of white and gray often evoke traditional design, while some natural wood moldings draw on "retro" design styles. Still, some of the most traditional room designs are done in natural hardwood moldings, beautifully hand-carved.

    Most moldings are purchased with a specific project in mind, but there’s no telling what could happen once a person starts looking through a collection of beautiful hardwood.

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