Scribing Baseboard for an Uneven Floor

Here are some good tips on how to scribe base shoe molding to an uneven tile floor around the toe kicks of kitchen cabinets. October 27, 2011

I am getting ready to trim out a remodel job we are doing the cabinets for. I have noticed quite a bit of uneven tile near the edges of the room. When I set my base down, there will be a gap left from the high spots and low spots. What are my options and what is acceptable to leave? This is hourly, however I am in a time crunch. I don't mind spending a little extra time, but am not going to scribe the entire floor. We talked about a shoe molding for under the cabinets but I would rather not do it around the whole room unless that is definitely the way to go. What do you suggest?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor J:
Three options that I can think of:
1) Scribe everything.
2) Apply a shoe mold everywhere.
3) Redo the tile so it's flat.

I would opt for option 2. Door stop makes a nice shoe mold. It really doesn't take very long to go around a room with a shoe mold.

From contributor D:
I will bevel the bottom of the base board about 10 or 15 degrees, then scribe it, then belt sand it to the scribe mark. It is pretty fast once you get going. I pre-bevel all the base at my shop, then at the job I only have to scribe and belt or use a block plane.

You will find even if you use shoe mold that if one tile is higher than the one right beside it, you can't push the shoe down tight to the floor, and that sticks out like a sore thumb. If you are looking to do the nicest job, I would scribe it.

From contributor B:
Like contributor D said, the pre-bevel will mean you can fit each piece in the room without having to walk back to your horses, get out the power-planer, etc. For spots that are really wacky, a rabbet on the back of the base (in addition to the bevel, if necessary) can serve to keep the scribing in the hand-tool operation range. Trouble is... this is the kind of detail that only other woodworkers and those trying to get out of paying woodworkers notice anymore.

From contributor M:
I would only scribe for the most obscenely high tiles, and not try to get it perfect. Use caulk to hide the remaining gaps.

From contributor E:
Why not ask the customer what they would like you to do?

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. Right now I like contributor M's the best. I am kind of afraid to ask the homeowner because I don't want to highlight the subject. I honestly think I could just slap it up there and she would be fine with it, so I don't want to bring it up and then she will know to look at it. I am probably more concerned about it for myself.

Let's pretend I am going to hit the bad spots and then caulk it (stained oak). Kind of what I was thinking about. What are my caulking options? I have some brown that matches the stain alright. I could go clear, or I could try to get some that matches the grout pretty close. My gut says get it to match the grout. Is that what you were thinking?

From contributor L:
Scribing just isn't all that hard to do and looks much better than big gaps at the floor line. As others said, back bevel it. I use an angle grinder to scribe with, but use whatever you have and feel comfortable with. Hard to caulk stain grade stuff and make it look decent.

From contributor Z:
I too advise that you discuss it with the homeowner. If I was the homeowner, I would not be happy with brown caulk on stained oak trim. I think that would highlight the situation more than anything else. What would you do if this was for your own house?

From contributor F:
I have done this exact thing without working very hard at it. We level the toe kicks with shims. Then we use a 1/4" thick plywood toe skin finished to match the cabinets to cover the base. Cut the base to run around the toe kick - the outside miters can be done now or after fitting to the floor (if cutting miters after, set the top of the skin against the fence, not the bottom against the fence). I hold the skin up 15/16" above the top of the toe and fasten in place with headless pins or contact cement in a few spots, just enough to keep it from moving while fitting. Then I run the Quickscribe along the plywood on the base, with the wheel following the floor, even following into the grout lines when they are wide. Remove the 1/4" plywood and it drops down 1 inch, leaving the top of the toe skin down 1/16" below the top of the toe base. Pin or glue the toe skin in place. The cabinets then go on the toe kick and can be slid around without moving the base covering. Or you can set the cabinets on and install the base covering later - if you need to adjust the toe some, the skin still fits the floor perfectly. You still need to do the last inch on inside corners by hand, but that is pretty easy - all the really hard work is done for you by the router. The fit is amazing. No caulk needed. I don't like caulking at tile floors because it gets on the grout and this is tough to clean nicely.

From contributor M:
If you can get your scribe to within 1/8" of the tile at the most, use clear caulking. I don't know how it works (I've done it many times), but the bead of clear caulk disguises the gap without bouncing with the color of either your wood or the tile.

I know this suggestion seems odd, so just try it on a short section and you'll see what I mean. If either the tile or the wood are a dark color, it works even better.

From contributor C:
You'll spend more time fooling around trying to avoid it than it takes to scribe a room of base in. This is what carpenters do. I've never seen a dead flat in over 30 years of doing this. I don't understand trying to avoid the simple tasks that are required to be a competent tradesman. Helpful hint of the day: sharp block plane.

From contributor Y:
Take the time to scribe the base. When all is said and done, it will be the gaps in your baseboard that stand out, not the sloppy installation of the tile. That is what people will see and even if the homeowner doesn't notice or say anything, there is always the chance that one of her friends will and then that is what she will always notice. And that is a reflection on you and may be the difference between getting a referral or future work or not.