How to Remove Door Trim and Other Molding Without Breaking It

Plaster Cornice Moulding
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In so many home remodeling projects, the first step is to remove your trim. And often, you don't want to get rid of the old trim because it can be hard to find a perfect match at the lumberyard or home center. However, trim can be difficult to remove without splintering and breaking it. Trim is thin and often made of MDF or softwoods. It was not made for the entire cycle of installation, removal, and re-installation. But there's a carpenter's trick that works almost every time, thanks to the small heads on the finish nails trim is installed with.

Is Your Trim Worth Saving?

In some cases, your time may be better spent trashing old trim and installing new trim. A strong case can be made for bypassing salvage operations altogether, particularly when the old trim is made of medium-density fiberboard or MDF.

The reason is that MDF is so brittle that pulling it outwards to gain leverage will easily snap the trim. If you decide to dispose of your trim instead of saving it, you can simply break it by hand into foot-long pieces for your household garbage bin. New MDF door trim, for example, can be purchased for less than $15, or you can opt for equally inexpensive finger-jointed softwood molding.

Unless the existing trim is distinctive, antique, expensive, and thus worth keeping, you might be better off sending it to landfill. While hardly a green idea, this can save you some anguish. As a rule of thumb, you stand a better chance of removing the trim without damage if the trim is made of real wood.

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

Instructions

Most interior trim is attached with finish nails or brads, both of which are thin and have small, round heads. Trim fastened with these nails can be pulled off without removing the nails. With some carefully prying on the trim, the nail heads get pulled right through the wood, leaving just a small hole on the face of the trim. Then, you can pull each nail from the wall or pound it in.

Score the Paint

Trim is usually caulked or painted to the wall. Score the seam between the trim and the wall with a utility knife. This also helps to prevent peeling of the paint when the trim is pulled away.

Protect the Wall

Lay down a wood wedge, scrap block, or other kind of protective material against the wall where the leverage point for the pry bar will be resting. This will prevent the wall from getting dented. Thin pry bars are helpful when removing trim. The thinner the pry bar, the better.

Start at an End

Begin prying from either end of the trim, slipping the edge of the pry bar under the trim and prying against the wood wedge or block. Carefully pry outward, letting the finish nails slide through the holes in the trim. 

Work Your Way Down

Once the end is loosened and partially pulled from the wall, move down a bit and continue prying. Repeat the same process all the way down the trim board. The goal is to gradually loosen the entire piece without bending it too much, which can break it. If necessary, loosen the trim all the way, then go back to your starting point and pry further to remove each section entirely free of the nails.

Remove or Pound in the Nails

Once you have the trim piece removed, you can pull out protruding finish nails with a hammer or linesman’s pliers. You can also use a small pry bar or tongue-and-groove pliers, levering the tool against a wedge or block to protect the wall surface (it's also a good idea to use a block with a hammer). Alternatively, you can take the opposite tack and pound the finish nails flush to the wall with a hammer.

Remove All Nails From the Trim 

If are any nails still sticking out of the trim, because they pulled out of the wall, remove the nails by pulling them out through the back side of the trim. Place the trim face-down on a work surface, and hold it down it firmly with one hand. Grab the nail with a pair of linesman's pliers or tongue-and-groove pliers and pull it through the backside of the wood.

Sometimes it's possible to carefully hammer the nail back out through the front side, but often this ends up chipping the wood; pulling through the back side is safer.