bearing-guided router bit

Making Cheap Molding with a Router

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Milling your own molding saves money on projects.

Doing your own home improvements makes sense if you enjoy the projects and have the aptitude, but the average DIYer spends more on the materials than a pro.  One way to overcome this disadvantage is by milling your own basic moldings.  After all, you have already resolved to spend your time rather than you money.

Another reason to make cheap molding is for environmental sustainability.  You can make dozens maybe even hundreds of linear feet of molding from even the most derelict board.  Save a few boards from the garbage, prep them for milling, mill them up, and reduce your environmental impact.  The stuff at the home center has traveled a long way and burned fossil fuels all the while.

pretty forest

The costs of buying your molding

Purchasing shoe molding, door stop, quarter round, casings, etc… can quickly cost you the money that you saved with all of your hard work.  Even a simple quarter round will cost you almost a dollar a linear foot, so it adds up fast.

Furthermore, molding from the home center is often faulty softwoods, pvc, mdf, or some other junk that the home centers invented while I was typing this. Besides, I would rather spend my time making sawdust than in the home center.

Simple trim milling set up
Simple, easy set-up to mill some cheap molding

How to make your cheap molding.

1) Find your stock.

You will be amazed how many linear feat of molding you can mill from a few salvaged boards.  Abandoned boards are easy to find, but there are a few thing to consider:

  • Avoid boards that have fasteners that will be difficult to fully remove.
  • Avoid chemically treated woods like pressure-treated yellow pine; you don’t need to unnecessarily expose yourself to these chemicals.
  • If you are applying a natural finish, the wood species must match.
  • If you are applying paint, the species doesn’t matter except that you should reject cedar and redwood. (I thoughtlessly used some ceder in my project and it didn’t take the paint as well as the rest.)
  • If you will be using a thickness planer, save boards that are slightly thicker than the target thickness.
  • I you will not be using a thickness planer, the boards must be your target thickness.
  • Get more than you need.  Once you start milling you will discover hidden defects.

wood in a dumpster

2) Prepare the stock to be milled.

Make sure that the reclaimed wood is completely free of metal objects or you will damage your machinery.  The best way to do this is with an inexpensive metal detector.  Swiftly move the metal detector along all four sides of the board and remove all metal before doing any machining.

metal detector for woodworking

If you are only milling smaller dimensions, they are so flexible that you really don’t need to do any jointing.  Just make sure that you find (or plane to) the right thickness.  If you are looking for a cheap thickness, planer, I have been happy with this WEN.  It is not as good as having helical rather than straight cutters, but it gets the job done.

thickness planer making molding

Amazon link: metal detector

Amazon link: WEN thickness planer

3) Set up to mill some cheap trim.

I made a little, drop-in insert for my portable table-saw.  It drops in to place when the side is extended fully.  I have a very small “shop,” and this “router table” can hang on the wall.  You do not need to build anything fancy; a board with a hole in it on top of some sturdy sawhorses will work. 

Find some appropriate screws to mount the router to the surface.  You are essentially making a very large router plate. Choose bearing-guided bits so that you don’t need to deal with setting up a guide fence.

router insert for table saw
The depth can easily be adjusted from the side of the table.
cheap router bits
These cheap Harbor Freight router bits are OK for limited use.

Do not buy router bits individually unless you are really forced to.  They are invariably cheaper when purchased as a set.

Set up an out-feed surface to support the work piece if you are making longer pieces.  You will be more comfortable, and you will be working safer.

Amazon link: Dewalt router (same as shown, non-plunging)

Amazon link: router bit set including bearing-guided bits

Amazon link: table saw (same as shown)

4) Be safe.

Before you turn on any machinery, think about protecting your ears, lungs, and hands.  Wear hearing protection, use a respirator, and remove loose clothing and jewelry.  Can you imagine what will happen if your sleeve gets caught in the router? I thought you could.  Keep your fingers away from the bits and blades.  Use push sticks with the table saw.  If something feels awkward or dangerous, stop what you are doing and walk away until you find a safer method.

unsafe workers
Very unsafe: Smoking, skipping sunscreen, and eating baloney with mayo.

Amazon link: respirator

Amazon link: ear protection

5) Start milling your cheap molding.

Carefully adjust and test the bit height on a test piece before milling everything.  Once the height is set, don’t mess around with it until you are finished with that profile or they may not match perfectly.

Do not try to run narrow pieces through the table saw, it is dangerous and awkward. Mill the profile on the side of the board, cut it off the board, and repeat.  To speed things up, put the desired profile on both sides of the board.  Then run the piece through the table saw with the profiled edges against the fence.

bearing-guided bit
Once you chuck the pieces spoiled by knots, you will be impressed with the quality of the trim.

squaring a table saw fence

TIP: I noticed that something wasn’t quite right when I was using the table saw.  I don’t know how it came to be, but my fence was way out of square.  After some adjustment it was much better. Take the time to fine tune your tools when they are not perfect.

Repeat the routing and the sawing until you have much more than you need.  Make a materials list of all the trim that you need, and try to do all of your milling in one go.  It is a pain to set everything up again, and you will minimize the possibility that some of your trim will not match.  It will go quickly, so make plenty.  Once you are installing the molding, it is so nice to make mistakes or chuck substandard pieces without a second thought.

custom molding for cheap
I needed these unusual moldings to go cover the center part of my interior storm windows. I would not have been able to buy them anyway, so it is nice to be able to make them quickly.
cheap molding collection
I made plenty because I like to measure once and cut twice.

Conclusions on making cheap molding

Now I have all of the pieces that I need to finish my project.  Not only did I spend no money, I cleared some scrap pieces out of the garage.  This little collection of cheap molding easily saved me $200, so it was worth my time.

Have some tips for saving money on materials? Leave a comment!

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