Isn’t a carpenter a carpenter? What is the difference between rough carpenters and finish carpenters?

Good question.

Rough carpenters (or framing carpenters) build the structure of a building and install exterior doors and windows. Finish carpenters take over after a building is framed, roofed, enclosed, plumbing and electrical, insulation and drywall are complete. They take a blank canvas and add the details that make it complete. Finish carpentry includes interior trim and millwork. Millwork consists of baseboards, stair railings, crown molding, casing around windows and doors, as well as custom cabinetry, built-in shelving or furniture, fireplace mantles, wainscoting and other wood details. Finish carpenters also install pre-fabricated cabinets, which can be tricky for the DIY person to get to fit correctly. It is the finish carpenter’s responsibility to make sure that the windows, doors and hardware work properly and that all the final design features are functional and harmonious. Finish carpenters must develop an eye for proportion and detail and learn to visualize the steps that lead to the finished product.

Finish carpentry requires attention to fine details and precise craftsmanship. It also requires a lot of experience and understanding of how to work with different materials (such as different kinds of wood, veneers and laminates), as well as many different power and hand tools. Close attention to measuring and cutting is required with a very small margin of error. An overall eye for good interior design is also needed, so not every carpenter is qualified to do this work. Some of the final details of a home, even the cosmetic ones, may seem insignificant compared to the overall construction of a house. However, these finishing details can be the difference between a beautiful, high-value house and one with inferior value and market appeal.

The finish carpenter is also the one who is responsible for making the finished product “pretty.” Sometimes that requires the ability to make things plumb and square even though the framing carpenter may not have built them that way (it happens more than you can imagine!). Finish carpenters become experts at shaping and fitting things.

The ‘punch list’ is another thing that finish carpenters (and most construction trades) are responsible for. A punch list is a list of items that need to be addressed before a project can be deemed complete. Typically, the owner will do a ‘punch walk’ with the contractor and point out items that need to be finished or adjusted. This could include toe kick at the base of cabinets after flooring has been installed; adjustment of doors, windows, drawers, and hardware; finishing or repair touches on any millwork.

At the end of a project, the finish carpentry is what is most visible of all the work trades. A good finish carpenter can truly enhance the value and comfort of a home! It is always wise to seek out those with the most experience and best reputation.