True to their titles, finish carpenters put the final touches on a home. Considered the cream-of-the-crop in the construction world, finish carpenters draw top dollar for their finely honed skills. If you have the talent and fancy a career in carpentry, but you aren’t fond of framing houses in freezing weather or balancing precariously on steep roofs, the respected title of finish carpenter might appeal to you. While a few trade schools offer carpentry instruction, most finish carpenters receive on-the-job training.
Precision measuring, cutting and fitting are essential finish carpenter skills. While framers can get by installing a bowed stud now and then, crown molding, baseboard and other trim is visible and should be as close to flawless as possible. The reputation of a finish carpenter depends on her ability to fit wood joints so well that they’re barely noticeable.
Cabinetmakers are finish carpenters, but not all finish carpenters are cabinetmakers. Designing and building cabinets is specialty skill that typically requires the carpenter to have access to a wood shop where she can construct the cabinet bases before installing them on-site. In some cases, especially during remodels when room dimensions are out-of-square, the cabinetmaker might build the cabinets in place.
Hanging Interior Doors
Hanging interior doors is a typical finish carpenter task. The framing crew constructs the rough opening and builds the support headers, but the finish carpenter hangs the actual doors. This involves shimming and leveling the doorframe to ensure that the door opens and closes with ease.
Trimming the House
Perhaps a finish carpenter’s biggest responsibility is installing the trim that gives the house a professional look. This requires knowing how to scribe molding to fit uneven surfaces, install cope joints in inside trim corners and cut complicated trim angles.
Custom Wood Flooring
Finish carpenters might install wood flooring, especially if the homeowner wants inlaid medallions or borders. Custom floor designs require meticulous measuring, fitting and gluing – skills that are generally outside the realm of standard flooring installation crews.
Stain and Varnish
Some finish carpenters offer staining and varnishing services while others leave those tasks to specialty paint-and-finish contractors. Typically, the larger the community, the more specialized the skills, so a finish carpenter in a metropolitan area might not stick around to stain and varnish, while her counterpart in a rural region might do everything from installing the trim and sanding it, to staining, varnishing and filling nail holes.
Finish carpenters use many of the same tools other carpenters use, but they need a few specialty tools as well. In a finish carpenter’s shop, you’ll find a table saw, a chop saw, a jointer, a planer, hand and belt sanders, finish nail guns, pinners, micro-pinners, hand planes, wood chisels and a variety of jigs that fit on routers to cut dado and rabbet joints. A finish carpenter’s tools allow her to shape wood edges, create bevels and make all the little wood details that camouflage rough construction and add custom value to homes.
Glenda Taylor is a contractor and a full-time writer specializing in construction writing. She also enjoys writing business and finance, food and drink and pet-related articles. Her education includes marketing and a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.