How to Add Decorative Trim to a Built-in Bookcase

Written by kimberly johnson
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How to Add Decorative Trim to a Built-in Bookcase
Decorative trim gives a bookshelf a polished look. (David Cordner/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Built-in bookcases are a part of a room's decor, providing storage space for books and collectable items. However, some built-in bookshelves have simple, straight lines that are designed to be more functional than attractive. By adding pre-made decorative trim to the front edges of the bookshelf, you will instantly update it and dramatically change the look of the entire the room. Decorative trim comes in a wide variety of styles from simplistic to elaborate scroll work.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Trim
  • Hand saw
  • Level
  • Hammer
  • Finishing nails
  • Scribe tool
  • Dust mask
  • Safety glasses
  • Circular saw
  • Wood glue
  • Nail set tool
  • Wood putty or wax pencil
  • Mitre box

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  1. 1

    Place a tape measure at the top of one side of the built-in bookcase and measure down to the floor to determine the length of the side.

  2. 2

    Lay two pieces of trim on a flat work surface and use the tape measure and a pencil to transfer the measurements onto them. Cut the trim along the pencil marks using a hand saw.

  3. 3

    Hold one piece of trim up to the left side of the bookshelf in the location where it will be installed. Hold the trim in place with one hand and place a level horizontally along the top. Adjust the trim until the air bubble in the level is centred. Do not worry about any gaps near the wall.

  4. 4

    Nail the trim in place using a hammer and finishing nails. Place one nail at the top of the trim, one in the centre and one at the bottom.

  5. 5

    Look at the edge of the trim where it meets the wall and identify the largest gap. Pick up a scribe tool, which consists of a metal post and a pencil, and place the metal section against the wall. Adjust the screw on top until the tip of the pencil aligns with the edge of the trim nearest the wall.

  6. 6

    Slide the scribe tool all the way up and down the trim to make a line where you will cut it so that it lies flush with the wall. Remove the nails from the trim using the back of a hammer and place the trim on a worktable.

  7. 7

    Put on safety glasses and a dust mask. Cut along the pencil line using a circular saw.

  8. 8

    Turn the trim over and apply a thin layer of wood glue. Place the piece of trim back into the proper location but push it flush against the wall. There should be no visible gaps. Nail it in place with finishing nails and a hammer, spacing the nails at 8- to 10-inch intervals.

  9. 9

    Repeat the process to install trim on the right side of the built-in bookcase.

  10. 10

    Place a tape measure at the top of the bookcase at the edge of the side piece of trim. Stretch it across the bookcase and stop where the other piece of side trim starts. Repeat the process to measure the bottom horizontal rail of the bookcase.

  11. 11

    Transfer the measurements onto the trim using a pencil and tape measure. Cut the lines off straight using a hand saw or the circular saw.

  12. 12

    Spread a thin layer of wood glue onto the back of the top trim and place it flush with the ceiling. Nail it in place using finishing nails. Repeat the process with the bottom trim piece, but push it down flush with the floor.

  13. 13

    Place the tip of a nail set tool on top of each nail head. Tap the tool once with hammer to sink the head of the nail into the trim. Fill in the tops of the nail heads with wood putty or a wax pencil.

Tips and warnings

  • For a more decorative look to the trim, cut each end piece at a 45-degree angle, called a mitre cut. To do this, place the end of the trim into a mitre box and insert a hand saw in the slot labelled 45. Cut down through the trim using the slot as a guide.
  • You only have to use the scribe tool on edges of the bookcase that are flush with a wall.

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