Finish Carpentry Tips
& Techniques

I've listed here a few of the finish carpentry tips, hints, and ways round awkward situations I think are really important when carrying out a fixing carpentry project to a high standard.

After the plasterers or dryliners have covered what was built during the framing carpentry stage, you'll need to be much more precise with joins, miters and scribes. Everything involved in the finish carpentry stage is seen by the client so even if the framing carpenter built everything out of level and square, your finish work needs to fit together and operate perfectly none the less. I always keep a really sharp pencil and keep my hands, tools and the work area as clean as practically possible. Any dirt or unneccessary pencil marks on timber will need to be sanded off before you're finished so it's best to avoid creating any extra work like that.

Here are a few of the basic finish carpentry tips to remember when adding the finishing touches to your project;

Measure, mark, cut and fix

These are the four most important finish carpentry skill areas that need to be mastered in order to accurately set out and assemble woodwork. Only one needs to be slightly out to cause a mistake, more so is even worse. If you are 1mm out when you measure, the same when you mark and again when you cut that could be as much as 3mm too short or long in total and the difference between a tight or baggy joint. Even cutting the wrong side of the pencil line will mean being the thickness of the saw blade (kerf) too short. It's always better if in doubt to leave the pencil line in a little when cutting, you can always cut a bit more off if needed and it's better to go back to the saw than back to the shop..

There are lots of different types of measuring and marking out tools that help improve accuracy including a decent bevel and combination square.

Attention to detail

Its all in the details. Not only does everything have to fit perfectly but also be pleasing to the eye as well. Finish carpenters develop a keen (what I call) 'chippies eye' for both proportion and making sure things sight through, lining up perfectly.

Possibly one of the more confusing finish carpentry tips to explain, but sometimes when the area you are working isn't always perfect you will need to decide whether it's better to install timber level or not – even if that means it will be out of square or parallel. This is because it amounts to being the lesser of two evils. If a situation occurs where the eye would notice it more if it were level but out of parallel, then it's better to make it parallel. One example would be when making a vertical pipe boxing. If the wall is 25mm out of level and you build your boxing perfectly plumb, it will look odd as the top is wider than the bottom or vice versa. If you make it the same dimension all the way up it will look right, and not highlight the fact the wall is so far out of level.

Another example is fitting spindles to an old staircase. If the posts are out of level but you install them level it will look odd. Parallel would be better in this instance, rather than highlighting the wonky posts.

Other times, you may find it better to ‘split the difference’ and go somewhere in between. Whichever looks best to the eye! This is why it's so important that the framing carpentry is done well, otherwise it leads to more work and confusion during the finishing stage. Developing good judgement in areas like this is a key skill of being a sought after carpenter.

Sharp tools

Blunt tools don't cut straight or precisely especially in hardwoods. In order to achieve a perfect finish, all your trim carpentry tools need to be kept in good condition and with razor sharp blades. Chisels, saws, planes, even your knife all need perfect cutting edges to prevent tearing the grain out during the cut.

I keep replacement blades in the van for all my power tools and a great Trend sharpener that I can quickly use to re-sharpen plane and chisel edges when they become dull.

Secret fixing

Extra thought is required before fixing anything in place to ensure that any visible fixings are kept to a minimum and where possible it’s difficult to see how things are in fact fixed to each other. Joints can be strengthened with invisible biscuit joints, dowels, tenons or even easier a Kreg jig.

Nail heads need to be punched under the surface and screws need to be pre-drilled and countersunk to prevent splitting the work piece. If possible, drill pilot and clearance holes and fill them with wooden pellets that are cut from the same timber instead of using filler that can shrink, crack and fall out over time.

There are loads of different types of really strong wood glue to strengthen woodworking mitres and other joints. I've got a complete finish carpentry fixings tray that I keep all the suitable screws, nails, plugs, fillers and more in.


Mouldings etc. when cut won’t necessarily fit tightly against one another or to the wall/floor first time and will often need to be ‘scribed in’. This extra fine-tuning makes the difference between neat, busy carpenters and rough ones who are out of work.

For more information about scribing timber for a perfect fit click here.

No visible end grain

Another really important finish carpentry tips I can give you is that end grain should rarely be seen! That’s what mitres and other decorative mouldings are for. There are a few exceptions, in some structural instances there is no choice - like tenons used on doors and dowels in staircase construction. And sometimes a real feature can be made of the end grain in fine furniture construction. But generally speaking wherever possible you should hide it!

Have any questions or comments about these finish carpentry tips?