Remove Baseboards Without Damage

How many times have you damaged the walls trying to remove baseboards?

Maybe you’ve seen the damaging results of someone else’s efforts to remove baseboards from the wall. Or those craters on the face of the base when the nails have been pulled out? Who would have thought you’d ruin the board if you pulled a nail out the same way you put it in?

Now, far be it for me to think this article will be some great teaching instrument for the already accomplished flooring professional. It’s not aimed at pros because they already know this stuff. This is for the new helper, or maybe the homeowner, do-it-yourselfer and home improvement wannabe. It’s for anyone who has slapped their forehead when they realized it’s gonna take more than just a little bit of new base to cover the damages you caused when trying to remove baseboards with brute force.

Remove Baseboards, Step 1Don’t just go in there with a pry bar and start rippin’. It’s gonna end up pulling paint off the wall – probably higher up the wall than your new base will cover. More times than not, people put the old base back on, or use new base that is the same height. To minimize any damage, slice through the paint right where it meets the top of the base. This will separate the baseboard and wall. If you install the new flooring over the old (that’s a whole other topic), replacing the base will hide that fine cut line. Even if it isn’t hidden, it will get sealed with a light coat of caulking when you install the base and paint.

Remove Baseboards, Step 2The greatest damage seems to occur when a pry bar is used against soft sheetrock walls. I’ve seen (of course, I’ve never done it myself) huge holes or dents put in walls when there was a combination of thin, old sheetrock and no stud behind it. Big mess. I use a broadknife to protect the wall. It’s like a really big putty knife – you could use a wide putty knife. Use something to protect the wall, or you’ll be doing some major repairs.

Remove Baseboards, Step 3Start to get the top edge of the base away from the wall by using a sharp chisel. You only need enough room to get your pry bar in. Try to get as centered a depth with the pry bar as you can. You want the bottom and the top of the base to pull away from the wall evenly. Work slowly because sometimes you find a spot of paint you didn’t cut through well enough and it’s sticking to the base as you pull it away. Grab the knife and relieve it.

Remove Baseboards, Step 4b Remove Baseboards, Step 4When base is installed, the nails are usually counter-sunk and the hole is filled and painted over. Maybe it’s been painted a few times. You go banging’ the nail through the front of the base, just because that’s the way it went in, you’re gonna end up with a huge hole. Then not only will you have to fill the big hole you just made, you ain’t gonna find a finish nail big enough to use in the same hole, so you’re gonna have to counter-sink, fill and paint over a new hole. Just doesn’t seem worth it to me. Use a pair of pliers or something like these end nippers Robert uses after you remove baseboards. Grab the nail shank and gently pull it through the back of the board. Most of the time, it will leave a clean, undamaged face on the base. Your new nail will be the only countersinking and filling required.

Remove Baseboards, Step 5The last thing you want to do at the end of the job is to try to remember where all that baseboard molding goes. Some expanses of wall might have more than one piece of base. Well, it’s a simple solution and it only takes an extra moment at the same time you remove baseboards. Number them! Number the wall too. The time you save is tremendous. Of course, if you’re working by the hour… And don’t forget, sometimes a 6 and a 9 look similar, depending on whether you’re standing on your head or not. Underline them so you know what’s what.

Everything You Need To Do the Job

Remove Baseboards ToolsThat’s pretty much all there is to it. You just have to be a little conscientious, a little careful and have the right tools. These are the tools I gave my helper to remove baseboards. The hammer/hatchet was more versatile in my work than just a hammer, but the hammer end of it is all you need for this job. Use a pry bar that is suitable for the task – too big and you might cause damage anyway. Many people have most of these tools, or acceptable replacements handy. You shouldn’t have to go out and buy anything special just to remove baseboards.

My helper, RobertBefore I go, I really need to thank Robert here for being the “model” on this project. He did a great job. In fact, although Robert left my employ after a few months, I was surprised he stuck it out as long as he did. Thanks, Robert, you were a damn decent helper and I’m sorry you had to put up with my crap. I can be a jerk at times, and God knows I wasn’t very good at teaching in the real world. Who knows, maybe I ain’t very good a teacher in the ether either. But I enjoyed writing this and that’s all that counts.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Andy_Clark

    I’ve damaged baseboards a few times before but with time I became more experienced with handling the baseboards when removing them with the right tools like utility knife and broadknife like above. Great post.

  2. Sunny

    Thank you for sharing! Those are great tips! I am so happy I read this article before starting removing the baseboard.

  3. Nola

    Back in ‘68 they hand nailed all this trim, 2 3” nails on each end and one every 2’.
    A stiff 6” putty knife and a wonder bar worked perfectly one more room to go.

  4. Twitch

    Great tips! Do you also have recommendations for removing that non-wood moulding that is sold right next to the wood moulding at Mendards? It was nailed and glued in to place. And that vinyl moulding – give a slow pull after separating from the paint. But what about removing that old, old adhesive that’s left on the wall?

    1. Jim McClain

      Thanks Twitch. No matter the type, if your moldings were glued AND nailed, you’ve got trouble. It’s not impossible, in some cases (others, of course, will be), but will take a tremendous amount of finesse and time. One tool that might prove helpful is an X-Acto Knife with a long blade. The kit I linked to has several you might use – switch back and forth to different blades to get around the nails.

      As far as the residue and paint left behind from cove base (I think that’s what you are referring to), what you can’t get off with a flexible putty knife, you might be able to get with a wood chisel. That’s not what I like to use a good chisel for, but you can clean and re-sharpen the chisel when done.

      Good luck.

  5. Rodi

    Thank You!
    I am starting a kitchen project, this is a great article!

  6. Heather

    These are all great tips. I recently redid the kitchen floor and had to do much of this – Plus trim up some door moulding to be the proper height. The razor knife made a huge difference! I recommend handling this unless your flooring person is going to take extra care.

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