Should you be fixing Skirting Boards to the walls with glue/adhesives, nails or screws?

Whatever type I am using, when I am fixing skirting boards I lean on an off-cut like below to push the boards down tight to the floor as I nail or screw them to the wall. Doing this helps get the boards really tight to the floor without any unsightly gaps.

Additionally, always dry fit the skirting boards in place first and make sure it all fits perfectly together before you start applying glue or nailing/drilling anything. 

fixing skirting boards

What is the best way to fix skirting boards securely to the wall?

Q: Do you use dowels, nails, Screws/Rawl plugs, or a strong glue like no more nails to attach skirting boards to the walls? 

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 whether they will be stained or painted. It might sound stupid but you use whatever you need to. If a nail won't hold, (maybe the board wants to spring back) then it needs to be screwed. 

Some of the different types of skirting boards can include;

  • Pine/softwood to be stained (need hidden/as small a fixing as possible)
  • Pine/softwood to be painted ((pine can war and twist so needs to be fixed well, as being painted can get away with a more substantial fixing than above)
  • Hardwood to be stained (again, need to hide/minimise how visible these fixings are)
  • Primed MDF to be painted (doesnt warp/twist so smaller fixings OK, will 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 cavity between the blocks & sheets, + the blocks are lightweight and porous - they easily shatter/make too large a hole with a hammer-drill bit)
  • Timber studwork covered with plasterboard (nails OK in this instance)
  • Metal stud partitioning covered with plasterboard (can't nail into 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.

I'll cover off the pro's & con's of each type above and the method I choose to get the best finish I can.

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 Gripfill.

Because I have all of these in my finish carpentry fixings tray I can use the most suitable for any given situation.

Fixing skirting boards to each other

When might you need to fix skirting boards to each other?

  • At an external miter, to hold the joint together before fixing to the wall
  • At a lengthening joint, because the wall is so long one length of skirting board isn't enough

When fixing an external miter, especially MDF, glue the miter together using Miter Fast Miter Glue.

If the skirting is pine, I will also fire a veneer pin or 20mm panel pin carefully into the joint as well to strengthen it too because pine can warp/twist/shrink etc.

If fixing a lengthening joint, always cut a 22.5 degree miter on each length (NEVER butt joint the skirting together) and again use the miter glue above if it is MDF boards and glue and pin if it is pine/softwood.

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 70mm 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

There are a couple of different ways to fix 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 propeller shaped nails that twisted as they were driven in helping to grip the material. They're very rarely used anymore as it's far 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 it is a much tidier method. Especially if the skirting boards are to be stained and filling 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 bit 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.

Fixing MDF skirting boards to metal stud partition walls

The great thing about MDF is it doesn't warp, twist or bow so fixing 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 like before.

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

Sometimes I can be fixing skirting boards like and it needs to be done without creating big screw-head holes in the skirting boards that need to be filled and sanded down. This might be because they are unsightly when in stained or hardwood skirting boards or because it's just too much work for a decorator to fill & sand down meters & meters of MDF boards.

In this instance, I use 8-10mm timber dowels cut to 45-50mm in length and losthead nails.

You will need to fit your skirting board in place, drill a small hole through the skirting board and go 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 (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 or go very slowly/carefully if you do, you want the dowel to fit in very tightly.

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 in a wavy line 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.

Punch 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.

Have a comment or question about the best way of fixing skirting boards to the walls?