To get a good fit at molding joints in inside corners, an ingenious technique called coping can be used.
A finished coped joint appears to be a perfect miter, in which the ends of two mating pieces of molding are cut at 45 degrees. In coping, however, only one of the pieces needs to be cut.
Here's how to cope a joint:
* Put the molding in a miter box. Make a 45-degree cut in the end to be joined, using a back saw or fine-toothed handsaw. This cut exposes the profile of the molding on its front side and leaves a wedge of wood extending beyond the profile.
* Remove the molding from the miter box. Outline the profile with a pencil for better visibility while completing the cut. Position the molding on a workbench or other surface so the cut end can be trimmed.
* Use a coping saw -- a handsaw with a very narrow blade and shaped spine -- to cut along the profile of the molding and remove the wedge-shaped piece of wood left by the miter saw that extends beyond the profile. It is best to angle the coping saw slightly to remove a little more wood from the back of the molding than the front, but the front profile must be followed exactly.
The coped cut should form a duplicate of the shape of the face of the molding that the coped piece will join. The coped piece and its mate can then be butted together neatly at the inside corner. Test fit the pieces, and trim the coped joint if necessary with sandpaper or a sharp knife.
A properly coped joint will fit well even if the walls don't meet at exactly 90 degrees (few walls do).
Some other tips for installing molding:
* When marking molding for saw cuts, make a small X or other mark on the waste side of the cutting line. This ensures that the cut won't be made on the wrong side of the line and produce a molding that is short of the intended length.
* When possible, paint or finish molding before nailing it in place. Some touching up is almost always necessary after installation, but the result of prefinishing will be better appearance and less mess.
* Molding is installed with finishing nails, slender nails with small heads. Even though the nails are thin, molding is often so fragile and easily split that it is best to drill a pilot hole through the molding before inserting a nail. The pilot hole should be slightly smaller than the diameter of the nail.
* Drive nails until the heads almost reach the wood, then use a nail set to countersink the heads slightly below the surface. Fill the holes over the nail heads with wood putty, and sand and touch up when the putty is dry, or use a colored putty stick that matches the molding and needs no touching up.
A new type of raised-panel drywall, called Fresco, gives the appearance of expensive paneling or wainscoting with less work and at less cost. A Fresco pattern designed for ceilings also is available.
Fresco drywall panels are embossed with rectangles or squares that closely resemble raised panels in wood frames. A sample installation I saw, finished with paint, was strikingly attractive. The panels are 5/8 -inch thick and available in several sizes, including a 48-by-32-inch wainscot size priced at about $25.
The panels are installed like conventional drywall, and can be attached directly to studs with screws or nails, or glued over existing wallboard with panel adhesive. Joints are taped and finished with joint compound.
Fresco is sold at some home centers and lumber yards. It is made by Pittcon Industries, 6409 Rhode Island Ave., Riverdale, Md. 20737; call (800) 637-7638.
Readers' questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, c/o The Baltimore Sun, Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.