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The walls in my house were heavily skim coated some time in the last 20-30 years. In many places, the skim coat plaster is covering the baseboards and other trim.

I want to replace the baseboards. I was thinking of cutting the old baseboards out with a reciprocating saw to avoid cracking the plaster. Does anyone out there know of a better way to remove baseboards that have been covered with plaster? Could cutting out the baseboards with a reciprocating saw potentially crack the plaster? Thank you!

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  • Do you have a picture? What is the height of your new baseboard relative to the old? (In other words, will the top of the new base cover the plaster-base seam?) What is your tolerance for dust and mess? (Is the place a worksite, or are you trying to live there?) When you say that you want to use a reciprocating saw, are you planning on cutting the seam, then levering out the base? What other tools do you have available? (Angle grinder? Oscillating tool?) Dec 7, 2021 at 14:30
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    The idea would be to cut out the baseboard from the plaster, then lever out the base. I’m not living there yet. Nee baseboard is an inch or two taller than the old. I don’t have an angle grinder, but I do have an oscillating multi-tool. Thanks!
    – Tb3024
    Dec 7, 2021 at 16:26

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There are a multitude of saws that cut by "reciprocating" the blade - jig saw, Sawzall™, oscillating multi-tool/flush cutter, etc.

Usually, "reciprocating saw" indicates a Sawzall™ type saw like this:

Milwaukee Sawzall™
Image courtesy of milwaukeetool.com. Click to embiggen

I'd strongly recommend against using this type of saw, as they're generally used for demolition and rough cutting, not fine work. They tend to be rather aggressive and will vibrate the work surface quite a bit. In your case, that would lead to a high likelihood of cracking the plaster in places you don't want it to crack.

An oscillating multi-tool or flush cutter, like this:

Dewalt oscillating cutter
Image courtesy of lowes.com. Click to embiggen.

The multi-tool will vibrate, but its vibration is significantly lower than the Sawzall™ and it is much easier to control the cut line. The lower vibration intensity would be much less likely to crack the plaster you're trying to save. However, there's still a chance it could crack, so be prepared to do some repairs

Of course, you could use a hand powered saw, something like this:

Irwin flush cut saw
Image courtesy of lowes.com. Click to embiggen.

Any similar, fine tooth saw would make a smooth cut in the plaster, however, plaster is much harder than the wood this is designed to cut, so it would likely dull the blade reasonably quickly. You may want to purchase a cheaper one so if it is dull when the job's done, you don't feel too bad about it.

There will be significantly less vibration with the hand saw than there would be with the oscillating saw. There is, though, still the possibility that you could cause a crack to develop. I would consider the likelihood reasonably low.

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    Thanks! I will try the multi-tool in a small section this weekend.
    – Tb3024
    Dec 7, 2021 at 16:25
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A reciprocating saw is probably the wrong tool.

I would recommend an oscillating multi-tool:

enter image description here

With one of these blades circled in red:

enter image description here

This will let you cut into the seam between the plaster and top of the baseboard and then you can remove the baseboard without cracking anything.

Just prepare yourself to eat through multiple blades because traditional plaster is like concrete.


Also, you didn't provide a picture but if the existing baseboards are flush with the plaster then why not just cover them with new baseboards?

Even if you manage to remove the existing baseboards, now what? Will the new baseboards will fit perfectly in their stead?

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  • Thanks for the comment! The new plaster only covers the very top portion of the baseboards, so if I try to pry them off I’ll crack the plaster, but they still stick out too much for me to just put new baseboards over the old. The new baseboards will be taller than the old ones, so they should cover the hole left by the old baseboards completely.
    – Tb3024
    Dec 7, 2021 at 16:24
  • I see. Well then you'll need to attach some sort of shim to the back of the new baseboard or else they won't be perfectly tangent to the floor.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Dec 7, 2021 at 16:34
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Oscillating tools can be painfully slow for jobs like this, though they'd probably work well. Recipro saw could work, but you'd want to keep the blade at a very low angle and use a short, fine-toothed blade for better control. You risk cutting too deep, though.

If you have many dozens of feet of base trim to remove, I'd use an angle grinder with a diamond wheel. You'll want to have a helper position a wet/dry vac ahead of the output to catch most of the dust. There will be lots.

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    One could also get a 7-1/4" segmented diamond blade, set their circular saw depth properly, and really rip through things really fast.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Dec 7, 2021 at 16:42
  • That was actually my first thought, but experience tells me that it's an award hold. Circular saws are heavy, and keeping them level on two axes is challenging even for an experienced carpenter.
    – isherwood
    Dec 7, 2021 at 16:51
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    True. I guess if you set up some sort of jig then it would be safer but probably slower due to the setup time. OP did say that their new baseboard is taller than the old so in theory they could run the circular saw on the wall and use the existing baseboard as a straight edge.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Dec 7, 2021 at 16:58

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