Cutting coped end on classic baseboard.

Finish Carpentry Essentials:

Cutting Coped Ends
On Baseboard Or Other Trim

In This Article:

The trim is cut to a 45-degree bevel. A coping saw is used to cut along the resulting profile line. The cut is adjusted with files and sanding tools.

Related Articles:
Skill Level: 2-3 (Basic to Intermediate) Time Taken: 10-20 Minutes

By , Editor

Start:

Baseboard with cope-cut end.

When installing wood trim, the best inside corner joints are made with cope-cuts, where the end of one piece of millwork is cut to match the contours of the adjacent board.

 

First, I made a 45-degree bevel cut on the end of the baseboard that needed to be coped.

I cut the boards face down so the saw teeth were digging into the wood, not away from the board. This reduces or eliminates tear-out of the wood fibers, resulting in a good clean cut.

Using a miter saw to cut a 45-degree bevel on base board trim.

 

Baseboard with end cut to 45 degrees, showing "profile line". When a piece of trim is cut on a 45-degree bevel like this, the line where the cut meets the finished surface has almost exactly the same profile as the trim.

When everything works right, this profile will perfectly match the adjacent piece of trim on an inside corner, and the joint will be tight.

All I need to do is remove the excess material between the "profile line" and the end of the board.

To make the profile line easier to see, I rubbed the side of a pencil tip along the corner.

There's one spot where the profile line is not the line to cut along... that short line inside the red circle.

The cut line needs to be made perpendicular to the back surface where the profile line meets the top flat surface of the trim.

Marking profile line on trim when making coped cut ends.

 

This is a coping saw, which is designed to cut tight curves. Coping saw used for cutting tight curves in wood trim and millwork.

 

Cutting off excess wood with a coping saw. I started cutting off the excess material along the straight part of the board.

 

Sometimes I cheat and use a miter saw to cut along the straight section of the trim.

Note how I've tilted the saw blade... I set it at 15 degrees from vertical.

Using miter saw to cut off excess wood when cope-cutting trim.

 

Cutting end of trim with coping saw. When I got to the end of the straight stretch, I made a quick cut from the end to release the off-cut.

 

After Cutting With The
Coping Saw:

There are 2 important concepts I want to illustrate.

First, When cutting with the coping saw I try to leave a small amount of excess material (A), which will be sanded or filed off.

Second, I cut on an angle to create a 15-degree "back-bevel" or "relief angle" (B). Why? There are 2 reasons: When the excess is filed down, I can create a tight-fitting "knife edge" of material at the face of the board. Also, beveled end means I can file down only a small amount of wood near the face and get a large adjustment in the coped end. Without the beveled end, there is a lot more filing to do when trying to adjust the coped end to fit against the adjacent piece of trim.

Coped trim after cutting with coping saw, showing back-bevel and excess material.

All of this complexity may sound like a lot of hassle, and cause some do-it-yourselfers to revert to the stone age and simply use mitered inside corners. I understand. In my earliest projects I used beveled inside corners... I had read about this concept of cope-cut ends and I thought "what a waste of time". But when circumstances caused me to become a self-employed handyman/carpenter, I tried this technique and discovered that it gave superior results while taking just slightly longer. The key to success is patience and perseverance.

 

Sanding away excess wood with narrow belt sander.

Power Assistance:

Sometimes I use this 1" x 30" belt sander to remove the excess material left after cutting with the coping saw.

Using this tool is easy on the straight section, but on the curves it requires a lot of careful attention to avoid sanding too far or sanding the wrong spot.

Note that I've tilted the table about 15 degrees, so I can maintain the back-bevel that I mentioned earlier.

 

Mostly, I use a regular flat file, a round file, and a triangle file to remove the excess material.

I just lay the baseboard face up on a table and use whichever file seems best for the section being filed:

  • Flat or convex areas - Flat file
  • Sharp inside corners - Triangle file
  • Concave areas - Round file
Flat file, triangle file, and round file used to fine-tune coped end cut on baseboard trim.

 

Tip:

The sander shown above is a prime example of why I always cut the coped end of a piece of trim before I cut the board to its final length. It's easy to make a small mistake and ruin the contour on the coped end. But that can be fixed by re-cutting the original 45-degree bevel, and the bevel cut can be made just a fraction of an inch from the coped end (whatever it takes to cut out the bad part). If you're lucky, you won't need to re-cut the profile line with the coping saw, just grind down the excess material.

 

Test-fitting coped end of baseboard trim. I test-fitted the cut by placing the coped end (right-hand board) against a piece of trim.

If the coped end isn't perfect, the imperfections can be seen when viewed from this angle.

 

But when viewed from this angle, the imperfections practically disappear.

Once the corner gap is caulked and repainted, even substantial flaws can be almost invisible.

Coped corner joint looks better when viewed along the coped piece of trim.
Back view of a cope-cut joint, showing hidden void.

Back View Of A Coped Joint:

When the coped end is complete and fitted against the neighboring piece of trim, there should be a void in the rear

 

Another view of the same void. You can just barely see light through that gap. Hidden void or gap behind coped corner joints on residential trim.

 

More Info:

Tools Used:
  • Basic Carpentry Tools
  • Miter Saw
  • Coping Saw
  • Files: Flat, Round, Triangle
  • 1x30 Belt Sander (Optional)
Materials Used:
  • Colonial Baseboard
Related Articles:

 

 

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Written November 18, 2009