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Home Theater Panel Molding Notes 

Panel molding is the molding that "frames" each rectangle of paneling. Installing panel molding is not that hard to do if you know a couple of techniques and have a good saw. Here are some techniques I found valuable.

First, make your cuts using a piece of wood that's the same thickness as the depth of the recessed panel. I was able to make angled cuts (mostly 45 degrees, but a few at other angles) very easily by resting the molding I was cutting on a narrow piece of  the 3/4" plywood that I was using for the panel frames. That causes the molding to rest at the same angle while it's being cut as it will rest when you set it into the panel. One gotcha I discovered is that not all 3/4" plywood is the same thickness! I originally used a narrow strip of 3/4" plywood I'd used  to make the sub floor of the raised seating area. That ended up being ever-so-slightly thicker than the 3/4" birch plywood I was using for the panel frames, and so my first panel molding frame didn't square up correctly. The two kinds of plywood probably aren't different by more than 1/32 of an inch, but that's enough to make the corners of the panel frames not line up tightly.

The second technique that's important is that opposing pieces of panel molding in a rectangular frame have to be exactly the same length or the corners won't work out well. I'm tempted to quote a tolerance, like "They have to be within 1/64 of an inch of each other," but what I really found is that if there's any perceptible difference in length, you should shave off the longer piece until you can't perceive any difference at all.

A third technique that came up a lot is that it's better to have the panel molding end up being a tiny bit too short than a tiny bit too long. If the pieces are a tiny bit too short, it doesn't really cause any problems because they'll still cover up the edges of the recessed area fine. If they're too long, however, they might seem OK, but you'll have trouble getting all the corners to line up at the same time. It took me awhile to figure out that the problem was that arising from pieces that were longer than they should have been.

How do you attach the panel molding to the recessed areas? I originally nailed the molding in place, but I found that if you cut the pieces accurately enough, you can just set them in place with glue, and you don't need nails at all. For longer pieces of molding that aren't 100% straight, you might occasionally need to apply pressure while the glue sets (like leaning a narrow board against the molding), but mostly you can just set them into place. The only downside of glue is that once you've glued them, you're not going to be able to unglue them. There is one panel near the theater doorway that I'd really like to do over, but there's no way I can pull the molding off without wrecking the surrounding paneling, so I'm just going to leave it. Knowing what I know now, I'd probably still use glue, but I'd try putting it in only a few spots instead of running it the whole length of each piece of molding.  

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