Henry Ford’s concept of mass production revolutionized
the manufacturing industry, and the notion of using
standardized parts and division of labor has migrated onto
construction sites as well. This is obvious to anyone
who’s seen a West Coast framing crew in action, but it
also applies to finish work. In this article, I’ll
describe how the mass production techniques I use to measure,
cut, and install door casings increase both quality and
who’s ever had to work with warped, knotty millwork knows
how inefficient it makes the job. Trim of inconsistent quality
forces a finish carpenter to scratch his head and think hard
before each cut. He has to cull the pile, set aside the worst
pieces for closets, and make sure he always cuts matching
miters from the same piece of trim so the profiles will match.
No wonder I see so many bald trim guys.
My way to prevent hair loss is to insist on high-quality
millwork. I buy from a small-volume, local shop that mills all
its own trim. The lumber has been carefully dried to a uniform
7% moisture content, and is fed slowly through a
computer-controlled, four-sided molding machine, which produces
a smooth finish and ensures that every piece of casing is
identical. This gives me the confidence to join miters cut from
different pieces of trim knowing that the profiles will meet
precisely. The peace of mind alone is worth the extra 20% I
have to pay for the material, not to mention what I save on
Because it’s a small shop and quality is my most
important consideration, I allow the mill to cut my trim from
random length stock, as long as there are plenty of 16-footers.
After it’s cut, the shop lays my trim face to face,
stacks it in bundles that can be carried by one man, and wraps
it with plastic. All the molding is delivered to the job site
oriented in the same direction, carried into what will be the
cutting room, and stacked facing the way I want it. I never
have to spin a 16-foot piece of casing in a 14-foot-wide room
before cutting it.
Setting Up Shop
crew and I arrive on a site, we’re like a wolf pack
staking out our territory. We take over the largest room we can
find to set up the cutting station and a large work table. The
work table, which we use for biscuit joining and glue-up, is
simple: a full sheet of 3/4-inch plywood fastened to sawhorses.
Because the process is so messy, we cover the plywood with a
layer of cheap plastic laminate for easy cleanup.
The cutting station consists of an off-the-shelf Workmate,
which supports my 15-inch Hitachi chop saw. The extension wing
setup is my own unusual, but effective, creation. Permanently
mounted to the face of the chop saw’s metal fence is a
1/2-inch plywood "auxiliary" fence that extends 4 inches past
the ends of the saw, allowing me to quickly and solidly fasten
the extension wing fences on the back side (see Figure 1).
1. The author’s chop saw setup is designed to make
cutting trim as easy and accurate as possible. The extension
fences are offset behind the saw fence (top) and the extension
tables run slightly uphill from the saw (bottom), making it
easier to securely hold bowed trim in place. An 1/8-inch rabbet
cut into the bottom front edge of the chop saw fence gives
sawdust an outlet, reducing the need to constantly blow dust