Guide to Molding Types and Materials
When properly used and coupled with a little creativity, wooden molding can do quite a bit to increase the aesthetic value of a home. It can be used to make rooms look smaller, bigger, richer, older, newer or cleaner. Understanding what different types of molding are used for and which type best suits your needs will allow you to walk confidently into your local home improvement store and select exactly what you need to complete your project.
The most common types of molding are made from pine, oak or a composite material called MDF. MDF is an abbreviation for medium density fiber board. MDF is the least expensive option and it is often found in new construction settings where the molding is going to be painted throughout the entire house. Because it has no natural wood grain, it gives a very nice smooth finished surface, and in cases where the molding is to be finished with high gloss paint, this works very well.
Pine is the least expensive of the natural wood moldings that are available. While it can be stained and varnished, it is typically inconsistent in the way that it accepts the stain. Some parts of a pine board can be harder than others and those places do not soak up the stain as readily as the softer parts. This creates a splotchy look that many homeowners do not like. Pine serves best in a situation where the molding is to be painted, but with a hint of wood grain showing through that will suit the look nicely.
Oak is the molding of choice in the majority of homes where it is to be stained and varnished. It is available at almost any home center, whereas other hardwood moldings, like maple, can be hard to find. Oak takes stain beautifully, and in a case where the home has hardwood floors, it can usually be stained to match the color of the flooring surface.
Molding Types and Functions
There are several different styles of molding, and each type has a specific purpose. The most common types are baseboards and casings. These really are a must-have in order for even the most basic room to appear finished.
Window and door casings serve to hide the opening that the window and door have been installed into. They sit flat on the wall and cover a portion of the jamb so the installation is seamless. There are many different profiles and sizes and the only limiting factor is personal taste. Typically a wider molding will look better in a bigger room, but most people want to maintain a consistency throughout the home. So don't just think one room at a time, think about what will look best in the scope of your entire house.
The baseboards are what cover the joint where the floor meets a wall. The most common size is 3" to 5" tall, and as with the casings, there are many different profiles that can be chosen. Typically the profile that you choose should be from the same family as your window and door casings. When applied where a hardwood floor meets a wall, it is common to use a piece of quarter round molding in front of the baseboard to give a little more depth and a smoother transition into the wall. It also helps to cover small mistakes that may have been made by the floor installer.
The more intricate moldings that go around the ceiling are called crown moldings. In some parts of the country they may also be known as cornice molding. Some crown moldings are constructed of just one piece of wood that has been milled to have an intricate profile. Others are made up of multiple pieces that must be installed in the correct order to give a specific look. These multiple piece constructions are called stacks. Crown molding can be a great way to add aesthetic value to your home. It can make a room look bigger, richer, and much more inviting and relaxing.
A chair rail is another very popular style of molding that can dress up a room quickly. It gets its name from its function. It is typically applied in a band around the room somewhere on the flat surface of the wall. Its job was to protect the plaster wall from being gouged and scarred by acting as a bumper for the dining room chairs as they were pushed in and out from the table. The most common height for this is 32" from the floor, but it can be placed anywhere. Some homeowners use it to form the break between different types of wall coverings. They may put wallpaper on the bottom, then a band of chair rail, and then finish the remaining upper surface of the wall with paint. Any combination is possible.
As with any decorative addition to your home, personal taste plays as large a part in your selection as anything else. If, however, you are armed with a basic knowledge of what different styles of molding are commonly used for, you may be even better prepared to take the creative steps necessary to increase the value of your home's interior.
Brian Simkins is a freelance writer living in Chicago. He enjoys using his 14 years of home improvement experience to educate and equip new home owners.