Salvaging casings and trims

When Marcus and I saw this building for the first time we fell in love with the casings and trims around the windows and doors.  They have clearly been there for many years and they bear a kaleidoscope of paint layers, from yellow to mauve to olive green.  We decided that they must be saved, and I took on the task.


I’ve never removed millwork before and at first I wondered if I’d bitten off more than I could chew.  I spent some time poking around, trying to figure out how these old pieces were attached – and whether I could remove them in one piece.  But I was hesitant to actually pull anything apart until the purchase went through.

The day after we closed on the building I brought some tools to the house, including a tough little metal spatula and a hammer.  I picked a door and tried to pry off a piece of trim.  Much to my surprise it came right off!  The next one did, too.  After taking a few doorways apart I traded in my (slightly dented) spatula for a small crowbar and went to work room by room.   I also removed the baseboards, as well as the occasional trim close to the ceiling.

I quickly learned that the casings and trims may be easy to remove, but taking out the nails from the salvaged pieces can be difficult and time-consuming.  There are usually three different types of nails embedded in this woodwork: large 3” finishing nails running up one side; delicate 2” nails running down the other side; and then the completely random, rusted, bent nails or sometimes screws that likely held everything from electrical cords to curtains at one time or another over the past century.  I’ve gotten pretty good at creative nail removal. My cussing skills have also improved dramatically!


Once the wood is removed it has to be catalogued and stored.  I used a map of the first-floor rooms to create a numbering plan.  Each trim and casing is marked with a Sharpie noting the room number, the window or door number, and which part of that window or door it is.  I tried to keep them in groups by wrapping them in paper.  It will be interesting to see if I can decipher my own writing once it’s time to put it all back up – and if they will still fit!

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