How to Install Shoe Molding

Shoe Moldings Finish Off Baseboard Installations
Baseboard molding installations are very often finished off with a small piece of molding that covers the gap between the bottom of the baseboards and the floor. Two types of molding can be used here: shoe moldings (also called base shoe, or 1/8-round molding) or quarter-round molding. Shoe moldings and quarter-round moldings look very similar, but the quarter-round is a slightly larger piece—a full one-quarter of a round dowel.

Shoe moldings or quarter-round are not always a part of the baseboard installation. With ranch moldings and other small baseboard moldings, they are often omitted. Shoe or quarter-rounds are more commonly used with larger, more substantial baseboards, especially those that are built-up with cap moldings at the top. Trim carpenters like to use these bottom trim pieces because they give the project a crisper finished look, and they also reduce the need for complicated baseboard cuts. These bottom moldings can also help hide flaws in the flooring installation since they cover up the gaps at the bottom of the baseboard.

Quarter-Round and Shoe-Molding Defined
Both types of trim are long, flexible lengths of wood (hemlock, oak, pine, etc.), MDF, or even polystyrene. As the name implies, a quarter-round molding, when viewed from the end, will appear to be a full one-quarter of a full circle, with both flat faces the same width. A base shoe molding, on the other hand, has a slightly different profile, with one flat face larger than the other. This larger face is the one that fits vertically against the baseboard, with the smaller face resting against the floor. Both trim moldings start out as long round dowels that are then rip-cut into their respective shapes.

Both types of molding are stocked in very long lengths, racked vertically at the home improvement store or lumber center. The long length is so that you can use full-length pieces to cover most walls. Although you can join shorter pieces to cover a long wall using scarf-joints, most trim carpenters try to avoid this, since full-length pieces give a smoother look.
Shoe and quarter-round moldings are quite flexible, intended to bend and conform to the floor profile. Don’t worry about buying perfectly straight pieces; they can easily be bent into place during installation.

Uses for Base Shoe and Quarter-Round Moldings
These trim moldings are requisite for some baseboard molding looks, such as large built-up baseboards, but their main usefulness is in masking floor imperfections in older homes where the flooring may be quite uneven. Without shoe moldings, a baseboard must be carefully scribed to conform to the peaks and dips of an uneven floor—gaps that are covered nicely with a molding installed along the floor.
In the demonstration shown here, the installation will feature both inside and outside miters to join pieces of moldings at the corners. This requires you to cut the ends of the moldings cut at 45° in order to make the 90° corners. Our demonstration will also show how to cut and install a return—a small piece that can be used to finish off an exposed end of the trim.

Tools and Materials Needed

  • Quarter round or shoe molding.
  • Paint, or stain and varnish (as desired)
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Electric miter saw, or manual miter box and back saw
  • Hearing protectors (if using a power saw)
  • Electric brad nailer
  • Wood glue

Glue the Return Piece
Nailing a return piece is not practical, as the wood will split when a nail is driven. Instead, apply wood glue to the mitered edge of the return piece, where it meets the first piece. Do not glue the wall side or floor side of the return piece.
Press the return piece in place so the mitered edges meet, and allow the pieces to sit undisturbed until the glue dries.

Finishing Touches
Although rarely needed when you are using a finish/brad nailer, if any finish nail heads remain protruding from the trim, use a nail set and hammer to lightly tap on the nail heads until they are driven down just below the surface of the trim.

Touch up the paint or finish on the trim, if necessary. If there are small gaps between molding pieces where the corners were slightly out of square, you can fill them with matching wood putty. With painted trim, you can use caulk to fill these gaps.