It’s surprisingly expensive, baseboard. But while the price per foot has rapidly increased, we’ve discovered that the quality of the wood has dropped. Badly. For experienced carpenters choosing good material to work with is just part of the job, it’s nothing new. But for the weekend DIYer or tradesmen that handle lumber ‘only when necessary’, a few hundred dollars can easily be wasted on baseboard that should only be used as firewood, or tooth picks!
We recently made a visit to a big box store to buy several packs of baseboard for a new product test. Annoyingly, we spent far too much time sorting through the lengths of warped, twisted and flimsy softwood. “How can they sell this stuff?” we mused. It wouldn’t be fair to use such poor quality trim for our product test. However, we purchased a few salvageable lengths and headed over to the local timber merchant on the way back to HQ in the hope of finding some superior, if more expensive baseboard.

The guy at the counter was amused when we showed him our loot from the big box store. He lead us to the warehouse to show off his ‘version’ of similarly spec’d board and told us why big box stores are making a fortune on unsuspecting handymen.

warped-baseboard-skirting-board-mitre

This double sided torus/bullnose baseboard has cupped so much that it will split when fixed to the wall and there will inevitably be some filling to miter joints.

baseboard-skirting-board-warped-cupped-trigjig-mitre-miter-

For the same price we found thicker, much straighter lengths, with fewer knots and zero splits to speak of.
Firstly, he pointed out, that what we thought was anaemic pine, was actually spruce (Christmas trees to you and I). It’s a fast growing, softer and cheaper alternative that just doesn’t have the qualities that make pine one of the most popular woods for trimming homes. To the trained eye it’s clear, for everyone else the giveaway is the labelled replacement of ‘pine baseboard’ for the generic ‘softwood baseboard’.
Secondly, he showed us why our big box baseboard was cupping. The big box stores use the ‘heart’ of the wood when milling their baseboard. It’s a feature rich but less stable part of the tree that can result to warping and cupping. Not only this, but it’s not usually kiln dried to the same quality processes as the material available at independent merchants. Comparisons can be seen in the images.
This makes cutting and installing trim a nightmare. It takes a lot of trial and error to get the cuts right and this obviously wastes a lot of time and material. We also noticed the thickness difference was huge. The big box baseboard was 33% thinner than that supplied here. Sure, that can be explained in the price difference. Well not so fast. When we checked the bill we found there was nothing in it. A nice surprise, and he even cut it to the lengths we wanted while we were there.
We recommend that everyone thinking of replacing their baseboard, chair rail or picture rail to check out their local lumber yard before heading to the default big box store. Even if it comes in at a slightly higher price, it’s more than made up for in the reduced installation labour, wastage and superior appearance.

See the video here to find out how to install baseboard using the TrigJig adjustable baseboard miter tool.