9 Obvious Questions You Are Going to Ask When Nailing Baseboards

Andrew Grill

Bend Tool Co. - 9 Obvious Questions You Will Ask Nailing Baseboards - scattered finish nails mixed together on white background.

1. How important is nailing baseboard trim?

Attaching your baseboards to the wall is a crucial step in the installation process. More often than not, this step is overlooked. Typically, we assume walls are straight, and our corners are at the intended angles. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Instead, when nailing the baseboards to the drywall, we discover how sturdy or inflexible they are. We start to realize the wall is bowed in places. We find out some of the odd angles we may have never noticed. As a result, we are dependent on a good job nailing in the baseboards to the wall to help ease the final steps and finish work for a great looking final product.

2. What is the best way to Nail Baseboards?

Unquestionably, the easiest and most effective way to nail in baseboards is with a nail gun. The question is, what type of nail gun do you need, and depending on your budget or other uses for a nail gun, that can get a little bit tricky.

For most of us, a finish (trim) nail gun is going to be ideal for installing baseboards. They have a great return on investment, they are relatively inexpensive (most range from $80-$200), they will last for years, and they can also be used for many other home improvement projects. If you aren’t up for buying one, ask around, you probably know someone who is willing to let you borrow theirs.

3. What type of nail gun is best for baseboards?

For our purposes, nail gun decisions will come down to two types: Finish Nailer or Brad Nailer for baseboards.

Finish (Trim) Nailer: Primarily for shooting 16-gauge or 15-gauge nails. They use a finish nailhead, easily identified by being stored at an angle on the nailer. This angle also allows for easy access in tight spots. 15-gauge is preferred for the on the job assembly, as the smaller (in diameter) 16-gauge is less rigid and more likely to bend or buckle.
Brad Nailer: Can I use brad nailers for baseboards? Probably not. Brads are a thinner gauge than their finish counterparts. Ranging from 18-gauge pins on up, they have different uses in finish carpentry. Some professionals use them for securing base caps of shoe molding (smaller than quarter round). However, because of their small size, brad nailers are used to conceal to visible nails.

4. How do you nail baseboards to molding?

Bend Tool Co. - Nailing baseboards - explanation of nails, sizes, locations for baseboard, shoe molding, basecaps. Details stud, sole plate, drywal.

We have two primary methods for nailing baseboards:
  1. With a nail gun, or
  2. Without a nail gun
A nail gun is preferred because it is an effective way to consistently get the nails in through the baseboard without damaging the baseboard while securing them to the wall.

Without a nail gun typically means using a hammer to install the baseboards. Nailing baseboards with a hammer is generally the same process; however you will be purchasing nails designed to be used with a hammer, and you will probably want to purchase several different sizes of nail sets to help insert the nail into the wall.

Your processes may change depending on setup and equipment, but generally speaking, they are as follows:

  1. Mark your studs. How far apart you should nail baseboard is dependent on the location of your studs. Using a stud finder, locate the studs along the wall on the path of the baseboard. It is easier to do this in advance. A simple method involves placing painter’s tape along each stud above the baseboard. Once you locate the first couple, you’ll have an idea of the distance between studs, and the process moves pretty fast.
  2. Prep your gear:
    1. If you’re using a nail gun, you may need a compressor; some high-end guns do not require a compressor. If you’re using a cordless gun, make sure your battery is fully charged and ready for action.
    2. If you’re using a hammer, identify the right size nail set for your nails. You will want to transfer to the nailset as soon as possible to avoid dings and dents in the shape of your hammer on your baseboard.
  3. Start nailing. If you are using an air gun, follow manufacturers’ recommendations for PSI, nail sizes, and how to use. If you’re using a hammer, simply line up your nails with your studs, insert the nail and start hammering until the nail reaches its end. Use the nail set to get the nail beneath the baseboard so it can be filled and painted without a trace.
  • Use two nails for baseboards 5 inches or less; anything over consider using three per stud.
  • Don’t forget to account for base caps and shoe molding. You will want to be able to nail those securely without nails intersecting.
  • Depending on the height of your baseboard and how it’s positioned, you may be able to use the bottom 2x4 to secure your nail as opposed to the stud. This is not recommended if you are using shoe molding or quarter round.

5. What size nails for baseboard (thickness and length)?

To keep things simple – let’s remember that the ‘d’ in the baseboard nail size refers to length (see chart below), while the gauge refers to the diameter – or how stout the nail is. Why does this matter? A long, skinny nail is most likely going to be resistant to denser or thicker forms of material, and especially problematic with any knots.

Bend Tool Co. - Baseboard Nails - Nail Size Chart for Baseboards

6. What gauge nails to use for baseboards?

Based on nail size, you should be looking for anything between 15 gauge and 18 gauge. With these gauges it you can easily find nails up to 2.5’’ long which is an ideal length for baseboard nails.

7. What size nail should I use for baseboards?

As we discussed earlier with nail guns – the best baseboard nails are probably going to be 6d (2’’) or 8d (2.5’’ for baseboard).  These can easily accommodate 15 gauge or 16 gauge nails, giving you a long, durable nail for thick baseboards and studs.

8. What size brad nails for baseboards?

Brad nails are best used for basecaps and shoe molding. We recommend 15-gauge 2’’ nails. However, you may need to analyze your setup for what length is best. For instance, a 2’’ nail may work great for the shoe molding but run too far into the baseboard for the basecap, causing them to intersect and protrude out of the baseboard.

9. How to fill nail holes in baseboards?

Bend Tool Co. - 3M Patch Plus Spackling Paint and Primer in One is a great choice for filling baseboard nail holes.

When painting your baseboards:
Whatever you do – don’t use caulk. Caulk contracts, and it will never fill up the nail hole quite right. As a result, when you paint over it you will see a divot or dent looking shape in the location of your nail holes.
We think the best filler for nail holes in baseboards is spackling paste. It is designed to form and stay in place and doesn’t change shape very easily. Because of its texture, it is more amendable to the holes. Meaning, it doesn’t react as much when you are working it into the holes. If you are careful it is easy to clean up, and you can sand it for a nice even finish. If you need to reapply, you simply repeat the process of adding more and sanding. Finally, one of the best parts is that it is usable for other situations like drywall, or other trim fillers like scarf joints, inside and outside corners, bullnose corners, etc.
With wood baseboards:
Bend Tool Co. - Minwax wood putty is a great solution when color (grain, wood) matching for filling baseboard nail holes.
As always, using the smaller nail will pay dividends here, but if you’re past that – have no fear.
If your wood will be stained, use a water-based wood filler. We love Mohawk products - they offer a range of wood fillers and products for all your wood filling needs like hardwood floors, cabinet repairs, and of course, trim and baseboards. Other companies, like Minwax also offer color matching products to help minimize any eye-catching discrepancies. You may need to try a couple out to find the best match depending on your wood and stain.

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