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Finishing Carpentry, the Final Touches

Finishing carpentry adds the final trim to your homes interior. It includes installing the interior doors, applying door and window casings, and installing baseboard. It can be simple or elaborate, depending on your taste and your skill level. Finishes can be paint or wood grain and material used can vary considerably.


Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Beautiful, but the storm is on it’s way today.

Over the years, I have seen metal jambs and casings on doors, plastic casings, rubber like cove bases, extruded foam  crown moldings, and the wood or MDF trim common today. Wood grain trim is elegant and beautiful but takes the most skill and care to apply and finish. It is also the most costly. It is commonly available in oak with multiple configurations. It is possible to make your own or have custom moldings made from any type of wood available.

For ease of application and low-cost, my own preference is MDF (medium density fibreboard.) It is very consistent, cuts and molds easily, and takes a paint finish very nicely. It does have disadvantages and many cabinet makers and carpenters detest it. It is very dusty to work or sand,and is very heavy. It may contain formaldehyde in the glue that binds it, but I do not see that a significant amount could off gas especially once it is primed and painted. It does not hold fine thread screws well, especially in the edges, but it glues up very nicely. I prefer to do cutting and sanding out-of-doors. It is important to wear a dust mask. It is manufactured from wood residuals which makes it easier on our forests.

You can, of course, hire professionals to do your finishing carpentry. It is, however, not that difficult to do yourself. It does require a lot of care and a few rather inexpensive tools. Power tools are big help. Mitre boxes with a backsaw are fine but a powered mitre saw will save a lot of time and likely improve your accuracy. A good blade is essential. A table saw can be handy but a circular saw with a guide will work for the few rip cuts you may have to make. Finishing nails can be used for fastening but a brad nailer works faster and no setting is required. You will need a sanding block and some sponge sanders, An electric orbital sander can save time in some cases. If using nails on wood, you may have to pre-drill to avoid splitting, and to improve accuracy. Always a good practice when finishing with nails. A stand for your mitre saw, with extensions, is a great help. You may need a coping saw. You will need a 4 or 6 ft. level or a shorter one combined with a straight edge.

On a new house, the finishing carpentry starts when the walls have been painted, and the floor coverings are installed.

Sometimes, carpets are not installed until the finishing carpentry is done. In this case space should be allowed under bases and casing.

A bi-fold and a swinging door.

Bi-fold door and an uncased swinging door

The first step is to hang the interior doors. You can buy pre-hung doors, easy fit doors or make your own jambs, and purchase door slabs. For speed and ease I prefer pre-hung doors. In this case you must specify left or right hand swing when purchasing. You will need to assemble jambs for the openings of bi-fold doors. Make the jambs with 3/4 inch material cut in 4.5 inch strips. Assemble  the jambs before installing in the rough opening. Swinging doors should be fully assembled in their jambs before installing. Bi-folds require an exact width and a height within about 1/2 inch. Make sure swinging doors have some clearance, about 1/8 to 3/16 inch top and sides. Make certain the jamb is square and plumb in the opening and shim if needed. Do not be too concerned if the face is not exactly plumb unless the two sides of the door are much different.

The common practice is to use cedar wedges for shims. Overlap them from both sides for an exact fit. For myself I save scraps of material of various thicknesses, including plywood, veneers, flooring or anything else that is at hand. The important part is to be able to build thicknesses to within 1/16 inch or less. Fasten by pre-drilling through the shims. Use screws or 2 inch finishing nails. 

The following is for installing swinging doors. Use the longest level you have (6 ft. is nice), and check the hinge side for plumb. Tack in shims if needed, preferably behind the hinges. Place the jamb and door in the rough opening. With the jamb firm against the opening on the hinge side. check the clearance between the top of the door and its jamb to see if the hinge side will need to be raised to allow for squaring the door. If needed place a temporary shim under the jamb on the hinge side. Make certain the jamb is flush with the drywall and fasten the hinge side. I prefer to remove one screw from each hinge and replace with a longer one. Raise the jamb on the latch side to square if needed, Use the door itself as your square by checking for an even clearance at each top corner. Shim and fasten the latch side of the jamb in at least three places, one of which should be just above, or below, the latch.

Place your fasteners as unobtrusively as possible. With an easy fit door you can put on the door stops after the door is in.  Fasteners can then be placed under them and be perfectly hidden. You do not need many fasteners in the frame as it will be held securely when it is cased.

Lever latch set

Lever latch set


You can now install the latch set. Choose whether you need a passage set, privacy set or a lock set. Adjust the striker plate or door stops for a close fit, not tight. If seniors or small children are using the doors, it might be wise to use lever sets. They do not need as much strength to operate, and are less painful for arthritic hands.

There are other types of doors, such as pocket doors or saloon doors but I have not installed enough of them to feel qualified on the subject. Specific instructions should be available from the manufacturer or the internet in this case.

Installing a pocket door.

Install a saloon door.

With a little care you will get a perfectly fitting door. It may not last. Houses often settle or shift slightly, especially in the first couple of years. You may have to plane an odd door to keep it working smoothly.

Well that’s enough for one session. I will continue with finishing carpentry in my next post

Gage the super

Tired, after a day of supervising, Gage is taking advantage of someone’s carelessly dicarded coat to park his butt.

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 There are several choices, of construction methods and material you can use, when you build the walls for your home.

Once the foundation is in and the floor is on, the next step is the walls. Despite the lesson of the three little pigs, we still build our homes from straw or sticks, with the most common in North America being the wood frame building. I will deal with this type more extensively, because it is also where most of my experience lies.

Another less conventional style of wall construction is the insulating concrete form filled with reinforced concrete. This produces a strong, energy efficient and quiet building envelope. Often built from the footing to the roof, this method does not require a lot of special skills, and is quite fast. Interior and exterior finishing is not much different from wood frame. The walls are nearly a foot thick, so doors and windows will have to be modified, or purchased specifically, for this type of wall. Probably a little more expensive than other methods, this can still be an excellent choice for cold climates, and likely for hot locations as well. An added advantage is that the concrete can be poured in cold weather.

My experience is limited on this type of construction, as I have only built one commercial building and one basement using it. Both were reasonably uncomplicated, and went very well, considering my lack of firsthand knowledge.

Conventional poured concrete walls are a possible choice for moderate climates, but should be reinforced, if there is any chance of earthquakes.

SIP (Structural Insulated Panel) is another intriguing method for hot or cold climates. Basically a sandwich of various exterior and interior sheathing, bonded to a polystyrene core. They can be of various thicknesses, and can be used for foundations and roofs as well. I will have to depend on links to other sites here, as I have little knowledge and have only seen the method used in a few instances.

Steel frame with metal cladding is not very common in residential construction. Although strong, it has the bad habit of collapsing quickly in a fire.

Wall layersOther methods include various types of masonry wall, straw bale construction, rammed earth walls and many location specific methods using easily available material. Climate and tradition are two of the common deciding factors.

The common exterior wood frame wall can have a few variations as well. The structural framing is usually 2 x 6 or 2 x 8 spaced on 16 inch centers, in cold or hot climates, to allow for more insulation. In more moderate climates a 2 X 4 wall is adequate. A wall with staggered 2 x 4 studs can provide a thicker wall for insulation, while eliminating some thermal bridging.

Exterior cladding is usually a sandwich starting with 4 ft x 8 ft sheet goods of OSB (Oriented Strand Board), plywood or a fire resistant material such as gypsum board. Next would be well sealed layer of house wrap which is designed to allow air and moisture penetration outwards, but not towards the inside. There may also be a layer of rigid insulation over, between, or replacing other layers.

The final or cosmetic layer is widely varied. Commonest today is vinyl siding, because it is attractive, low maintenance, easy to apply and very inexpensive. Although given an R rating I don’t feel it has any insulating value, as it doesn’t provide any real air barrier.

Conventional cement based stucco is still quite common. Very cheap material wise, it takes considerable skill to apply, and is rarely a do it yourself project, although I have done it with moderate success. It can have a great range of textures and colors.

A newer innovation is acrylic stucco. Although not so variable as to texture, it can be used to add a great deal of detail to an exterior. Often applied over a layer of foam board, it provides an extra level of insulation. Detail is added by building up areas with foam board. It can be very attractive.

Natural wood siding is not as popular as it once was, probably because of increasing cost and maintenance issues.

Aluminum siding, steel, various types of composition siding board and brick or stone veneers may also be used. Artificial stone or brick facings are available. Two or more types of exterior treatments may be used together.

concrete wlls

A concret walled building

If you are building in a high rainfall area such as coastal British Columbia, there are some other considerarions. With some combinations of siding, insulation, etc. a rainscreen may be mandatory or advisable. I am from the prairie and am not familiar with this, so will have to rely on links to sites that seem knowledgable. If you think this may apply to you, please do your research.

Insulation is placed between the studs. Batt type is the most common, with the insulating material most often fiberglass, although other material may be used. Foamed in place insulation of polyurethane or other formulations may be used. Although providing higher R values and less gaps, it is somewhat more expensive. Loose fill insulation is often used in ceilings, but seldom in walls, as it may compact and leave a gap at the top. In Cold climates at least, a polyethylene film of at least 6 mil thickness, should be placed on the inside wall over the insulation and well sealed. With foamed in place insulation this might not be necessary. Without a vapor barrier moisture could penetrate the wall cavity and condense, or even form an ice layer against the outside sheathing. If moisture penetrates into the attic cavity, it can cause frost to form against the underside of the roof, which will melt in warmer weather. This can reduce the effectiveness of the insulation, cause rot, promote mold growth and even cause staining of ceilings.

I am not sure what should be done in hot and humid climates, so if any reader has experience or knowledge, please comment.

Interior walls of course, require no insulation, unless desired for soundproofing. Framing of inside walls are usually 2 x 4 wood, but can be other sizes to allow for plumbing, heating or ventilating runs. They may also be of finger jointed wood or steel. Drywall is applied directly to both sides.

Older homes often had interior finishes of plaster or wood, but modern homes are almost exclusively done with drywall (gypsum board,) with joints taped and “mudded”, after which a primer\sealer is applied, and followed by paint, texture or other decorative material.

Drywall slows the spread of fire, and should cover all structural wood, without any gaps for fire to travel through. Door and window openings being the exception.

The subject covered here is too large for a single post, so I have only covered the basics, and will have to rely on links to other sites, if you want more detailed information on specific items.

There you have it, I have actually admitted that I need some help. Twice!!!.

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