Finish Carpentry Effective Techniques for Custom Interiors

Be the first to review this product

In stock


This new book contains over 500 photos and illustrations from real job sites that show you how to achieve exceptional finish carpentry results in record time.

You'll learn how to install windows, doors, baseboard, crown molding, and more. Find out about the tools, jigs and templates that let you do precision work at production speeds. Get hard-won layout and installation tips for rooms that are out-of-square and off plumb and level. See how to construct built-in bookshelves, fireplace surrounds, closets, coffered ceilings, skylight wells, soffits, and formal paneled ceilings with decorative beams.

Weight 2.3000
ISBN 1928580
Page Count 390
Author Gary Katz
Publisher Craftsman Book Company
Dimensions 8-1/2 x 11

This new book contains over 500 photos and illustrations from real job sites that show you how to achieve exceptional finish carpentry results in record time.

You'll learn how to install windows, doors, baseboard, crown molding, and more. Find out about the tools, jigs and templates that let you do precision work at production speeds. Get hard-won layout and installation tips for rooms that are out-of-square and off plumb and level. See how to construct built-in bookshelves, fireplace surrounds, closets, coffered ceilings, skylight wells, soffits, and formal paneled ceilings with decorative beams.

These invaluable tips are guaranteed to help you take your work to a new level of quality and efficiency.

Write Your Own Review

You're reviewing: Finish Carpentry Effective Techniques for Custom Interiors


Introduction xi

Chapter 1 Finish Carpentry and Design 1

Chapter 2 Materials 13

Chapter 3 Tools of the Trade 25

Chapter 4 Exterior Doors 43

Chapter 5 Windows 69

Chapter 6 Interior Doors 79

Chapter 7 Casing 99

Chapter 8 Baseboard 115

Chapter 9 Closet Shelving 125

Chapter 10 Crown Molding 141

Chapter 11 Decorative Walls 159

Chapter 12 Decorative Ceilings 181

Chapter 13 Decorative Doorways 197

Chapter 14 Bookshelves 219

Chapter 15 Mantelpieces 237


Appendix 1 Suppliers, Products, and Resources 255

Appendix 2 Take off Charts 259

Appendix 3 Crown Molding Miter & Bevel Angle Setting Chart 263

Index 267

Chapter 1

Finish Carpentry and Design

The first assignment for most apprentice carpenters -after learning to sweep sawdust and carry material is installing baseboard molding. An experienced hand usually offers a brief introduction to the basics of using a tape measure, and then a longer lesson on the use and danger of a power miter saw. Graphic and gory details often accompany this intentionally terrifying lecture.

Afterward, the shaken apprentice is led to a backroom closet and told with all the blunt force of a hammer blow: "Base that. When you think you're finished, come and get me."

I don't imagine that anyone has ever told an apprentice that they're about to install a molding that originated on Greek temples. In fact, most carpenters never learn that baseboard molding has its origin in the plinth and base of a classical column, or that modern casing and crown come from the same source. I can admit that many years went by before I learned that carpentry had a history.

My “education" began years ago, when I made two memorable mantelpieces for a client whom I'll never forget. Gladys surprised me from the start. The first time I visited her home there was a tall pile of stone, brick, and rubble in the driveway from the two fireplaces she had chipped clean, mostly by herself, though her husband looked pretty beat up, too!

Gladys wanted me only to “help" her design and build both mantels, so she said. With an inexpensive little power miter saw -and several boxes of finish nails in different sizes- she just didn't have all the tools she knew might be needed. But she sure had a pile of moldings, each one hand- picked because of its size, shape, complexity, and attractiveness. She even had a 12ft. piece of rabbeted stair nosing. (Gladys had no idea where or how that piece would fit; she knew only that she liked it.) We ended up using the stair nosing and many other pieces, too. I would later learn that she had no hesitation about visiting that molding supplier again and again, even though it was a twenty- mile drive through traffic.

That job turned out to be real fun like first love. Nothing we could do, no combination of moldings or styles, seemed wrong. I'd hold two pieces together and she'd say, “Yes, but how about this?” Then she'd hold those two pieces alongside two more and I'd say, “Okay with me”

In the end, those mantels knocked me out. I might even have a picture of them somewhere, but I'd never show it today. They were both silly flights of fancy. We had fun combining different moldings, but our lack of familiarity with historic design limited our effort to a tasteless conglomeration of coves, fillets, wave moldings, egg and dart ogees, more fillets, coin molding, bead-and-barrel pat- terns, and dentil blocks.

After building those mantels, I knew some thing was missing, and I was a man on a mission. I borrowed books on mantels from the library and looked at every magazine I could find. I learned that carpentry actually had an history, though no known date of origin, and that the moldings and designs I built were inspired by historical precedents, often by the “classical orders,” whatever they were. While I searched for clues to help me understand mantelpiece design, I kept running into that classical orders” phrase, especially in captions beneath photographs. But I had to look much harder to learn the real meaning of the words.

The job of carpentry hinges on more than just woodwork and joinery. Building a successful mantelpiece, decorating a doorway, choosing wainscoting and crown molding, all depend on a carpenter's familiarity with his craft, which also means a familiarity with classical and period design. There's no better place to begin that education than by learning about the classical orders; after all, they're behind almost everything a carpenter builds.

You might say that carpenters bring order to the world, by building places and spaces to better organize, protect, and provide comfort for people's lives. But carpenters also are dependent on order for the structures that they build. It's probably easiest to understand what classical orders are by taking the words one at a time. In architecture, the word order really means any horizontal structure that's sup- ported by vertical structures. The relationship between an entablature and its supporting colonnade, for instance, represents an order. Even a simple doorway is an order, so too are a pair of posts supporting the header of a patio cover. The term classical refers to the art and architecture of the Greeks and Romans. So the classical orders are simply the three Greek orders (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian) and the two Roman orders (Tuscan and Composite) that regulate the relationship between vertical and horizontal components in the architectural structures that are among the roots of our culture.

As I learned on those two mantelpieces years ago, it really helps to know whether an overmantel and a cartouche belong on a Federal or Georgian mantelpiece; whether Gothic and Celtic ornaments belong on a Victorian or Colonial mantel; or if it's acceptable to decorate an Arts and Crafts mantel with garlands and urns. It also helps to know if the dart on egg-and-dart molding should point up or down.


This book isn't about classical design. It's about finish carpentry. So this short introduction won't last very long. I only want to point out a few of the valuable lessons I've learned about the way classical designs affect our craft.

In this chapter I'll demonstrate several ways that classical designs have influenced period styles. I'll also offer a few tips to help distinguish major architectural periods -using the vocabulary of a carpenter. In the following chapters I'll describe many of the modern materials, tools, and techniques currently used to achieve those designs. For a better understanding and a richer appreciation of finish carpentry, I encourage readers to visit libraries and haunt historic homes. I can't imagine a more perfect vacation for a finish carpenter! After all, learning why is as important as learning how. Among the books I've found especially helpful are Cyril Harris's Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture (Dover, 1977); The Elements of Style, edited by Stephen Calloway arid Elizabeth Cromley (Simon and Shuster, 1991); and A Field Guide to America's Historic Neighborhoods and Museum Houses, by Virginia and Lee McAlester (Knopf, 1998). See also their book A Field Guide to American Houses (Knopf 2000). For more intrepid readers/carpenters, I also recommend two histories of architecture: A History of Architecture, by Spiro Kostof (Oxford, 1985), and another that is out of print but can still be found at used bookstores and online, also titled A History of Architecture, by Fiske Kimball (Harper Bros., 1918).

Pattern Books

As carpenters collect tools and build on their skills, they should also collect and build a simple library of their craft -- books, magazines, photographs, and drawings of historic and modern styles, effective proportions, and pleasing joinery. If you're like me, you'll begin collecting on subjects that interest you and later on add subjects that will interest your clients.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, pattern books were the only academic education for countless craftsmen and architects, reinforced by a long apprenticeship in the trade. Pattern books were similar in some ways to the piles of magazines and books published today which are devoted to "building plans” or “home decoration.” But pattern books were also different. Mostly slim volumes, pattern books frequently began with elaborate illustrations of the five classical orders, and then continued with precise drawings and measurements which detailed designs contemporary to their publication. Stairs, doorways, windows, arches, even whole floor plans, were often included, and each in the style of the book. For instance, Asher Benjamin's The Country Builder's Assistant (1797) includes dimensions and details for each of the classical orders, but also plans and specifications for Federal-style mantelpieces, stairways, doorways, roof plans, and floor plans. Pattern books were devoted to other specific styles, too. Batty and Thomas Langley's Gothic Architecture (1742) begins with elaborate and unusual details for five "new Gothick Orders," and continues with doors, windows, and facades all in the Gothic tradition.

The Five Orders

The classical orders tell a tale of history themselves because they're a combination of primitive, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman influences (Figure 1-1). For thousands of years, we've been stacking rocks and trees to build shelters, which partly explains why classical columns are shaped like tree trunks. Many capitals even have branch-like stems, some with leaves.

Each classical order is defined by strict proportional rules: The height of the column, including the base and capital, is determined by the width of the column near the base, as is the height of the entablature and the proportions of its components: the architrave, frieze, and cornice. For instance, Abraham Swan (following the Renaissance architect Palladio) wrote that the height of the Doric column should be ten times the diameter of the column at its base, the height of the Ionic column eleven times the diameter, and the height of the Corinthian column twelve times the diameter.

The entablatures in all three orders, on the other hand, are the same size in relation to the diameter of the columns. Needless to say, when you vary the proportions of major structural components that much from one style to another, the effect on the details is considerable: There's an increased vertical and horizontal difference from the Doric through the Ionic to the Corinthian orders -toward more lift, poise, and decorative freedom. Given these dramatic differences, it's not surprising that such a great variety of contemporary styles have evolved from the classical orders.

Seeing Walls as Columns

As carpenters, we continue to build with the bones of classical architecture, though Palladio's strict rules are only a guide for modern design.

In 1897 Edith Wharton wrote: "It may surprise those whose attention has not been turned to such matters to be told that in all but the most cheaply constructed houses the interior walls are invariably treated as an order." Wharton, in her collaborative work The Decoration of Houses, goes on to describe how baseboard represents the plinth on a column, how crown molding resembles a column's cornice, and how the intervening wall, often decorated with paneling -mimics the shaft of a column (Figure 1-2). Doors and windows, with their casing and occasional overdoor treatments, can be viewed as colonnades. These classical forms are easily identified in nearly every major period of American architecture.


Recognizing classical elements in American architecture helps to identify one period from another, a bit of knowledge I've found helpful as a finish carpenter.

Not long ago, I was asked to install a mantelpiece for some clients who were building a Colonial home. The couple was interested in authentically imitating the period, but they were also attracted to reclaimed materials. They had salvaged the doors, windows, and hardware from an early 20th-century home, and it all fit fine with their desire for tall plinth blocks, rosettes, and overdoor crown moldings.

But the medieval mantelpiece they were thinking of purchasing had chamfered pilasters decorated with a fleur-de-lis design, and the frieze was emblazoned with a heraldic shield. I recognized the Elizabethan-Gothic style and knew it to be incompatible with the Colonial look they were creating. A small collection of mantelpiece details copied from historic homes convinced them, and also provided me with a guide to designing their mantelpiece.

Historic homes often have been a guide for me; they're the temples of our craft. Well-wrought homes display a harmony of design that's not easily forgotten. I'll never forget my first visit to the John Brown Home in Providence, R.I. When I walked through the front door and came face to face with the imposing entry and hallway, I lost my breath. My eyes couldn't stop taking in the details, from big things (such as the way the carpenters had cut the crown molding in the broken pediments above the doorways) to little details (such as how the chair rail terminated and over- lapped the back edge of the casing).

But when fellow carpenter and friend Jed Dixon pointed out the baseboard profile and how it coped perfectly into the same matching profile on the radius plinth around each column, I was stunned. I couldn't wait for the opportunity to use that same technique myself.

The photographs in the following sections come from both historic homes that I've visited and modern homes in which I've worked. The combination should help to illustrate how a carpenter's life is dependent on both the past and the present, the first for motivation and the second for means.

This small gallery of images depicts only broad categories of architectural styles. Though many periods overlap and influences abound, major periods are marked by key distinguishing features.


The Georgian period was named after the 18th and 19th century Hanoverian kings of England, including George III (the English king Americans rebelled against in 1776). Carpentry in the Georgian style can be identified by several noticeable features: tall doorways decorated with open pediments, rich Ionic and Corinthian columns, and elaborate cornice work. This cornice work includes tall entablatures with bold frieze designs, large, deep dentil blocks, and sometimes modillion blocks, too (like a row of little corbels suspending the cornice).

Just as early American colonists relied on England for higher education, Georgian woodwork depended on tradesmen trained in English and European methods. Along with strict classical proportions, there's even a touch of the Rococo in many Colonial homes, such as the S-scrolls in the stairway skirt (Figure 1-3).

Georgian mantelpieces are known for having large dramatic overmantels (almost a second mantelpiece or heavy framework above the actual fireplace). And crosette architraves -casing or a picture frame with ears in the corners -are common around doorways and above mantelpieces in Georgian homes (Figures 1-4 and 1-5).

If historic homes are temples to the craft of carpentry, then Georgian homes are our cathedrals. Wood carving was at its peak during the Georgian period (the work of one famous carver, Grinling Gibbon, was mimicked by many others), and carpentry was king. It's no wonder that other carpenters and I get dizzy visiting one of these homes; there's so much to see, both high and low, and never enough time to catch it all (Figure 1-6).

Federal and Neoclassical

During the late 18th century and the early 19th century, people tired of imposing pediments above doorways and monumental overmantels.

Archeological digs during the mid 18th century had unearthed fabulous Roman ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum. A "new" classical style was born, which was less imposing, grand, and monumental than the architecture of Georgian mansions, and was perfect for smaller, more intimate middleclass homes. Roman designs swiftly caught the imagination of English architects, especially the Adam brothers, and Neoclassicism emerged. In America the Adam style became a public fad, expressing all the romantic notions of anew republic (Figure 1-7).

Large Georgian doorways and mantelpieces were rejected as carpenters collected new pattern books that arrived from England. Urns, garlands, vases, and arabesques of acanthus and honeysuckle stems were applied to simpler doorways, smaller mantels, and more delicate casings and cornice work (Figure 1-8). Rosettes and plinth blocks around doorways replaced full-sized pilasters and columns; heavy cornice work was rejected in favor of more delicate details borrowed from the Ionic and Corinthian orders. Modillion blocks were abandoned entirely. Details from the Ionic and Corinthian orders continued in use, but book-sized dentil blocks and fist-sized egg-and-dart moldings were reduced to postage-stamp and thumb-nail sizes that are still popular today.


Like stock-market booms, fads always fall. The Neoclassical fever of the early 1800s burned out during the later part of the century and finish carpenters stopped depending on formal rules of classical proportion and style.

A grab bag of architectural styles emerged during the second half of the 19th century. These included a revival of Gothic designs, which lead to the Second Empire, the Stick, and the Shingle styles, and even later to the Aesthetic and so-called "Queen Anne" styles. Carpenters no longer needed classical training or apprenticeship. Homes were decorated with a hodgepodge of twisted columns, spindles, balustrades, brackets, corbels, steep Gothic arches, heavy beams, fretwork, and lots of spandrels -miniature balustrades hanging from porch roofs and spindle-work sunbursts above doorways (Figure 1-9).

But that wasn't all. The Victorian era was a carpenter's dream of woodwork featuring old-growth lumber, from redwood to oak, walnut to fir. Dark wainscot paneling, coffered ceilings with turned pendants, elaborate and imaginative overdoor pediments, mantelpieces with multiple stages and nooks and shelves for collectibles: all were common in many late 19th-century homes (Figure 1-10).

Though the style has never been my favorite, like any finish carpenter, I'm always excited by the prospect of working on a Victorian home, not only because of the job security (there's always an endless amount of moldings to install), but because of the dramatic end results.

Arts and Crafts

Before long, the Victorian fad fell from favor, too, though carpenters suffered no loss. During the late 1800s, the industrial revolution picked up steam, first in Britain, and the simpler agrarian way of life was under pressure. But just when value seemed measurable only in terms of money, a return to handcraft erupted in England. The Arts and Crafts movement was a vigorous and passionate protest against thoughtless "progress" and quickly spread to America. Victorian gingerbread, clutter, and excess ended.

The Arts and Crafts period proved a heyday for carpenters. Architects adopted simple designs, mixing Medieval, Asian, and even a few Victorian elements. Throughout the period, fine woodwork- often exposed joinery -highlighted every design (Figures 1-11 and 1-12).

Victorian mantelpieces, with their ornate ornamentation, were replaced by hand-wrought wood- work, often with Gothic references and mixed with other natural materials including iron, tile, stone, and concrete (Figure 1-13).

Victorian coffered ceilings continued in use, in some cases with pendants and deep crown moldings, but doorways and casings reflected structural form more than decorative fancy. Post-and-beam construction- emphasizing mortise-and-tenon joints- appeared, while casing and baseboard were reduced to their simplest form, often applied with exposed plugs, bungs, or dowels accented by a different wood type.

Like every other architectural "reaction," many aspects of the previous period remained in use, which is one reason why parlor mantelpieces and narrow overmantels with mirrors were still popular on many Arts and Crafts homes (Figure 1-14).


It has taken me many years to develop an understanding-and even more years to develop a liking -for modern architecture. As a carpenter, modern trim-less homes used to seem cold, austere, and un-homey to me. But that's no longer the case. I attended a lecture at the new Getty Museum shortly after it opened. Richard Meier, the architect of the museum, was the speaker and he began the lecture by answering the oft-heard complaint that the museum stuck out from the site like a sore thumb. Meier explained -as if he were speaking only to me -that on the contrary, he had designed the complex to fit into the land, to emerge from the Santa Monica mountaintops like a structure from classical antiquity, not only as a part of nature but also as an expression of our past and present culture.

At that moment I finally recognized the relationship between modern and classical architecture: Modern designs are an architectural reaction to the Arts and Crafts movement. They're a stripped-down version of classical architecture where posts and beams (columns and entablatures) are laid bare and nakedly support our protective shelters (Figure 1-15).

Modern styles began during the Arts and Crafts period, but the movement really took off during the early 20th century when Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe started the Bauhaus school in Germany. The German society needed to rebuild after the devastation of World War I, and all decorative elements -eaves, cornice work, moldings, and even gable roofs -were discarded in favor of straight clean lines, flat roofs, and simple Greek- temple-like structures (Figure 1-16).

These tenets of simplicity, mixed with the ageless influence of classical architecture (and the continuing desire to open our homes and our lives to the outdoors) are the foundation for many of today's modern styles. From straight baseboard with no molding profile to jambs without casing and doorways without headers, from invisible European hinges to floating stair treads and walls of frameless windows, modem homes are a challenge, not a threat, to finish carpenters (Figures 1-17 and 1-18).


Modern finish carpenters install a broad variety of woodwork. The limited number of examples in this section point to only a few variations. I've worked in homes that have adhered strictly to a single historic style, but more often I've worked on projects that combine elements from several styles (sometimes tastefully, sometimes not).

No doubt, carpenters today seldom enjoy the respect once granted tradespeople. And there are many over-the-top jobs where a carpenter shouldn't dream of offering design advice -not when architects, designers, and decorators have already been enlisted for just that purpose.

But for average everyday projects, the role of a carpenter hasn't changed for hundreds of years: Carpenters are the first, last, and often the only word when it comes to woodwork design.

Which explains why a carpenter in search of success- one who cares about pleasing clients and making a profit -should learn the basics of period styles. After all, there are few completely new things under the sun, and our carpentry creations are all copied, borrowed, or suffused with something that predates our efforts and often ourselves.

Interior trim has the power to transform a blank space into a finished home with warmth and architectural character. It’s also the most visible work a carpenter performs, demanding expert skills, precise tools, and a solid understanding of the design principals at work. In this book, a master tradesman shows step-by-step how to meet the highest standards of craftsmanship while working under the inevitable time and budget constraints of modern construction. Using the latest tools, materials, and techniques you’ll learn the professional approach to:

  • Hanging and Trimming Ddoors

  • Running Baseboard

  • Tray and Coffered Ceilings

  • Built-In Bookshelves

  • Frame-and-Panel Walls

  • Custom Closets

  • Installing Crown

  • Window Installation and Trim

  • Curved Woodwork

  • Fireplace Mantels

  • Chair and Picture Rails

  • Job-Site Trouble Shooting