There's nothing quite as neerve-wracking as watching a brand-new apprentice swing a hammer mere millimeters from a client's wall.

One of the biggest challenges installers face when working with new helpers, other than finding one to hire and then getting him to show up for work, is keeping them from destroying the walls while learning to put down tack strip.

Baseboard damage can be a headache for everyone. What follows is a way for installation professionals to instruct their helpers how to properly gauge the distance from the wall without ceding the usual baseboard damage.

Tools of the Teacher

You will need a 1-1/8-inch white rubber chair leg cap; a piece of ¼-inch plywood 10 to 12 inches wide and 3 to 4 feet long; a new helper (in this case, my son Jon); a hammer; tack strip; and a room in which to install it(photo 1).

First, cut the bottom off of the rubber chair leg cap, and put it aside until later (photo 2). Next, stand the ¼-inch piece of plywood on edge against the wall, then push the tack strip flush against it and let the new helper flail away (photo 3). The plywood protects the wall while providing the proper gap for the tack strip, as well as giving instant feedback if the helper over-swings.

Once your helper has developed a good-enough feel for the hammer that you feel fairly safe turning him or her loose on an unprotected wall, put the white rubber cap on the hammer. If the helper misses, the cap will help limit baseboard damage (photo 4).

School's in Session

There are two schools of thought on how to best position the body to reduce baseboard strikes:

  • Face the wall. The thought here is that your arm is more likely to drift side to side than forward toward the wall.

  • Align yourself parallel to the wall. I personally prefer facing the wall, but I have spoken with some installers who swear by the parallel method. In reality it’s probably a “Tastes Great…Less Filling” argument. Do what works the best for you.