My bathroom walls were a mix of plaster and drywall with various layers of paint, primer, and skim coating. I attempted to skim coat the walls myself to prepare for priming and painting, but I wasn't happy with the results so I hired someone to do it right. The walls are smooth now but not quite flat. For example, if you put a baseboard against one wall the baseboard touches the wall at two high points horizontally and there is space between the rest of the baseboard and wall.

The drywall guy said he would come back and fix anything that needs to be done such as those gaps and any other wall imperfections. He said however, that I should prime the walls and finish and nail the baseboards before he fixes the imperfections. He said that many of the subtle nicks and grooves in the wall would stand out better once the primer had been applied. He also said that he could achieve better results if the baseboards were nailed in first rather than using a straight edge to even out the low points, and that he would fill in from the top of the baseboards on up.

It seems to me that it would be easier to use a straight edge to even it out and that the baseboards would only get in the way. He said he didn't want to make it flat only to have me put on the baseboards and find out that it still looked off. I don't really buy that. It also seems odd to prime first before getting all the imperfections since the primer seals the wall and putting patches on top of that doesn't seem quite right. I'm not a professional and I don't want to tell him how to do his job, but if he's cutting corners I don't want to be taken advantage of either. Personally I think he should have evened out the low points at the beginning. Hidden nicks I can understand.

I'd be grateful for any informed opinions.

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    How big are the gaps? And are your baseboards painted or stained? – Mike Powell Oct 7 '10 at 1:59
  • In some cases they are about 1" using a 4' test baseboard touching two high points. I plan on staining the baseboards. – Ryan Oct 7 '10 at 20:22
  • Actually, they're not 1". More like 1/2" when the board is held firm to the wall. – Ryan Oct 19 '10 at 21:53

I would put on the baseboards, but only tack them in place so they can easily be removed when the drywall guy is done.

The reason he is probably asking you to install them, is so he can make sure you are happy with the finish before he leaves so he doesn't have to come back.

It's probably a good idea anyway, because it would be a shame to get all the painting done only to realize the baseboards don't fit right. Then you would have to start all over again.

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  • @Tester101: Good point, it would be a lot of work wasted if you had to re-skim after painting. But what about a straight edge? Or do you think you'd need one longer than 4'? – Doresoom Oct 6 '10 at 19:35
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    @Doresoom: In some situations it's not about being perfect, it's about being 'true'. Even if he made the wall perfectly flat the baseboards still might not look or fit quite right, but if the baseboard is on when he does it he can make it look right (even if that means it's not perfectly level). – Tester101 Oct 6 '10 at 19:44
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    A small problem with this approach is that you can get an edge if the skim coat overlaps or runs onto the baseboard, but that can be solved with a little careful sanding of the coat once the baseboard is removed for painting. – Niall C. Oct 6 '10 at 22:21
  • Thanks for your input! Can you elaborate on "only tack them in place" ? Do you mean to use smaller nails than I would normally use? It feels like in this scenario I'm actually just simulating the straight edge which I think the drywaller should be using. He had wanted me to put something behind the gap to support the baseboard where it rose in front of the wall. The worst place had about 1" of separation if I recall correctly. – Ryan Oct 7 '10 at 20:19
  • @Ryan: Yeah, you definitely can't caulk a 1" gap! – Doresoom Oct 7 '10 at 20:35

It's true that primer will show you any imperfections on your wall. When I skim coated my ceilings, I was always surprised to find out how many spots I had missed after I primed. I'd say you should definitely prime first, and afterwards prime the spots your drywall guy skimmed again.

As for the baseboards, I'm not completely sure what 'professionals' do, but I would put them on last. It will be much easier to paint your wall if the baseboards haven't been installed. Not having to either tape or carefully cut in will save you quite a bit of time and get you a better end result. Your drywall guy should be able to get the wall straight enough without the baseboards installed. Afterwards, if you still have a gap between the baseboards and wall, you can use caulk to fill it in. (Assuming it's not >1/4")

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  • Thanks for the comments about the primer. I am more in agreement with your logic on the baseboards, though I can see the other case posted here by Tester101 about being "true". At least my drywall guy isn't being totally out of line in suggesting that the baseboards should go first. A temporary baseboard installation sounds intriguing. – Ryan Oct 7 '10 at 20:28

I'm a long time general contractor, short time on this site,but I have done and have had done many walls with "Skim Coating".Your drywall contractor is right and wrong. He is right about going ahead and priming the walls. It shows the imperfections and can be easily over mudded or filled with light weight spackle over the primer and reprimed. Keep in mind that skim coating over old drywall is not a plaster job. The skim will follow the existing long gradual bows and dips to some degree and isn't a fix to really bad drywall, especially a stud hugging 3/8's board job. I disagree with putting on the baseboard first. Use a scrap piece of trim or a 1X piece of stock to check for large gaps, and fill them. Trying to fill large gaps after the trim is on will be a mess of mud over the edges of the trim and will reopen as temp and humidity changes. Any gaps less than 1/4 inch can be easily filled with painter's caulk after the trim is installed and touched up with the wall color. The drywall contractor can't make it perfect, so buy a few tubes of Alex Painters Caulk and finish it off real nice after the walls are painted, trim installed, in that order. Good luck.

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  • Thanks very much Shirlock. I hadn't visited in a while so I missed your recent response. I like your idea about using a scrap to check for gaps though the drywaller really wanted the baseboards in place. He said if they weren't there it'd make his job harder. I guess I'll have to push back. What is "1X piece of stock" ? Should the trim or stock be tacked in place? If not and if it should just be held in place, I'd be worried about it bowing and then not having a straight line to fill against. If it should be tacked, I'd be worried about the trim/stock getting stuck to the drywall fill. – Ryan Oct 19 '10 at 21:50
  • Hi ryan, been a bit busy, ya I really work as a contractor for a living. lol. if you still have questions call me or send me a personal e-mail. this thing is way too easy. there are easy ways to do what you need to do. Screw the D/W guy, he is conning you. He simply doesn't want to come back and make an extra visit.He and I both know how to do it right. BTW 1x is simply any 3/4 inch by any size board. just a flat straight board. karantza@gmail.com. I'll answer any questions you have. FREE! lol – shirlock homes Oct 22 '10 at 23:33
  • I ended up doing as you and others suggested and had him fix the really low spots before doing the baseboards. It worked out better I think and I'm glad I checked here first. He used a piece of aluminum, something you'd put around a window or door to hold drywall sheets, to check for gaps. The walls were completed over a week ago now and I primed and painted them. I've started cutting the baseboards with a friend's miter saw. Thanks for the free help offer. I'll try not to abuse your generosity. :) – Ryan Nov 1 '10 at 22:08

I had to have my walls skim coated and I waited until I was completely done with everything before putting the baseboards on. I didn't want to take any chances scuffing them up or getting paint on them. My vote is do them absolutely last.

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    I agree with you Scott, though I also feel there is a certain irony in protecting baseboards from getting scuffed. :) – Ryan Oct 7 '10 at 20:33
  • @Ryan LOL yeah that is a little odd. – user45 Oct 7 '10 at 22:51
  • I found I became overly protective of all my trim after I shanked a cut on a $15 piece of crown molding. – Steve Jackson Oct 9 '10 at 1:13
  • @Steve ugh yeah ... been there too ... some foul language flew throughout the room at that point. Nothing makes you a better craftsman than having to spend MORE of your money because you messed something up. – user45 Oct 9 '10 at 9:22

I agree with baseboard last. The drywall guy can hold a board up to the wall for a straight edge. If the baseboard fit isn't perfect (hardly ever is) when you go to install it, then you can run a bead of calk down the top after you put it on. Then paint the calc either the wall o the baseboard color or split it.

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  • I asked the drywall guy several times about whether he was sure the baseboards should be installed first and he said yes, though the straight edge seems most logical to me. I wish I had succeeded with my skimcoating attempts but as it turns out the compound I used was too thick. – Ryan Oct 7 '10 at 20:48
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    @Ryan: Next time you buy drywall compound, check the container. Some of the fast-drying, lightweight spackling products that don't have a high moisture content warn "Not for skim coating" on their packaging. Or ask someone working at the store - that's what I did when I started my project. – Doresoom Oct 7 '10 at 22:00
  • HINT: When using d/w compound for skimming, always be sure to mix it well with a paddle and electric drill. Adding a small amount of water and Ivory dish soap will help make it much smoother and will glide much better off the trowel, without as many tiny air bubble holes. – shirlock homes Oct 10 '10 at 7:04

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