What is a "finish" carpenter?
Finish carpenters can complete different types of jobs than rough carpenters. While rough carpenters build the frame of a house or building in the beginning stages of the construction process, finish carpenters complete decorative woodworking projects in the last stage.
A significant difference between the two crafts lies in that the framing work of rough carpenters inevitably gets covered up and goes unseen. Therefore, the work of rough carpenters does not need to be artistically precise or aesthetically pleasing. On the other hand, a finish carpenter's work is visible and seen by almost everybody in the house, so finish carpenters must use superior creative skill and excellent technical precision to ensure that their work displays the appropriate design and a beautiful appearance.
Finish carpenters must take exact measurements with tape or with their eyes, carefully cut wood with great precision, understand symmetry and be able to match colors, shapes, sizes and patterns.
These stairs were part of a gut renovation of a six-family apartment building. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Cecilia D. of Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Types of woodworking projects
You can hire a finish carpenter to complete a diverse range of woodworking projects. When you hire a finish contractor, he or she should display several options regarding different designs and colors that you can use for various wooden structures in your house, and you can select which styles are most appropriate for your family's home and for your particular aesthetic desires.
Many finish carpenters can fulfill door and window installations. The carpenter cuts the wood to accommodate the appropriate measurements, carves a design to most effectively compliment the appearance of your house or building and then installs the door or window to ensure that it functions properly. Most finish contractors can also install stairways and handrails that are both decorative and safe.
Many finish carpenters can build and install cabinets, ensuring that they are designed to maximize your convenient storage space and to enhance the gorgeous appearance of your kitchen. Most finish contractors can also design and construct furniture that is comfortable and aesthetically appealing. Additionally, finish contractors can add custom inlays to your flooring and can build and install shelving units and closets.
From home entertainment hutches, mirrors, cedar chests, coatracks or shelves, skilled carpenters can tackle many types of custom woodworking projects. Also, you'll want to look to these professionals for repairing items like legs on furniture.
Types of molding
Many finish carpenters can complete trimming jobs around the house. They can often measure, cut and install trimming and molding into the interior and exterior of your home, add door and window casing and fix rough corners.
There are several types of molding from which to choose, including:
Crown molding: A decorative capping that defines the space between ceiling and wall. It is installed at an angle so that it attaches to both surfaces.
Cornices: The very top portion of the crown molding. Cornice and crown molding work together to create the trim's profile.
Cove molding: Similar to crown molding, but where the profile of crown molding bends outward, cove molding shows a concave profile.
Chair rail molding: Created to protect walls from damage from chair backs. this molding dissects the wall about 3 feet above the floor.
Panel molding: Resembles a series of large empty frames placed above chair height or stretching from floor to ceiling.
Baseboard: Serves to protect the bottoms of walls from damage and acts as a connector for the wall and flooring. Shoe molding is sometimes installed at the bottom of the baseboard to hide any irregularities in the line of the floor.
Baseboards protect the bottom of the walls from damage, but it can also be stylized to add to the room's decoration. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Dennis D.)
Molding and baseboard maintenance
Dust and cobwebs quickly dull the appearance of molding and baseboards. White molding, in particular, must be dusted frequently to prevent a dingy look. Crown molding should be dusted with a long-handled duster every two weeks to one month.
Since molding on lower areas of the wall is more likely to get dirty and stained, this molding should be vacuumed or dusted weekly. Wood trim that requires more attention can be cleaned with polish or wood cleaner. Water-based cleaners should not be used on wood.
Baseboards require frequent cleaning because of their proximity to the floor, where more dirt collects. Frequent dusting will help homeowners avoid a big job later on. Baseboards should be vacuumed with a brush attachment. Wiping with a damp cloth will remove more serious grime. Care should be taken not to saturate the baseboard or wall.
As with any type of dusting, start from the highest surface and work your way downward. For example, start by dusting your crown molding, then move to the chair rail and finish with your baseboards. This method helps you eliminate dust altogether, rather than creating it after cleaning one particular surface. Don’t forget to vacuum, sweep or mop dust from the floors after you’re finished.
Refinish or replace baseboards?
Due to their position on the floor, baseboards are subject to cracking and chipping by feet and furniture. Slightly scratched and chipped baseboards can be revived with some putty and paint for little cost. Irreplaceable antique or solid wood baseboards justify the effort of refinishing, while the lower cost of other materials makes replacement a better choice.
Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) baseboards, which is a manmade material that comes from heating and forming wood fibers into a new material, measuring from 2 to 4 inches in height cost from 65 to 90 cents per linear foot, while 3- to 4-inch baseboards made of pine or poplar run from 85 cents to $1.50 per foot.
Baseboards made of high-end woods such as cherry and mahogany can cost from $2.80 to $7 per foot, depending on style and height. If using a contractor for the job, check to see if the cost includes labor and materials before you purchase.
Contractors can often help you get better deals on materials, so it might be beneficial to let them purchase the materials for you.
Homeowners with damaged MDF and less expensive wood baseboards will find replacing the baseboards time-consuming but not difficult. In these cases, it often makes sense for the homeowner to tackle the job. Since it can be difficult to remove baseboards without breaking them, homeowners with more expensive baseboards should consider hiring a professional to perform the work. For many homeowners, the value of the baseboards justifies the cost of removal, repair and replacement.
Types of wood available
You can choose from several types of wood for your carpentry projects:
• Pine is commonly used for finish carpentry projects because it is easy for the carpenter to shape and because it is relatively inexpensive. As a result, pine is often used for trimming, molding and baseboards.
• Oak is another very affordable material that you can use for many woodwork projects, such as shelves and furniture.
• Cherry and maple are most commonly used for cabinets. Cherry is effective for cabinets because the hardwood has a luxurious beauty, an elegant grain pattern and an attractive reddish brown color.
• Maple is a good choice for cabinets because it has an appealing creamy color and a smooth texture that can enhance the ambiance of your kitchen or bathroom.
A finish carpenter might also use woods such as birch, cedar, plywood, fir and redwood. Hardness, durability and cost are three crucial factors you'll need to consider when choosing the type of wood for your project.
A carpenter built this large wall unit with three sections for bookshelves, an entertainment center and glass cabinets. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Sue P. of Johns Creek, Ga.)
Costs for woodworking projects
Costs will depend on the particular project, the professional you hire and on the materials that you choose for the woodwork.
Maple and cherry are usually more expensive than other types of hardwood.
Most carpenters charge by the linear foot for trimming and molding work, and the linear foot charge usually includes both material and labor. Although the exact price varies for each project, the average price for trimming jobs ranges from approximately $2 to $7 per linear foot, and the average price for crown molding is typically around $7 to $13 per linear foot.
The average price to have shelves built and installed usually ranges from about $5 to $15 per linear foot, and full shelving units can cost between $1,000 and $5,000.
For kitchen cabinets, the price depends on the size of your cabinet space and on the material you select. That said, the average price to have a finish carpenter build and install cabinets typically ranges from around $4,000 to $10,000.
Additionally, some finish carpenters charge by an hourly rate for certain projects. Although the specific rate depends on the particular professional you hire, the average hourly rate that carpenters usually charge ranges from around $40 to $100 per hour.