Caulking Your Trimwork Before the Painting

Caulking is an extremely underrated task. People either don’t know about it, or don’t appreciate the difference maker that it is. I have covered caulking and different types of caulks in this article here, but this time I would like to focus on caulking before painting your trimwork.

Painted trimwork is the trim of choice these days because it is cheap, easy to work with, and paints very well. However, the homes and do it yourselfers that I have come across don’t realize the way it is supposed to be painted. Convenience gets in the way. After all, it is a lot easier to paint the baseboards and trim work before installation and call it complete.

Here are some cases I have seen in the past-

  • Some people pre-finish the trimwork with 2 coats of paint and call it done.
  • Some people go one step further and once the installation is complete, they putty the holes and touch them up without caulking. 
  • And then there are those who paint the trimwork after installation without any caulking or puttying.

The problem with these very common scenarios is that the trimwork does not look finished. That is simply because it’s not finished!

After installation there are numerous issues that need to be resolved and cannot be left:

  • Nail holes caused by the nail gun (volcanoes)
  • Cracks exist where trimwork meets trimwork or trimwork meets wall
  • Field/Scrarf joints

So why should you caulk the trimwork in the first place? Well the answers are simple:

  • Make it look like one piece
  • Create a seal (especially important on the top of baseboards)
  • Cracks break up pieces and look unfinished – fix that problem!

In a home the most common areas that need to be caulked are:

  • where baseboard meets wall and inside corners of baseboard
  • door jam casing meets wall
  • door jam casing meets door frame
  • vertical pieces of door frame meet horizontal pieces (both sides of door stop as well as the 90 degree joints of door stop
  • window casing meets wall and vinyl window

In cases where custom multiple piece trim work is used, it is necessary to caulk all cracks where trim piece meets trim piece. Caulking needs to happen after installation, but before painting. A very common malpractice (even by home builders!!) is to buy the same color of caulking as the color of the trim and wait to caulk at the very end.

This is extremely bad because the texture of dried caulking loves to collect dust and anything else in the air. The tube will probably say “non-yellowing” or something, but in a year or so it will look horrible due to the amount of dust and other particles the caulking absorbs. So make sure you paint over caulking at all times!

The most important characteristics that you should be looking for in caulking is paintability and ease of application. You don’t want a caulking that is too runny, or too thick. The best caulkings come out of the gun wet enough to wipe it with your finger once and leave a smooth transition.

Don’t bother with buying those silly toothpaste tubes of caulking. They are a huge time waster. Make sure you are using a caulking gun, preferably dripless (go to your local paint expert store for more info).

Once the tube is loaded in the gun you need to cut a clean hole! It can make the difference between a clean caulking job, and a very messy caulking job. Cut a hole just smaller than 1/8″ and your job shouldn’t be too messy. Without going into too much detail, the caulker needs to keep in mind that long, single, uninterrupted strokes in both application and wipe are essential to a good job.

On the wipe, if too much caulking is collecting on your finger then you are applying too much (hole is too big or your passing too slow). If after the finger wipe the crack is just covered, with a nice small curved transition between materials, you have done a good job. A bad caulking job can be worse than no caulking job!

I encourage all who read this information to implement the use of caulking in your painting practices. It is essential to a perfect looking paint job, and is sure to result in compliments from the fussiest of people. Remember, caulk all cracks, paint over caulking at all times, and smooth transitions. Those are a professional’s secrets…