How to Install Shoe Molding or Quarter-Round and Cut a Return

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    How to Install Shoe Molding or Quarter-Round

    Quarter Round Installed on Baseboard - 164003254
    Quarter Round Installed on Baseboard. Getty / Spiderstock

    Shoe molding and quarter-round trim both get called into action when there are gaps between the baseboard and flooring.  They are not a flooring necessity, and in many cases the baseboards are close enough to the floor that they are not used.  But flooring installers like to add them because they give the project a crisper, finished look and it reduces the need for complicated baseboard cuts.  You might like them, too, as they give DIY floor installers a little extra edge, covering up minor...MORE mistakes.

    Quarter Round and Shoe Molding Defined

    Both trims are long, flexible lengths of wood (hemlock, oak, pine, etc.) or MDF or even polystyrene. When you are at the home improvement store, they will be stored vertically.  Do not spend a lot of time looking through the trim rack for straight quarter-round, because this is difficult, if not impossible, to find.  By its very nature, quarter round flexes and curves.  

    Both begin as large, round dowels that are then cut into quarters. The main value of this trim is flexibility: it can bend to match the profile of wavy floors.

    Where They Get Used:

    Often called "the Band-Aid of home remodeling," these trim pieces make your life easier because they save you from cutting baseboards precisely to the profile of wavy floors.

    If you have a straight baseboard atop a wavy floor--a common thing in old homes--you can cut the bottom of the baseboard to match all of the floor's troughs and peaks. This looks fantastic, but it is difficult to make it look right.

    These trim pieces save you from that far worse alternative, caulking under baseboards.  This is a highly unreliable way to cover up gaps, for two reasons:  you end up smearing caulk on your floor covering and eventually the caulk will shrink up, requiring another caulking.

    You Want Them Long Because:

    Extreme length is intentional since it covers the entire expanse of a wall. If you have the ability to transport them, purchase pieces that are as long as your wall.

    For shorter pieces (8 feet long or shorter) you can scarf-join several lengths of trim to cover one wall.

    Tools and Materials Needed

    • Quarter round or shoe molding.  Longer is considered better (16 feet long, typically), since this means fewer joins.  
    • Electric brad nailer
    • Electric miter saw or manual miter saw and box
    • Stain or clear coat (if installing natural wood trim)
    • Pencil
    • Construction glue
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  • 02 of 14

    Pre-Finish Trim Before Installation (Optional)

    Stained Shoe Molding and Trim
    Stained Shoe Molding and Trim. Getty / Igor Skrbic

    Summary:  As an option, you may want to stain and coat your trim before installing.


    During installation, with all the cutting and nailing, it is inevitable that your molding will get banged up a little or scratched. Does this mean you should wait until after installation in order to paint or stain your trim?

    It is a good idea to finish your stain-grade molding or paint it before installation. This way, you are able to stain or paint the majority of the trim without worrying about slopping...MORE onto the floor or wall.

    It is easy to stain and seal shoe molding and trim simply by lightly wiping a rag down the length of it.

    After installation, you will need to touch up your trim. Do this with a small brush.

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  • 03 of 14

    Mark Your Cut Point and Angle of Cut

    Mark First Cut Point and Angle
    Mark First Cut Point and Angle. Lee Wallender

    Summary:  Mark where you will cut with a pencil.


    In this example, you want the molding to wrap around the post and make a 90-degree angle.

    With a pencil, make a mark point right at the end of the wall, or in this case, the post.

    One helpful tip: lightly mark the general angle of the cut you will be making.

    This mark does not have to be exact or even straight. It is just a reminding that you will be cutting in this direction, not the opposite direction. This may sound overly fastidious, but...MORE this trick will save you from cutting your angles the wrong direction.

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  • 04 of 14

    Make Your First Angled Cut with Miter Saw

    Make First Cut with Miter Saw
    Make First Cut with Miter Saw. Lee Wallender

    Summary:  Cut the first piece with your miter saw.


    This is where the manual miter saw and box really excel. For these small moldings, it is more accurate and safe to use a manual, rather than an electric, miter saw.

    Make sure that you "preserve" the cut point that you made on the molding. In other words, do not cut exactly on the cut point or the molding will come up short.

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  • 05 of 14

    Set First Angle in Place

    Set First Piece in Place
    Set First Piece in Place. Lee Wallender

    Summary:  Put the first piece in place but do not fasten yet.


    Lay the first angle down and admire your work. Do not nail into place yet. You want this piece to remain movable until you have your second piece to work with.

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  • 06 of 14

    Cut Second Angled Piece

    Cut Second Angled Piece
    Cut Second Angled Piece. Lee Wallender

    Summary:  Cut the second angled piece with your hand miter saw and box.


    Cut your second angled piece. You do not need to measure anything: just make the cut.

    It is paramount, though, that you cut in the opposite angle from your first molding's cut. So, this piece will be 90 degrees away from your first piece's angle.

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  • 07 of 14

    Set Second Angled Piece in Place

    Set Second Angled Piece in Place
    Set Second Angled Piece in Place. Lee Wallender

    Summary:  Put your second part of the angle in place.


    Set your second angled piece of shoe molding or quarter round in place on the floor. The two angles should touch. Hold the two firmly in place with one hand.

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  • 08 of 14

    Nail the Molding in Place

    Nail Molding in Place
    Nail Molding in Place. Lee Wallender

    Summary:  Nail the trim in place with your electric nailer.


    Your preferred tool for nailing shoe molding or quarter round should be an electric finish or brad nailer. With a hammer and finish nails, it is too difficult to hold the molding in place and hold a tiny finish nail in place and hammer--all at the same time. More importantly, the hammering will displace the molding.

    Attempt to angle your nailer downward, as close to horizontal as possible. In the case of a wall, you will first need...MORE to locate studs with a stud finder and mark the locations with painter's tape. In the case of this all-wood railing, it is possible to nail at any point.

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  • 09 of 14

    Mark Cut Point and Angle For Return Piece

    Mark Cut Point for Return
    Mark Cut Point for Return. Lee Wallender

    Summary:  Mark the point on the trim where you want the return to go.


    A return is a small piece of molding that neatly finishes off the end of a piece of quarter-round or shoe molding. It is also found on baseboards and crown molding. It is not absolutely necessary to cut a return, but it is a nice little finishing touch that makes your work look more professional.

    Lay down a piece of molding that is several inches longer than the length you need. Mark your cut point on the bottom of the...MORE molding, not the top. Like before, lay down a light pencil mark to show your angle.

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  • 10 of 14

    How The Return Piece of Trim Will Run

    How the Return Piece Will Run
    How the Return Piece Will Run. Lee Wallender

    Summary:  Use a return on your trim to provide a stop point at the end of the trim run.


    Shown here is how the return piece will run (prior to cutting it).

    Just think of the return as being yet another 90-degree angle your molding will make. But instead of wrapping around a corner, it is a little bit too short and so it runs directly into the corner, flat against the wall.

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  • 11 of 14

    Cut Return Piece With Miter Saw

    Cut Return Piece
    Cut Return Piece. Lee Wallender

    Summary:  Hand-cut a return piece with the miter saw and box.


    Again, the manual miter saw and box excel for cutting these tiny return pieces.

    With an electric miter saw, the force of the rapidly turning saw blade will break up the return piece. Hand sawing is a more gentle way to do this.

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  • 12 of 14

    Add Glue to Return Piece

    Put Glue on Return Piece
    Put Glue on Return Piece. Lee Wallender

    Summary:  Add a small amount of wood glue to the return.


    The return is the one piece of your shoe molding or quarter round that does not get nailed. Nailing would shatter this tiny piece of wood.

    Instead, add one drop of wood glue to the side of the return that will be touching your molding. Do not put glue on any other side. If you glue your return to the wall, it will be difficult to pry off if you should need to remove the moldings in the future.

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  • 13 of 14

    Glue the Return Piece in Place

    Glue the Return in Place
    Glue the Return in Place. Lee Wallender

    Summary:  Push the glued return in place.


    Gently push the return piece in place. You may notice that it does not fit perfectly. If the return is too small, simply cut another piece that is a little bit larger.

    Even if the problem isn't a poorly cut return, it still might not fit into place will. The shoe or quarter round might be nailed too loosely into place. Hammer into place more tightly and try pushing the return into place again.

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  • 14 of 14

    Set Protruding Brads or Nails

    Set Protruding Brad Nails
    Set Protruding Brads or Finish Nails. Lee Wallender

    Summary:  Tap in any protruding brads/nails with a nail set.


    After the glue has dried, it is always good to go back and check out your brads or nails to see if the heads are set.

    "Set" means that they are slightly sunk below the surface of the wood, or at least "at level" with the wood.

    Brad nails are too thin for a manual nailset. Use the large bolt turned backward as a nail set instead.