Victorian Remodel:

Improving The Original
Window & Door Casing 

In This Article:

We start with a simple backboard, rip baseboard narrower, attach "return" pieces and nail it to the backer. We add a "bed" molding and door stop for decoration.

Related Articles:
Skill Level: 3-4 (Moderate +) Time Taken: 2 To 7 Hours

By , Editor


We didn't get a chance to photograph the door and window casings before we removed them last fall. The second floor of this 1900 farmhouse had none of the elaborate trim found on the main level. It appeared to us that the owners ran low on funds and skimped on the upstairs, which contained three bedrooms. For one hundred years there has not even been a finished floor. They merely painted the tongue-and-groove subfloor.

These photos were taken in the adjacent bedroom, yet to be remodeled / restored. The top casing is the same as the side casing... just a board with 2 grooves.


This a typical window and door casing found on the main level, all red oak, which was plentiful in Northern Michigan around the turn of the 20th century.


We could not find any molding like the profile on the left.

So we took the liberty of making up our own. It only looks complicated.


We used a piece of ordinary colonial doorstop molding with a small fancy embossed trim nailed on top.


But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

We started with a 4'x8' sheet of 3/4" Medium Density Fiberboard (particleboard). We ripped the sheet into 6 inch wide strips on the table saw, and then cut the boards long enough to span beyond the vertical pieces of casing

We could have used 1x6 clear pine for this back board, but MDF is much cheaper and less prone to warping.


The other ingredients are:
  • 1.Colonial baseboard (ripped down to 2-1/2" on a table saw)
  • 2. Bed molding (which is like a mini-crown molding)
  • 3. Colonial doorstop
  • 4. Embossed trim
  • The next step was to cut the baseboard and fabricate the top rail with the returns on each end. This took quite some time.

    For details see Top Rail With Returns.


    The Top Rail was positioned above the back board...

    And fastened with 1-1/4" brad nails.

    A note about pneumatic nailers: We use air nailers because they save us a lot of time and give a degree of accuracy that hand nailing can rarely match. Nevertheless, this project could be done with ordinary hand-driven finish nails. 4 penny nails (about 1 inch long) probably won't split the wood, except near the ends or on the small return pieces. In those places pre-drilling the hole can save a lot of headaches.

    The bed molding was laid out and marked.

    Cutting the return is tricky because when the blade cuts all the way through, the small piece often gets knocked aside. I let the blade come to a stop before raising the miter saw handle.


    Notice the upside-down orientation of the bed molding. The horizontal table of the saw equates to the underside of the Top Rail.

    The return is tested for fit.


    The other return piece is cut.

    The front section of bed molding is laid out against the back board so it can be marked for cutting.


    What's the difference? At first glance you might think that both ways would produce the right cut.

    The picture on the left is wrong. The cut on the right worked out correctly.

    Cutting crown molding and bed molding can be very confusing. We have seen carpenters with fifteen years of experience get all turned around in the orientation of the workpiece. Often there are two ways of cutting crown - as a bevel or as a miter. 

    The bed molding is fitted in place.

    The other end is marked for the next cut. A very fine pencil or pen helps maintain accuracy.


    Didn't I just mention this problem?... I cut the long piece wrong, but it was not ruined.

    There is no way these two pieces are going to fit.


    With the bed molding cut properly, I used the brad nailer to tack the molding to the top rail and the back board.

    The returns both fit nicely. I did not use carpenter's glue here, but it couldn't hurt.


    The lower trim was easier, just miter a few pieces of doorstop trim...

    ...and nail them in place, flush with the bottom of the back board. I used shorter brads here, only 1 inch.


    The embossed trim was also easy to cut and was tacked on with small brads. When centered on the flat section of the doorstop trim, the embossed piece gave it a nice complex texture.

    Combining millwork sections can yield impressive results. And to think... this was just an experiment.


    Another view.

    The view from the back side. Observe how the bed molding leaves a tiny space in behind. Crown molding does the same thing.


    Close ups shots of the previous.

    The nail holes were filled with putty and the wood was given a coat of oil-based primer.

    The end cut of the MDF back board was a little rough, so we filled it with putty.


    Next a coat of semi-gloss latex paint was applied.

    Installation will have to wait until the side trim pieces and bottom sill have been refinished.

    Notes: This project was essentially an experiment to see if we could create a top casing that resembled those found on the first floor. This window casing, about five feet long, took over seven hours in the workshop, not including painting. The next day we made the same trim for the door, which was just over three feet long. This second assembly took only 2.5 hours and was of higher quality. Now that's a learning curve! If we were outfitting an entire house in this type of trim, we would set up a little production area and make rapid multiple copies of certain parts (like the return pieces). The time per unit might be reduced to 1.5 hours or less.

    The worst thing about making this type of window casing would be to see it covered by curtains!

    The minimum tools needed to make this type of trim:
    • Good quality miter box and back saw (trim saw).
    • Drill for pre-drilling nail holes.
    • Hammer, nail set.
    • Quick-Grip style clamps (2) to hold work together while nailing.

    See The New Trim Installed.


    Tools Used:

    • Power Miter Saw
    • Table Saw
    • Biscuit Joiner
    • Pneumatic Brad Nailer
    • Assorted Hand Tools

    Materials Used:

    • Particle Board or MDF Board
    • Colonial Baseboard
    • Colonial Door Stop Trim
    • Bed Molding (Small Crown)
    • Decorative Trim
    • Wood Filler


    Back To Top Of Page 

    Before You Hurt Yourself,  Read our Disclaimer.

    Search Page

    Home  What's New  Project Archives  H.I. World

     Rants  Contact Us





    Copyright 1999, 2005

    Written July 30, 1999 
    Revised January 10, 2005