Removing Baseboards

Posted: January 12, 2008 in How-To By: Jim McClain

How many times have you damaged the walls trying to get the old baseboard off? Maybe you’ve seen the results of someone else’s efforts to pry the base off the wall. Or those craters on the face of the base when the nails have been pulled out? Who would have thought you’d ruin the board if you pulled a nail out the same way you put it in?

Now, far be it from me to think this article will be some great teaching instrument for the already accomplished flooring professional. It’s not aimed at pros because they already know this stuff. This is for the new helper, or maybe the home owner do-it-yourselfer and home improvement wannabe. It’s for anyone who has slapped their forehead when they realized it’s gonna take more than just a little bit of new base to cover them damages.



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Click on any of these pictures to see larger versions.
Knife through the paint seal between wall and baseDon’t just go in there with a pry bar and start rippin’. It’s gonna end up pulling paint off the wall – probably higher up the wall than your new base will cover. More times than not, people put the old base back on, or use new base that is the same height. To minimize any damage, slice through the paint right where it meets the top of the base. This will separate the baseboard and wall. If you install the new flooring over the old (that’s a whole other topic), replacing the base will hide that fine cut line. Even if it isn’t hidden, it will get sealed with a light coat of caulking when you install the base and paint.

Use a sharp chisel to get the base startedThe greatest damage seems to occur when a pry bar is used against soft sheetrock walls. I’ve seen (‘course, I’ve never done it myself ;) ) big-ass holes put in walls when there was a combination of thin, old sheetrock and no stud behind it. Big mess. I use a broadknife to protect the wall. It’s like a really big putty knife – you could use a wide putty knife. But use something to protect the wall, or you’ll be doing some major repairs.

Use a broadknife to protect the wall as you pryStart to get the top edge of the base away from the wall by using a sharp chisel. You only need enough room to get you pry bar in. Try to get as centered a depth with the pry bar as you can. You want the bottom and the top of the base to pull away from the wall evenly. Work slowly because some times you find a spot of paint you didn’t cut through well enough and it’s sticking to the base as you pull it away. Grab the knife and relieve it.



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Pull the nail through the BACK of the baseboardWhen base is installed, the nails are usually counter-sunk and the hole is filled and painted over. Maybe it’s been painted a few times. You go banging’ the nail through the front of the base, just because that’s the way it went in, you’re gonna end up with a huge hole. Then not only will you have to fill the big hole you just made, you ain’t gonna find a finish nail big enough to use in the same hole, so you’re gonna have to counter-sink, fill and paint over a new hole. Just doesn’t seem worth it to me. Use a pair of pliers or something like these end nippers I use. Grab the nail shank and gently pull it through the back of the board. Most of the time, it will leave a clean, undamaged face on the base. Your new nail will be the only counter-sinking and filling required.

Don't forget where it goes - number wall and baseThe last thing you want to do at the end of the job is to try to remember where all that baseboard molding goes (or is it baseboard moulding – I don’t know). Some expanses of wall might have more than one piece of base. Well, it’s a simple solution and it only takes an extra moment at time of removal. Number the damn thing. Number the wall too. The time you save is tremendous. ‘Course, if you’re workin’ by the hour… :| And don’t forget, sometimes a 6 and a 9 look similar, depending on whether you’re standing on your head or not. Underline them so you know what’s what.



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Ever'thing you need - and then someThat’s pretty much all there is to it. You just have to be a little conscientious, a little careful and have the right tools. These are the tools I gave my helper. The hammer/hatchet was more versatile in my work than just a hammer, but the hammer end of it is all you need for this job. Use a pry bar that is suitable for the task – too big and you might cause damage anyway. Many people have most of these tools, or acceptable replacements handy. You shouldn’t have to go out an’ buy anything special just to remove baseboard.

Don’t forget, click on any of these pictures to see larger versions.

Robert, my helper in training on this jobBefore I go, I really need to thank Robert here for being the “model” on this project. Those who know me well, know I much prefer prettier models, but he did fine. In fact, although Robert left my employ after a few months, I was surprised he stuck it out as long as he did. Thanks, Robert, you were a damn decent helper an’ I’m sorry you had to put up with my shit. I can be an ass at times, and God knows I wasn’t very good at teaching in the real world. Who knows, maybe I ain’t very good a teacher in the ether either. But I enjoyed writing this and that’s all that counts… Well, isn’t it??? :D

33 replies to “Removing Baseboards”

  1. Tammie Says:

    This was very helpful to me. I have already started and put a small hole in the sheetrock with the prybar, putting something behind it to protect it is a good idea, and I will do that as I finish the room.
    Thanks, you are a good teacher.

  2. Chris Sheafer Says:

    Nice artical!

  3. Robb Stephenson Says:

    Very well done! Very helpful! I appreciated your humility toward Robert as well…

  4. Cindy Says:

    Thanks,

    I have a few rooms to do this on, and just needed a few hints before I messed up the walls.

  5. New Owner Says:

    Hey,

    I’m removing some baseboard and it is lodged in between the wood flooring and the wall. I’m finding between the nails and the expansion of the wood it is very hard to get the baseboard out. Any tips?

    Thanks

  6. Jim McClain Says:

    I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean. You might find the best help for this at The Floor Pro Community – that is a message board I run to help consumers, DIYers and my fellow professionals. There are a lot of flooring professionals that enjoy helping people like you with all kinds of flooring problems. You’ll see a link to there in the side panel on the left.

    Now, you may be describing a situation where hardwood was installed when your baseboard was still on the wall. Maybe a quarter round molding was used to hide the gap. But the gap may not have been sufficient and the wood flooring may be jambed tight against the base.

    In this case, the base might not be able to be saved. You could use a wood chisel to cut through the base and then to pry out the broken part below the surface of the floor. If you want to try to save the base, you would have to use a hacksaw blade to slip behind the base to cut through the nails. Wiggle the base out. You can use a nail set from the back of the base to get the rest of the nail out, or just paint/stain over the puttied head when you replace the base.

    If that doesn’t address your particular problem, The Floor Pro Community might help. Registration is free, or you can just ask your questions without registering (but you wouldn’t deprive me of a new member, would you? :) )

    Jim

  7. New Owner Says:

    Jim,

    You captured my situation perfectly. I’m not trying to save the base and I will let you know how the whole thing comes out.

    Thanks again man.
    New Owner

  8. Jim Schaeffer Says:

    Exactly what I was looking for. Started on small powder room wall, did some immediate damage to the drywall and STOPPED there. Should have Googled 1st!

  9. 1hunid Says:

    Im in the process of installing wood laminate floors and was gonna avoid pulling up my baseboards because I figured it would be extra work. I came to my senses and found this article. Very clear and concise. Great stuff. I will keep you posted on how this worked out for me.

  10. Jessica Says:

    This is really helpful. We’re redoing my daughter’s room, and were planning on replacing the baseboard completely anyway. I was looking for the best way to remove the baseboard that’s in there, and found this article. So far this is the best way I’ve seen!

  11. Jim McClain Says:

    Thanks Jessica. If you have any questions or concerns about your flooring, the best place to get answers is The Floor Pro Community. Good luck on your remodeling project.

  12. Tab Says:

    Hey Jim, thank you very much for publishing this article. We are ripping up our carpet tomorrow and I thought “I wonder if there are any tips on removing the baseboards?” Your tips will be extremely helpful tomorrow.

    Thanks!!

  13. barbara Says:

    help. the builder did not remove the baseboards when they put the hardwood floors in. How can I cut out the baseboards to replace them?

  14. Jim McClain Says:

    Hi Barbara. If there is an acceptable expansion gap between the edge of the new hardwood and the baseboard, you may want to just add a quarter-round molding to the existing base to cover the gap. If the base is damaged, or the hardwood has no expansion gap, you can remove the existing base. It will be time consuming, but you can use a sharp wood chisel and hammer. Place the chisel’s beveled edge flat on the floor where it meets the baseboard. The handle will be sticking up at an angle. Hammer through the base as best you can and then follow the same directions I gave for regular base removal.

    There will be the left-over broken bottom part of the base left and maybe some of the nails. Pry out the base pieces and the nails, being careful not to damage the wall or the hardwood.

    Now you can install new base – be sure to leave that expansion space by putting the new base flush with the top surface of the hardwood. It’s very likely that you will need to add the quarter-round molding too. The finished project should make for an attractive and professional looking finish. You can find even more support for issues like this from hundreds of flooring professionals at The Floor Pro Community Forums.

  15. Kimberly Says:

    Thanks for this DIY on baseboards. Luckily my baseboards are brand spanking new and no paint or caulking was done yet. My husband and I get to remove these prior to our floors being done (concrete staining). To avoid more unnecessary funds spent on the construction people who put them on when they should not have in the first place, we are removing baseboards by ourselves. If I want the job done correctly, I learned that sometimes I can rely on the professional and then there are those times I just can’t rely on the professional to do things the way I need them done. I have no choice but to research and do it myself, unfortunately. You have taught/written well. Yours by far is the best step by step instructions and it’s well written where “I get it”! Although i know baseboards I have are a “no-brainer” but I want to salvalge as much as I can of the baseboards to reuse and not make new holes in my new drywall. Thank you.

  16. Flooring cleats sometimes going into face of board (Page 3), a discussion at The Floor Pro Community Says:

    [...] By the way, this kind of tool makes a great nail puller for a lot of different applications, including misfired cleats or staples in hardwood flooring. Rest the shoulder of the tool on the subfloor, grip the cleat (not too tight) and rock it over. I showed its use in an article I did about R&R baseboards: How To Remove Baseboards Without Damaging the Wall or Base | a Flooring Professional [...]

  17. tim Says:

    Thanks that was useful

  18. Baseboard help!!!!!!, a discussion at The Floor Pro Community Says:

    [...] Pro Community. I feel like I have another friend in Minnesota and I've never even been there. Glad my baseboard article could be a little help. I'm especially pleased that some of the advice you got here echoed my own. [...]

  19. Sarah Kelley Says:

    Now here is a tricky situation. They tiled my house up to the baseboards…so they are stuck in grout. How do I go about getting them out of the grout and away from the wall without messing up the walls. I tried one area but completely messed up the wall. :( Should I just use a saw of some sort and cut them out or is there a tool I need to get to get the grout off/away from the baseboards?

  20. Jim McClain Says:

    That is a nasty situation. The base should have been removed before the tile was installed. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to remove the base now. Almost any method could cause damage to the wall, the tile or the grout. There are power saws that can make quick work of this, but I doubt you’d find them for rent. A RotoZip tool may be your best bet. Try to cut the base flush with the surface of the tile, then pry the base off as described in the article. Be careful to tilt the blade so it does not hit the tile/grout You can always sell the tool on ebay if you don’t need it anymore.

    Ask other pros what they would do at The Floor Pro Community. Good luck.

  21. Trouble removing baseboard, a discussion at The Floor Pro Community Says:

    [...] the wall as normal. Install the new flooring and then new baseboards. Glad you liked my article, How To Remove Baseboards Without Damaging the Wall or Base | a Flooring Professional Welcome to TFP. [...]

  22. Tonja Says:

    Thank you! I’m a DIYer and this article is awesome

  23. Patti Sills Says:

    Thank you. This was one of the most informative pieces on something that seems so simple, but now I know better. I am veeeerrry new to home improvement, out of necessity, and so it would help me if you would lable all those tools. Like I said, very very new…And you might put those at the top since it gives an idea initially what is all involved and what I need to buy at the store. Just a suggestion. Otherwise, I’ll review your other how-tos, as well.

  24. David Ichikawa Says:

    Jim – thanks for the great tips. They go along way towards making up for my lack of experience.

  25. removing baseboards BEFORE installing tile, a discussion at The Floor Pro Community Says:

    [...] in preparation for new tile. I wrote an article about it for our sister site, aFloorPro.com: How To Remove Baseboards Without Damaging the Wall or Base | a Flooring Professional We have some tile guys here too, that might have specific ideas about baseboards and tile. Glad to [...]

  26. what to do with baseboards when installing Konecto Prestige?, a discussion at The Floor Pro Community Says:

    [...] beautiful new floor and not frame it in a nice new, classy baseboard? This is an article I wrote: How To Remove Baseboards Without Damaging the Wall or Base | a Flooring Professional [...]

  27. Vera Says:

    this was very helpful! Thank you

  28. Rex Says:

    Perfect instructions, just what I needed. Thanks for sharing.

  29. Christine Says:

    Great article and very helpful. Only wished I had decided to Google before I was halfway done with this job. This is my third bathroom that I have done and the first with difficult baseboards. Now, what is the best way to repair the holes in the wall?

  30. Jim McClain Says:

    I don’t know how extensive the damage is, but try this fix: Get some of that sticky, mesh-like drywall tape (unfortunately, you prob’ly have to buy a whole roll, but it’s not too expensive) and stretch a small piece over each damaged section. Now use a 2 or 3″ putty knife to smear some pre-mixed drywall mud/spackle over the tape. Allow the mud to seep through the mesh. Let it dry, then smooth another coat over it with a wider knife. You may have to sand and repeat 2 or 3 times, but let it dry completely between coats. Paint a little primer over the patch, then a couple coats of your wall color and you’re done. Smaller holes/dents may not need the mesh tape, but larger holes will need more extensive repair with a small piece of new drywall screwed to a thin nailer inside the hole. Tape around the patch and finish as described. Hope that helps.

  31. Greg Says:

    Twelve years ago I had a company install wood flooring while working overseas. They pushed the wood flooring into the baseboards and did not leave any space for expansion. I didn’t know better so I ddin’t say anything. Now the baseboards are coming away from wall and walls are cracking in the corners. I’m trying to remove the baseboard without ruining wood floor but it is a tough slog. Any ideas?

  32. Jim McClain Says:

    Hard to say for certain because I can’t see your particular problem. You might be able to use a wood chisel to cut into the base where it meets the flooring. That will make removing the top part of the base easier. Then you may have to pry the remaining base out of the gully between the flooring and wall. Install new base and finish with a quarter-round or base shoe molding.

    Perhaps the opinions of other pros will be different. I invite you to join The Floor Pro Community – registration is free and relatively simple – and then ask these same questions in the Hardwood & Laminate Q&A forum. You will be able to upload pictures too, which may help determine the best course of action. Thanks, Jim

  33. Greg Says:

    Thanks for the prompt reply! The combination of a wood chisel to split the baseboard and a Dremel tool with a metal cutting blade to cut the nails has made the job a lot easier.

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