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Baseboards may not be the most expensive thing to buy in the molding department, but if you’re doing a renovation and are able to save the pieces you remove from the wall intact, your savings can really add up. Here are just a few of my tips for salvaging old baseboards:

Removing baseboards

*note: the steps in this section were done while I was in class (which is nicer than coming home after class and still having to do it – thanks Dad!), so I don’t have pictures to show. The next time I have to remove them, I’ll take these and update the post.

1. If it is difficult to distinguish where the wall ends and the baseboard begins, this usually means that there is caulk in the seam. This usually makes things look better than leaving a small gap where the wall and baseboard meet. In my case, there was no caulk, so this step was skipped. If there is, cut the old caulk where the baseboard meets the wall. Be sure to slice downward (between the wall and board) so you don’t cut into your drywall. This preps the baseboard so that it will more easily separate from the wall in the next step.

2. Use a flat prybar to wedge between the baseboard and wall. I own this set and recommend it. (affiliate link)  Use the large, flat one. Try to be gentle, but pry the baseboard away. If you can simply remove the baseboard, nails and all, do it. Pretty Handy Girl has an excellent visual example if you need one of this (since I don’t have the pictures yet!).

If you can’t pry the board off cleanly without splintering the board, try to pry just enough off the wall, then hit the baseboard back onto the wall with a swift blow of a hammer (but not where the nails lie; you’ll want space along the wall to create the effect). What often happens is the nail will stay more firmly in place, but the hammer’s connection to unsupported (no nail) spots on the board will further separate the nails from the wood. Often this causes the nail to jut out from the baseboard at this point, so you can use a claw hammer to completely remove the nails and take the baseboard off.

Another baseboard nail removal method

As you can see from the picture below, the original nail holes were never covered when the baseboard was installed, so nail removal was a snap. If you pried the baseboard off the wall complete with nails poking out of the board, try the following technique:

Old baseboard

1. Flip the board over to expose the nails. I found that using a soft surface (like the carpet just before my upstairs hallway – excuse the debris from working in the guest bath!) worked easier since it was more of a cushion.

Nails in old baseboards

2. Hit the nail points with a hammer, causing the nails to shift back through the front of the board.

Tap the nails out a little

3. Flip the board over again. With the claw part of the hammer, pry the rest of the nail out of the wood. (If you have a completely unblemished front and do not wish to pull the nail through the front, you can use pliers to pull the nail through on the back side, but I’ve found this takes a little more muscle sometimes so I’d rather use the front).

Pull them with the claw

Yet another removal method

In the case of even older boards (say, restoring old houses), you can actually use the claw hammer or a pair of pliers to grip the nail on the back of the board and pull it all the way through the baseboard instead of pushing it back through the front side. If you’re at all concerned about the nail head causing more damage going back out the front of the baseboard (which sometimes happens when the nail hole has been covered over with wood putty and painted), try this method instead!

Painting baseboards

I highly recommend priming and applying at least the first coat of paint to the baseboards when it is still off the wall. It is simply faster and you don’t have to tape anything off. The pic below is after two coats. Don’t they look a million times better now?

Paint with Behr Interior Semi-gloss enamel

Re-installation of baseboard trim

The best part about re-using the baseboards is that your cuts are already made (unless you make changes to the width of something that was installed).

1. (Optional – and useful where there are areas that can’t be nailed in place, like around my tub). Apply construction adhesive to the back of the baseboard in an s-curve fashion. Using circular motions will cause air bubbles.

Yes and no

2. The old nail holes might be too weak to use again, so I would recommend finding a new spot to drive a new nail (especially if you’re painting it anyway). Just a couple nails every eight inches or so (if your molding is like mine, top and bottom in one spot) should do it. If you’re working around hard surfaces like laminate or tile, be sure not to angle the nail’s entry so that it doesn’t bounce off the surface (and fly at your face; I’ve seen it happen). Regardless, be sure you use eye protection if you’re using a nail gun.

3. If the baseboards do not fit (I had one spot where my new vanity was wider than the old, so installing the old baseboard was about an inch too long), use an oscillating tool or miter saw to cut off the excess. Again, this is much easier and cheaper than starting fresh, even if there are a few adjustments to make.

4. When everything is back in place, caulk the top (where the board meets the wall) to keep things clean (no one likes crevices, even tiny ones, where dust can settle) and caulk any seams or nail holes, then touch up with paint.

Bathroom with painted baseboards

Prest-o, change-o, cheap-o. Use the dollars you saved to buy yourself another tool (or whatever else you like to spend your money on – that’s just my choice).

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  1. Love the tutorial. Someone removed the baseboard from our living room (when they covered the hardwood with ugly carpet?) and never put it back up. Sigh. I'll definitely use this tutorial when we get around to replacing it.

  2. My house has fantastic hundred year old oak baseboards and casings, so I always remove them carefully because they cannot be replaced. A few things I've learned:

    -When removing, start with a putty knife, then the thinnest prybar (I use the Dasco version as well), and then the full flat prybar after that to push from the center and botom of the trim.
    -When you get to the prybars make sure you use something to protect the wall from gouges. I use the putty knife up to a scrap piece of 1/8″ material. Drywall gouges easily when you put pressure on the prybars. The material gives you extra leverage as well.
    -If you are not painting the trim, pulling nails out from the back is extra work but necessary because taking them out from the front can cause splintering of the wood. My approach has been 8″ vice grips along with a 1x or 2x for leverage.

    Not sure why you would use construction adhesive in addition to nails to put the trim back up. That makes it that much harder to remove again if needed.

    I've never used caulk with the baseboards, but when re-installing the trim, you can put the caulk on the back of the baseboards at the top and then install. Then go over it with a wet cloth to get the excess.

    1. Construction adhesive is optional – there are areas in my bathroom I can't attach with a nail (like the tub, and a line of caulk simply doesn't cut it there).

      Great idea on putting a line of caulk on the top first.

  3. I’m assuming that before you painted your baseboards you filled the old nail holes with something. Wondering what you used? Drywall mud, wood filler, caulk? I’m in the midst of repainting our front entrance and want to keep the original trim, but am unsure what the best filler for old nail holes would be.

    1. Best filler is wood putty since it doesn’t shrink like caulk, and you can get it in various colors (including white) to blend with the existing wood. I sometimes use caulk though if I’m feeling too lazy to go grab wood putty (I seem to just like working with caulk better than the putty most days).

  4. I’m up to the nailing them back on stage, and have relatively thick baseboards like the ones in your pic (prob from the ’50’s). Do you recommend a framing nailer or a finish nailer?

    1. Either should be fine, just make sure the length of the nails are long enough. I used a finish nailer to keep the nailheads/holes small.

  5. Wonderful tips! I am so glad that I found this. You put all of the information needed. Your blog will help me a lot.

  6. Hey Sarah,

    You’re very cute, BTW…..very pretty eyes too.

    Anyways, I’m intending to remove baseboards from a carpeted area, have you had any experience with that? My fear is that it won’t set the same way it did before.

    Also, there’s trim around the window, but the window its self is wood, is it weird when the trim is white and the window is oak? I’m worried that by painting the window will cause some of the parts to stick and maybe chip.

    Thanks for your time!

    1. When I put new carpet into the house, I didn’t necessarily remove the previous baseboards (or rather, the carpet installers chose not to remove them). However, when/if you do, you’re correct that they won’t sit in the same place since the carpet thickness will likely be different than the height of the previous flooring material. It really shouldn’t be that big of a deal though, since you should caulk the baseboard again after re-installing at the new height to make it look pristine again.

      As for windows, mine are black even though the surrounding trim is white. I guess it would depend on your own taste to determine if you like the contrast or not (in my house, the contrast looks pretty good). Google a few images using “white trim” and “oak windows” and see what it looks like to figure out if you like that option. Lots of luck!

  7. couple of old ladies here going to re-do baseboards and found this very helpful! I have 40 year old baseboards that look very “dry” if that is a woodworking expression. We want to take them off, paint them and add additional baseboard above it. I want to ask if I need to condition the wood somehow before we paint? I know we will need to do a little sanding or maybe a lot but I am thinking about how dry these are right now. Thanks for any help!

    1. I wouldn’t condition wood that’s about to be painted; it could compromise the paint sticking where you want it. Instead, I would focus on making sure it’s got a good quality primer and paint. Use filler if there are obvious gouges and you want to smooth it out (you’d have to sand them if that’s the case as well… so this is not actually a step I would do myself because it’s not worth the effort when it’s being painted). And yes, I would recommend sanding to scuff up the surface before priming (it will help the primer adhere). Lots of luck, ladies! I’m sure it will turn out great.