Window trim: from boring to bold

3 basic themes, dozens of possibilities

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If you look closely at homes with beautiful windows, you’ll typically find one thing in common: wood trim. No matter what the style of the window is or what material it’s made out of, a painted or stained wood surround enhances the beauty of the window far more than the inexpensive "drywall wrap" that’s common on a lot of today’s homes.

Creating wooden surrounds for your windows is enjoyable, fairly inexpensive, and can be done by anyone with a few finish carpentry skills. And you can do one or two windows at a time, which is a lot less invasive to your home life than a lot of remodeling projects.

First, a couple of definitions

In the world of finish carpentry, there are a couple of terms that are helpful to know:

  • Window surround: A window surround consists of the four pieces that wrap the inside of the window frame, between the face of the window and the face of the wall.
  • Stool and apron: A window stool is the same as a window sill. It’s the horizontal board at the bottom of the window surround. The trim board beneath the stool, which covers the joint between the bottom of the stool and the face of the wall, is the apron.
  • Drywall wrap: A type of surround in which all four sides of the surround are done with drywall instead of wood.

Three ways to trim the window

There are basically three options for how you can trim out a window with wood. The simplest is to wrap the two sides and top of the window surround with drywall, and then install a stool and apron at the bottom. The drywall pieces are installed first and finished, prior to installation of the stool. If you already have drywall-wrapped windows, all you need to do is remove the bottom piece of drywall from the surround, to expose the rough framing underneath. …CONTINUED

The stool is cut from finish-grade lumber. You can use oak, maple, fir or other clear grades of wood if the wood is to be stained. If you’ll be painting the stool, consider poplar or medium-density fiberboard (MDF), both of which paint out very nicely. The stool is typically ripped to a width that’s 1 inch wider than the distance from the face of the window to the face of the wall, and 1 inch longer than the distance between the two side pieces of the surround.

The stool is then simply notched on each end to fit into the opening in the window surround. It will overlap the wall face by an inch, and there will be two "ears" that extend past the edge of the surround by 1/2 inch on each side. The apron, which is a piece of trim of any desired size and style, is cut 1/2 inch shorter than the overall length of the stool, and is installed below the stool to finish things off.

Method No. 2 is to make a wooden surround with no stool, which is done by building a box. You need four pieces of lumber ripped to the same width as the distance from the face of the window to the face of the wall, then cut and assembled into a simple box that’s slightly smaller than the inside dimensions of the window frame opening. Slip the box into the opening, shim it until it’s centered, then nail it in place. The installation is completed by installing four pieces of matching trim on face of the wall, sized so as to cover most of the edge of the wooden box and mitered at the four corners.

The third method is a combination of the first two. In this case, you would construct a three-sided box — two sides and a top — then cut a stool as described above and use it as the fourth side (the bottom) of the wooden box.

Install the box in the opening and shim it into place. Now install three pieces of trim on the face of the wall — a top piece and two sides. The trim is mitered at the two top corners, and extends down on the two sides to rest on top of the stool. An apron, installed below the stool as described above, completes the installation.

There are dozens upon dozens of variations on these three basic themes. Before you get started, take some time to peruse a few architectural and carpentry magazines and books and you’re sure to find a look that’s perfect for your home.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paulbianchina@inman.com.

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