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What is Finish Carpentry?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Finish carpentry is the carpentry performed at the end of a building job; the finishing touches, as it were. Generally, it includes any carpentry which will be visible when the project is complete, in contrast with the rough carpentry which is covered up during the building process. Finish carpentry requires special skills and a very good eye for detail, and an experienced finish carpenter can be in very high demand.

Building or remodeling any structure is done in a series of stages. At each stage, different specialists may be involved, making sure that the work is done properly, and protecting the structural integrity of the building. Finish carpenters come in at the end of the job, when everything is in place and installed and it's time to apply the last details. These professionals make sure that everything is finished off and that the project looks aesthetically pleasing.

Finish carpentry includes things like trim, molding, and installation of hardware such as doorknobs, drawer pulls, and so forth. It can also include roofing, including the finishing touches on the roof such as gutters and trim. Essentially, if it's going to be visible for the life of the structure, it is considered finish carpentry. The finish carpentry consists of all of the fine details which laypeople notice when they look at a structure.

As with regular carpenters, finish carpenters need to be competent builders, but they also need aesthetic skills. They must be able to place items evenly and accurately, because they will be visible in the future. Things like matching of colors, sizes, shapes, and patterns are especially critical. When things don't quite match in rough carpentry, it's acceptable, as long as they are solid. When they don't match in finish carpentry, it's a problem; if, for example, the baseboards on one wall are slightly smaller than those on another, it's going to be a glaring and potentially very irritating problem.

People learn finish carpentry by starting out in rough carpentry, learning about the basics of carpentry, getting comfortable with tools, and gradually learning more advanced skills. Eventually, they are allowed to work on minor finish projects, and as they develop competence, they are assigned to more challenging and complex tasks. Some finish carpenters come from a woodworking background, with experience making things like fine furniture, while others may start out as basic carpenter's apprentices, building their skills from scratch with the assistance of skilled and patient mentors.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Izzy78 — On Feb 07, 2012

@stl156 - Good points there. I live in a pretty basic house, so I was with jcraig, but I could definitely see the benefit of hiring a skill person if you have a lot of custom finish carpentry that needs to be done. And even when I think about it, I have taken off baseboards and door trim when I have painted a room, and it is not as easy to reinstall as you might think.

Besides the interior, I could see the benefit of paying extra for someone to put on the outside touches as well. Again, some of that, like gutters, could be done by an experienced do-it-yourselfer, but other things aren't so simple.

What does finish carpentry pricing usually run? Do the individuals that do it usually have there own business, or do they work for someone else, or does it vary? Also, do they typically have the demand to do finish work year-round or do they work on the rough carpentry of a house first and then stick around to tie everything together at the end?

By stl156 — On Feb 07, 2012

@jcraig - Admittedly, some of the things a finish carpenter does aren't really that difficult, but there are cases where the jobs can get quite tricky.

In a normal, basic house, there might not be a lot to do. You would have baseboards and door trim and that sort of thing, but most regular carpenters could do a fine job of that. I think where the real skill comes in is with things like crown molding and houses with odd or custom features.

If you have ever looked at crown molding, it is not something like base boards that you can cut at a 45 degree angle and stick up on the wall. To make corner cuts, you have to use a special saw to make detailed contour cuts so that everything fits together without holes. That is something that takes a while to master. If you have something like a custom bookshelf or mantle or similar fixture, you would want someone skilled to install that, as well.

By jcraig — On Feb 06, 2012

@TreeMan - I think a finish carpentry job really is just a mix of whatever still needs to be done around a house. I remember when my parents were having their house built, they hired the contractor, and he was also the finish carpenter, since he had been in the business for a long time. Just from that experience, I would say that any building group would probably have at least one finish carpenter on staff to wrap things up.

You mentioned the windows, but I think these were installed by the regular laborers. I believe the trim and everything would have been done by the finish carpenter though. Besides that, he did a few minor things with the cabinets and hung the interior doors.

In honesty, though, it doesn't seem like doing some of that stuff would be all that difficult. Maybe not easy, but not necessarily something that a highly trained carpenter would need to be called in for. I could be wrong, though.

By TreeMan — On Feb 05, 2012

I always hear the tern finish carpentry used on home improvement shows, but I never really knew what all kind of work they did. I always just assumed that when you were building a house, any contractor or carpenter or whoever would have the skills to do the finishing work, but maybe that is not the case. I'd say that is especially true if finish carpentry work costs more than basic work.

What are some of the things they do besides molding and baseboards? How about things like windows? That would be something that you would see once everything else is put together. I thought usually there were special installers that put windows in, though.

The other thing I was thinking was maybe something like hardwood floors. I guess depending on where they came from, you might have to hire a carpenter or someone to install something like that.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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