What to Know About Finish Carpentry

Good finish carpenters turn construction sites into attractive living spaces. Here's what you should know about finish carpentry.

Most folks think of finish carpentry as only interior trim work, but there’s much more to it than that. Finish carpentry encompasses all work done inside a house after framing, sheathing, wiring, plumbing, insulation and drywall have been installed. This includes door and window installation and trim, fitting interior doors, wood and laminate flooring installation, wainscoting, crown molding and cabinet installation. Doing these jobs fast and well requires skill and craftsmanship.

Keep reading to learn more about the skills and tools of a finish carpenter.

Finish Carpentry Skills

Trim Work: It isn’t just decorative wood surrounding doors and windows, but also crown molding, wainscoting and wall paneling. Skillfully choosing and installing trim is only the beginning of finish carpentry success, but it’s important to master. This means knowing how to use tools like a chop saw, router, table saw and pin nailer safely and confidently. Doing good trim work also means cutting and fitting perfect miter joints every time, and learning to achieve apparent perfection with trim by hiding the natural imperfections in the house itself. Wood trim work also involves sanding and finishing, so a finish carpenter also needs to be good with sanders and brushes.

Door Fitting: Even if your home will have factory-built doors, fitting them correctly so they hang and swing reliably and latch easily takes skill. Finish carpenters use extremely sharp chisels and gouges to carve shallow pockets for hinges on both doors and door jambs, so doors close properly. Lining up the latch with the strike plate is also crucial, and harder than it looks. It involves carving a precise notch for the latch to click into, then positioning and fastening the strike plate to guide the latch inside. Even a small lack of accuracy here can lead to a door that sticks, or doesn’t latch at all.

Cabinet Installation: Although some finish carpenters build the cabinets they install, cabinetmaking is usually done by different people in a dedicated workshop. Still, finish carpenters need to know how to install cabinets properly. This means finding studs for secure mounting, installing cabinets strongly and invisibly, and working closely with the homeowner to decide exactly where cabinets go. They might also need to apply finish to the cabinets after installation, if this wasn’t already done by the cabinetmaker.

Flooring Installation: Flooring installation might seem simple, but there are important details finish carpenters always keep in mind. If there is no general contractor or project design manager, the finish carpenter may work with the homeowner to choose the flooring material, style and finish. Whether it’s hardwood, softwood, laminate or vinyl plank, care must be taken when working around walls and other obstacles. And extra skill is needed when flooring up to a wall that’s out of square.

Finish Carpentry Tools

Finish carpenters make more per hour than general carpenters, and one reason is the long list of skill-dependent tools they use. Among them: Table saws and planes for milling rough lumber to precise trim dimensions; portable dual-compound chop saws for cutting miters and bevels in trim; sanders; multitools and nailers for smoothing, precisely cutting and fastening trim and flooring. They also use and maintain hand tools like chisels, gouges, planes, spokeshaves, squares, scribing tools and more.

Robert Maxwell
Robert Maxwell is a writer, videographer, photographer and online strength coach based in Northern Ontarion, Canada. He grew up on a rural self-sufficient homestead property where he learned the skills to build his own home from the ground up, do all his own vehicle repairs, and work with wood, stone and metal to find practical DIY solutions to many everyday problems.