Whats the best way of fixing Skirting Boards to the walls: Glue/adhesives, nails or screws!?

Whichever method I use, when I am fixing skirting boards to a wall I always lean on an off-cut like in the picture below to push the boards down tight to the floor as I nail or screw them to the wall. Doing this helps push the skirting boards really tight down onto the floor and avoids having unsightly gaps.

Additionally, I'll often dry fit the skirting boards in place first and make sure the joins fit perfectly together before I start applying glue or drilling/nailing anything. 

fixing skirting boardsLean on an off-cut when fixing skirting boards to the wall to push them down tight to the floor

I am often asked whether it is best to use use dowels, nails, Screws/Rawl plugs, or a strong glue like no more nails to attach skirting boards to the walls.

It's a great question. The answer, quite often is - all of the above!

It all depends on the type of wall I'm fixing to, whether I'm fixing skirting boards made of normal timber like pine or MDF and also whether they will be stained or painted by the decorator.

It might sound stupid but you use whatever you need to. If a nail isn't strong enough to hold the skirting boards back to the wall, (maybe the board wants to spring back because it is warped or twisted) then it needs to be screwed back securely. 

Some of the different types of skirting boards can include;

  • Pine/softwood to be stained (need hidden or as small a fixing as possible)
  • Pine/softwood to be painted (Pine boards can warp and twist so it needs to be fixed really well.  As they're  being painted you can get away with a more substantial fixing than above)
  • Hardwood skirting boards that are to be stained (again, need to hide/minimise how visible these fixings are)
  • Primed MDF to be painted (MDF skirting boards don't warp/twist so smaller fixings are OK, they'll also be covered up by paint) 

And some of the different wall types you could be attaching the above boards to;

  • Brickwork masonry plastered over (can't use a 2nd fix gun here..)
  • Thermalite blocks  with 'dot & dab' plasterboard sheets stuck on (there is a small cavity between the blocks & sheeting, plus the blocks are lightweight and porous - they easily shatter/make too large a hole with a hammer-drill bit)
  • Timber stud-work covered with plasterboard (nails are OK in this instance)
  • Metal stud partitioning covered with plasterboard (you can't nail into a metal stud!!)

So you can see why there is no easy answer and you'll need to pick the best method depending on your skirting board and the wall you are fixing skirting boards to.

And if beating a nail or winding a screw in even when pre-drilled and countersunk will split the skirting because it is so short or small - use no more nails or ideally super sticky Gripfill.

These are all fixings I keep in my finish carpentry fixings tray at all times so I can use the most suitable for any given situation.

Quick reference guide to fixing skirting boards to different wall types:

I have gone into much more detail for these methods further down in the page but for a quick answer;

How to fix Skirting boards to each other;

How to fix MDF skirting boards to:

  • Studwork walls - use 'no more nails' glue on the back and 65-70mm lost head nails
  • Brickwork/Masonry walls - lost head nails and dowels 
  • Metal stud partitioning -  use 'no more nails' glue on the back and a second fix nailer like my Dewalt 

How to fix Pine skirting to;

  • Studwork walls - 65-70mm losthead nails and/or screws if necessary and they're being painted
  • Brickwork/Masonry - dowels & lost head nails if being stained or 65mm screws and red rawl plugs if being painted
  • Metal stud partitioninguse 'no more nails' glue on the back and a second fix nail-gun like a Dewalt 

Fixing skirting boards to each other:

Skirting board lengthening jointAlways join boards end to end with a mitre - never butt them together square!

Apart from fixing skirting boards back to the walls, you'll often encounter areas where they need fixing to each other as well:

  • At an external miter, fix together to hold the two 45 degree cuts of the joint securely before fixing the boards back to the wall

When fixing an external miter, especially MDF, I always glue the miter together using  Miter Fast Miter Glue first, and then to the wall afterwards. This helps ensure you get the joint tight secured perfectly together first before it's too late!

If the skirting is timber like pine, I will also fire 3-4 veneer pins or 20mm panel pins carefully into the joint as well to strengthen it too because pine can warp/twist/shrink and try to open up.

  • At a lengthening joint: When a wall is so long one length of skirting board isn't enough, you will need to join two or more skirting boards together end to end

If fixing a lengthening joint in your skirting boards, always cut at least a 22.5 degree miter on each length like in the picture above.

NEVER butt joint the skirting together with square cuts!  And again use the miter glue mentioned above if it is MDF boards and glue and pin if it is pine/softwood as well.

Mitering the boards like this means the boards can be lined up perfectly and fixed to each other. If butted together square, one could go back more less than another or up/down - getting them to line up perfectly is virtually impossible.

Fixing MDF skirting boards:

The great thing about MDF skirting boards are they doesn't warp, twist or bow.  So fixing MDF skirting boards to metal stud walls is pretty easy - probably easier than actually cutting the boards to length (long lengths wobble like a bitch). 

Instead of grip fill which is thick and doesn't disperse well behind the board I prefer to use something like No More Nails and run a couple of beads along the back of the board before attaching to the wall.

Once glued and in position, slide left and right a bit to spread the glue and get it to form a kinda of vacuum that holds itself to the wall, then if necessary pin with a finish nail-gun to hold in place until the glue goes off. I even use the no more nails as a caulk to seal the top edge of the board to the wall ready for painting.

For attaching MDF to uneven masonry walls, drill a pilot hole and countersink before using a masonry drill to screw the boards back.

The best way of fixing skirting boards to timber stud-work walls 

When attaching boards to stud-work walls I mainly nail them with 70mm lost-head nails. Sometimes I pre-drill if I need to nail right on the end of a board to prevent it splitting. Even if the nail doesn't split it at first, sometimes punching the head in can, which is annoying! To pre-drill, use a drill bit slightly smaller than the thickness of the nail.

If a nail won't hold the timber back to the stud wall because the board has an outward bow for example, drill, countersink and screw with 65-70mm pozi-drive wood screws.  

If I am fixing a small piece about two inches long and nailing or screwing is likely to split the board I use Gripfill or No More Nails on the back, and maybe pin it with my nail-gun as well just to hold it in place until the glue goes off.

How to fix skirting boards to masonry walls - Brick, Thermalite or Concrete blocks

I use a couple of different methods when fixing skirting boards to masonry. There are also different types of masonry and so that may affect which method to use. 

Before power tools like cordless drills a carpenter would use 'cut nails'. These were thick, heavy propeller shaped nails that twisted as they were driven in helping to grip the material behind. Timber was stronger as had taken longer to grow back then.

They're very rarely used anymore because it is much easier and less likely to split boards by either using Rawl plugs and screws, or dowels and lost head nails. Screwing obviously leaves bigger holes to fill but nailing into dowels - although it takes a lot longer is a much tidier method. Especially if the skirting boards are to be stained and therefore filling needs to be kept to a minimum.

When drilling, move the drill bit in and out every now and then while it's spinning to help clear the dust from the hole that will otherwise slow the b it down.

Red plugs and 70mm screws are usually large enough to get a good fixing. Or 10mm dowels (cut to about 40-50mm long) and 55-70mm lost-head nails (sometimes called bullet head nails). If you are fixing to soft brick or Thermalite blocks, drill with a 5-5.5mm masonry bit but don't use the hammer action unless absolutely necessary. I always test a hole first by drilling normally and if I don't get anywhere fast turn on the hammer action.

If the bricks are hard or for concrete blocks you have to use hammer action or else the drill bit will just burn and blunt within seconds.

Once the hole is drilled, push a plug through the skirting into the wall and use a screw and hammer to beat it through if need be. Buzz the screw up with a cordless drill, if the screw head just spins instead of pulling the board up tight remove the screw and put another plug in the hole before trying again. That normally solves the problem, unless the material behind has just shattered because drilling was too quick. In this case abandon the hole and try again.

How to nail hardwood or MDF skirting boards to masonry walls! 

Sometimes I can be cutting & fixing skirting boards like hardwood that will be stained. In these instances the skirting boards need to be fixed without creating big screw-head holes that need to be filled and sanded down later.

If the skirting is to be stained or or varnished, the last thing you want to see is lots of filled holes in your finished skirting boards it would look awful!

So in this instance, I use 8-10mm timber dowels cut to 45-50mm in length that are placed in the wall like rawl plugs and then fix the actual skirting boards in place with lost-head nails.

You will need to fit your skirting boards in place first, drill a small hole through the skirting board where you want the nail to be and drill through until it marks the plaster behind the skirting. Slide the board back a little and mark these positions on the wall with a pencil X to make it easier to see them when drilling.

Now with an 8 or 10mm masonry bit depending on your dowel size (and the skirting board out the way), drill a 50-60mm deep hole in the masonry at each point marked before.

If possible, don't use the hammer action on the drill as this can obliterate the material behind. Or if using the hammer action, drill very slowly/carefully because you want the dowel to fit in the drilled hole quite snugly..

Hammer a dowel into each hole, sweep away all the dust and replace the skirting board into position.

If necessary, apply some Gripfill to the back of the boards in a wavy line for extra grab and then nail a 65mm losthead nail through each hole in the skirting board into the dowel behind. The dowel will spread like a rawl plug does when screwing into them.

Use a nail punch to send the heads of the nails home and you have nailed your skirting boards to the brick/concrete wall!

These holes are easy to fill and leave the smallest possible filling whilst still being a really strong fixing as well.

What's Next?

Click here to go back to the main Skirting board page with more tips on cutting, fitting and installing skirting boards

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